Jeanine Sterling's Blog

Turning Microsoft Office 365 into a True Small Business Offering: How the Wireless Carriers Each Approach This Challenge

17 Jan 2013 | by Jeanine Sterling
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It’s always interesting to see how the wireless carriers go about appealing to the small business market. In our annual surveys, smaller businesses consistently choose the wireless carrier as their preferred mobility/communications partner. Have the carriers really earned that designation – or are they just the default choice?

We’ll dedicate a future post to examining the small business programs of our Tier 1 U.S. carriers in some detail. But today we’ll look at one example of how they each partnered with the exact same technology vendor to offer the exact same technology product … but then “personalized” the SMB offering in their own unique ways.

The solution is the cloud-based Microsoft® Office 365 product, a package of targeted collaboration and productivity capabilities that include:

  • Microsoft Exchange Online – synchronizing email, calendar and contacts across a worker’s computer, phone and browser.
  • Microsoft Office Web Apps – allowing employees to view and make light edits to Microsoft Office documents in the browser, either individually or in tandem with other viewers.
  • Microsoft SharePoint® Online – creating public and private websites and maintaining a file-sharing capability.
  • Microsoft Lync™ Online – furnishing web conferencing and instant messaging.

Microsoft clearly put some thought into which capabilities would be most appreciated by smaller businesses. There doesn’t seem to be any unnecessary padding. And offering Office 365 as a cloud-based service recognizes the financial constraints that small and mid-sized businesses have to deal with on a daily basis. Pricing on Office 365 begins at $6/user/month for its most basic package. Microsoft also offers four other plans, with the top monthly per-user rate being $22.

So what did each of the top three carriers do with this solution?

The side-by-side comparison table below provides the details, however, the three different approaches can be summarized as:

  • AT&T offers four Office 365 plans ($6 - $20 price range), providing its customers with a broad selection to choose from. The carrier also recognizes that smaller businesses rarely have a dedicated IT professional available to handle implementation, so AT&T provides one-on-one onboarding and mailbox migration assistance to those who want it. The onboarding and deployment assistance costs $139.95 per account. The carrier also requires a minimum one-year contract term and minimum one-year renewal. There are no minimum seat requirements. Advanced tech support plans are available for purchase if the customer wants more than the free Tier 0/1/2 24x7 tech support that comes with the subscription. AT&T also offers a 30-day free trial.
  • Sprint offers three of the Office 365 plans ($6 - $20 price range). It also recognizes the need for some expert handholding during the implementation process. Like AT&T, Sprint provides one-on-one onboarding and mailbox migration assistance. However, Sprint takes this one step further and makes their white glove “Carefree Cloud” onboarding service free of charge for the first 90 days after purchase of Office 365. The carrier does not require a minimum contract term and does not require a minimum number of seats. Advanced tech support plans are available for purchase if the customer wants more than the free 0/1/2 24x7 tech support that comes with the subscription. These plans are available at a discount to Office 365 customers.
  • Verizon decided to offer only the most basic Office 365 package (the $6/user/month version) and directs users who need help with that package’s set-up, mailbox migration, etc. to Microsoft. From there, the customer will probably be referred to Microsoft’s self-help portal or to a for-fee certified partner. In terms of contract requirements, Verizon customers don’t have to commit to a minimum contract term or purchase a minimum number of seats – which is good news for the smaller businesses and their tight budgets.  Also, integrated MDM features are included (remote lock and wipe; data retrieval).

We just awarded Sprint the Frost & Sullivan Customer Value Enhancement Award in Mobile Communications and Collaboration based on the excellent job the carrier has done with Office 365 in designing an offer that meets real small business needs. The difference-maker when comparing the three approaches distilled down to affordability – i.e., Sprint’s free-of-charge offer for much-needed onboarding assistance and the absence of minimum contract terms to satisfy. For small businesses, those two benefits can make all of the difference between the decision to buy and the decision to take a pass.