2021 Business Phone Systems Buyer's Guide
The importance of communication in business is demonstrated in the phone system technology available in the market, and fortunately, there are many phone system providers offering an array of powerful, effective tools to support business communication. Selecting or switching to the perfect phone system for your company involves deep business examination and thoughtful research and analysis of the features and system capabilities that will best suit your business now and scale with you as you grow.
Business Phone System Features and Benefits
The features offered by phone system providers are the tools that will help enhance your company communications. While your business needs, users, and budget will all work together to help you choose the best phone system for your business, there are a list of core features offered by most phone system providers that you will want to make sure are included in whichever option you choose.
The core, must-have features of any phone system include:
- Call forwarding
- Number porting
- Call routing and transferring
- Call recording
- Auto-attendant or virtual receptionist
- Mobile apps
- Integration capability with other business software
- Call conferencing
- Data and screen sharing
- User-friendly dashboards
- Reporting and analytics
Using the best phone system for your business can bring many benefits (for communication and otherwise) to your company, including:
- Enhanced communication, both internally and externally
- Increased collaboration opportunities
- Increased mobility and flexibility
- Improved efficiency and productivity
- Reduced costs
- Competitive advantage and profit opportunities
- Advanced reporting and analytics
Business Phone System Trends to Watch in 2021
Business trends and software trends have a symbiotic relationship much of the time, innovation in one area always drives change in the other. To stay current and competitive in your industry by embracing all the best tools for your business, you should regularly study trends surrounding the software solutions you use in your company.
VoIP Continues to Grow in Business Adoption
Over the past few years, cloud-based software systems have been growing quickly with adoption surging in companies of all types and sizes, and VoIP is no exception. VoIP phone systems are more affordable and provide companies with increased mobility and efficiency, so the majority of new software implementations or upgrades are trending toward the cloud. This trend is expected to continue in 2021, as more companies realize the benefits of cloud software.
5G Comes to the Forefront
5G networks are coming to the mainstream. One of the most significant ways that 5G is going to bolster VoIP phone systems is speed. 5G will boast network speeds upwards of twenty times faster than the current 4G technology. Bandwidth will also see a huge boost (allowing for 1,000 devices per meter on a connection), and together these improvements mean that you can stream, download, and do video calls and conferences with much more ease and speed. The upped speed and bandwidth also mean fewer dropped connections, higher quality, and the ability for more devices to work much more quickly at the same time.
How to Choose the Best Business Phone System
All of these factors can make selecting the perfect phone system for your business seem overwhelming. However, this guide will provide insight and tools for selecting your perfect business phone system.
Conduct a Thorough Business Review
Before you begin searching through all the phone system options available on the market, it is important to take the time to complete a thorough business review. To begin, you should gather together a variety of people within your company who are responsible for business decisions and any others who will represent dedicated users on whichever phone system that you choose to implement in your business.
By having a mixture of people within your organization participate in this discussion, you are more likely to gain a deeper insight into what your company needs from your phone system to communicate effectively and drive growth initiatives forward.
Once you’ve gathered the key people for this discussion, it’s important to dive into your business needs and discuss what gaps or holes may exist in your existing communication processes or systems. Be specific, and keep a detailed list of all the things that you’re looking to improve and how various phone system offerings can help you accomplish these goals.
Questions You Can Ask to Guide Your Phone Systems Business Review Process
- What communication gaps occur consistently, and what is their impact on your company?
- Are your existing communication tools and systems outdated and cumbersome for employees?
- Are the costs of operating your existing phone system outweighing the benefits you receive?
- What tools and features are must-haves for our company? Which features aren’t as vital?
- How tech savvy are the employees who will use the system most?
- What deployment method makes the most sense for our business and budget?
- How many people will use this phone system?
- Are there any manual communication processes that could be automated through phone system features to help drive productivity?
How to Build Your Phone System Budget
After you’ve conducted a complete review of your business needs and have a strong understanding of your phone system requirements, it is important to figure out the budget you can allocate toward purchasing or upgrading your phone system. Using the list you prepared while reviewing your business needs, you can determine how much value will be created by using a new phone system, and prepare your budget accordingly. There are phone system solutions available along a sliding scale of prices that are affordable for most any business, so when you create your budget for this purchase, you should give yourself spending limit as well as a range of pricing models including one-time installation costs or monthly fees. Depending on the size and call volumes of your company, one type of plan may make more sense financially over the other.
How to Determine Which Type of Phone System Technology Will Best Suit Your Business
After you understand your business needs, and have a budget in mind, you’ll need to consider which type of phone system technology will best suite your business. There are two main phone system technologies on the market: Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) and Voice Over IP (VoIP).
Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) Phone Technology
TDM phone technology works by transmitting voice calls through phone lines that feed into landlines in homes and businesses. TDM is what has historically powered business phone systems and offered great value for offices needing landlines, voicemail, conferencing, and call transferring features. TDM phone technology is still used by businesses today due to the simple and cost-effective nature of this solution. However, TDM
technology is typically limited to voice only options, which can become limiting for companies that require more enriching communication experiences.
Voice Over IP (VoIP) Phone Technology
VoIP phone technology harnesses the power of the internet, and works by passing voice calls over IP networks. In recent years, VoIP has been gaining popularity due to the low cost, ease of use, and rich communication tools available. VoIP phone systems are accessible through a simple internet connection, and offer an abundance of communication tools and features that enrich business communications, which are not possible through TDM technology.
How to Consider Phone System Deployment Options
As you plan for your new phone system, you will also need to think about which deployment method makes the most sense for your business. There are several deployment options available including: Private Branch Exchange (PBX) and IP-PBX as well as cloud-based solutions as well.
PBX/IP-PBX Phone System Deployment
If you wish to buy or lease the equipment and hardware necessary to operate your business phone system, then you will want a PBX or IP-PBX deployment. If you choose this option, you will need to have adequate space onsite to house the hardware as well as a knowledgeable IT staff to manage and maintain your system. PBX deployment supports landlines and IP-PBX supports VoIP technology. With this type of phone system deployment, you can expect a more significant upfront cost, but if you run a large company, this solution could very well make more sense financially in the long run.
Cloud-Based Phone System Deployment
Cloud-based phone system deployment is very popular for business use, and operate in a hosted data center that operates in the cloud. Cloud-based phone systems support VoIP and are typically much more cost effective because there is no need to invest in buying, leasing, or maintaining your phone system hardware. The system operates through the internet, and most providers have affordable plans available for any size business, based on features desired and number of users on the system.
How to Understand the Hardware Needs of Your Phone System
You should consider the hardware and equipment you will need to best use all the features and tools offered by your phone system provider. Depending on the technology and deployment method you select, your equipment will vary, and your chosen provider can help guide your decisions on what equipment you will need. However, do your own research as well, and expect to invest in the following items as part of your phone system implementation:
- IP phones
- IP adapters
- Power cords
- SD cards
How to Think About the People in Your Company Who Will be Using Your Phone System
An important step in selecting the best phone system for your business is to consider the people who will be using the system most. Gathering this knowledge ahead of time will help you select the best option for your business, complete with all the tools, features, and support needed without overextending your budget or selecting a phone system that does not fit your business.
As you think about the phone system users in your company, think over these questions to find the best fit for your teams:
- How many users will be using the system?
- What levels exist in your users? (Basic, Intermediate, Advanced)
- What are the needs of each group of users?
- What type of support will users need as they learn and use the phone system?
How to Know What to Look for in Your Perfect Phone System Provider
As you meet with various phone system providers that you’re interested in working with, you should do some due diligence in researching their reputation before you commit to purchasing their services. Some of the key things you should look for in your perfect phone system provider are prominence, reviews, and support.
Industry prominence and popularity
While you should not choose a phone system provider based on popularity alone, a provider’s standing in the industry can signal what you can expect from their services. Make sure that the provider you select has prominence in the industry and is popular among other companies with similar phone system needs as yours.
Reviews from current or past system users
One of the best ways you can easily research a phone system provider you’re considering is to look for reviews given by current or past users. Reviews from current companies using the phone system can give you great insight into how the provider treats customers and how companies value their services and features. Past reviews can establish a history of service values, and give you a snapshot into how the provider handles business over time as well.
Phone system support offered
Support is a vital component that all phone system providers will offer. However, the types and degree of support will vary from provider to provider, so make sure you know what level of support your team will need, and then ensure your selected phone system provider can easily fulfil those support needs.
How to Research and Compare Multiple Phone System Providers
Once you have a firm grasp on all the things you need and want from your phone system, and understand what you have to invest, then you can begin researching and comparing phone system providers. There are many excellent phone system providers on the market, and you’ll undoubtedly be able to find your perfect system if you take a bit of time to really look into what each provider offers and compare your top choices against one another to determine which is best for you and your business.
As you compare your options, make sure to keep your list of key business needs and required features handy so you can reference them and keep yourself on track as you absorb all of the information and create a short list of viable phone system options.
How to Set up Meetings or Demos with Phone System Providers on Your Short List
Once you’ve created a short list of three to five phone system providers that you’re interested in implementing, it’s important to take your preparation and research one step further and get in touch with each provider. Most providers will happily set up meetings to discuss your phone system needs and requirements, and can demonstrate all the key features for you.
Before you participate in a meeting or demo with a phone system provider, make sure that you refresh your memory on all your business and feature needs. It is also a great idea to provide your lists to the provider prior to meeting, so they can put together the custom options and pricing they have available that will meet your needs. This will make your time much more efficient, and also give the provider a clear understanding of exactly what you require.