How to sell Asterisk

I plan on attending the OTTS in the near future but haven’t had the chance to do it yet. I am going to an industry trade show in a week and am selling asterisk/freepbx based systems and services. I am really interested in information on competing with the large proprietary vendors (Nortel, Avaya, Cisco etc.) Is there a good place to look up some of the selling points as covered in the seminar. I think it will be very beneficial to me at this show if asked why asterisk instead of the proprietary solution.

Thanks in advance for the help.

My apologies up front for such a long post.

As an ex Nortel engineer for 15 years, I’m continually amazed that companies will fork out $100K+ for a phone system, plus licenses, plus support, plus PRI lines, when much cheaper options are available.

The main thrust for most PBX vendors is that Asterisk is unstable and unproven, whereas their product Just Works. Five years ago, that may have been true, but most people don’t know of the massive improvements in the last few years.
Naturally, the PABX vendors exploit this to their advantage, and further coax their clients by telling them that their system is ‘IP capable/upgradable’, should they want to pursue that option later on.

What most clients don’t ask, is how much it costs to buy additional cards for extra users, extra PRI capacity, extra licenses for analogue & digital sets, VOIP card, etc. and that’s where the vendors really gouge the client.

Take for example, you have a Nortel Option 11c, and you want to add another 4 users and a fax line, but your system is currently at capacity.
You’ll need to buy:
A digital line card for 16 phones - they don’t come in any other variety = $4000
A FALC (analogue) card - $2500
Extra digital licenses - the price escapes me, but it’s not cheap
Extra analogue licenses - as above
(The prices may be slightly out of date, and are priced for the Australian market. YMMV)
Proprietary Digital phone - from $350+
Time and cost of an engineer to install and configure all of the above.

If your users require voicemail, chances are you’ll need to buy more CallPilot licenses, plus additional licenses per user should they want ‘advanced’ features such as a web interface for voicemail, without even mentioning the additional servers you’d need.
Want to add VOIP ? No problem, please buy:
Media card
Signalling server
ITG card

With the examples above, it’s unlikely you’d get much (if any) change from $10,000 and that’s simply to provide a basic phone and voicemail.
Pretty soon, the phone system becomes an unwelcome guest, and rather than working with the business, it becomes a parasite.

Now for all the Nortel purists out there who cry ‘but the CS1K obviates all that additional hardware’, true, but you’re still hammered for licenses and support, and unless you’ve attended a Nortel course, there is small chance the client is going to know how to configure up an extra phone or add features like BLF to M3904.
And you’re still paying to buy freaking dongles, for crying out loud. If that doesn’t show a stagnant mindset, I don’t know what does.

And Nortel isn’t the only offender.
Until recently, Cisco paid lip service to SIP functionality (helloooo, SCCP), making it as difficult as they could to integrate their phones and ATA’s with Asterisk. Whilst the latest update for the 942’s comes some way in resolving that, the latest phone just released by Cisco is still playing hard to get with anything but a SPA9000.

Asterisk is unproven/unstable ?
Some of the major VSP’s over here that are using clustered Asterisk boxes, with failover redundancy would disagree with that statement.

So, really what makes Asterisk a viable commercial system is the fact:

  • it is fairly stable (the telecoms industry has a much higher standard of stability than the IT crowd, so what is fairly stable in telecoms is usually rock solid in IT parlance),
  • it is easily updated via the Internet, as opposed to a planned outage late at night with a vendor trained engineer
  • supports a wide range of SIP and analogue phones
  • has basic call centre functionality out of the box
  • users can see what is happening with their system, instead having being runaround by the telco

Basically, it does what few systems before have done - it empowers the end user.
People are sick of not knowing why their phone system doesn’t work, or paying for hardware locked kit.
They also hate having to pay $$$ to a telco/vendor just to add some basic functionality to the phones.
Want 2 line presentation on your phone ? $30, thank you.
Want to change the diversion to mobile from 4 to 6 rings ? $30, thank you
Want to change the name on the phone ? $30, thank you
With a medium sized company, this quickly adds up to hundreds of dollars per month, and the galling part to the client is, when it takes someone like me all of 2 minutes to access and change it, it’s hard not to feel ripped off, huh ?

Asterisk gives CIO’s, IT managers, technicians, SOHO users, team leaders, etc. the functionality and accessibility they asked for decades ago, but were blindsided by the vendors for years.
But don’t expect a friendly response from the traditional PBX vendors though.
Most of them view Asterisk as a ‘toy’ system, others see it as a threat.
However, I have a several hundred clients who would not only dispute that, but would never go back to a key system or proprietary phone system ever again, simply because Asterisk provides more functionality to them than their previous system that cost 4x the price.

Sorry for the long post, but I hope it addresses some of the questions you had.

excellent post…

we need more such posts from those who have crossed the tradditional systems to the newer truer IP based setup.

I am confused you allow your clients to perform their own adds/changes/moves? How do you make money? You tell how wonderful the Asterisk based system are (which they are) but then you go on to attribute savings to eliminating very reasonable service fees?

[quote]Want 2 line presentation on your phone ? $30, thank you.
Want to change the diversion to mobile from 4 to 6 rings ? $30, thank you
Want to change the name on the phone ? $30, thank you[/quote]

$30 for an add/change/move is a bargain. I won’t touch customer maintained systems. This does not apply to firms that have a decent IT department and have learned how to properly administer Asterisk/FreePBX.

The majority of my clients are SOHO, whose requirements tend not to change that much after the inital installation.
I’ll show them how they can change basic settings for the phones etc, but I’m pretty clear on letting them know that if they screw something up, I’ll be charging them to fix it. Most understand this, and appreciate the flexibility.
With clients who look like they’ll be a problem child later, (usually law firms) I’ll make up a limited user account for them, or simply get them to agree to a maintenance package.
Perversely, IT firms tend to keep me in loose change, because their natural curiousity usually gets the better of them, and they understand paying for an expert to fix it up.

I may well be lucky that I don’t have customers who are more demanding, but in my experience, most folk don’t actually want to fool around with their phone system, they just want it to work.

$30 for an add/change/move is a bargain. I won’t touch customer maintained systems. This does not apply to firms that have a decent IT department and have learned how to properly administer Asterisk/FreePBX.

I may be confusing the issue by mixing target markets, as in a value to experience scenario, I’d agree $30 certainly is a bargain, and for the smaller companies, it’s affordable, if grumbleworthy.
But, for a client that may well put through dozens of MAC’s a day, it appears to be a big whack of money for minimal effort, especially if the telco/vendor doesn’t process it till their designated MAC day(s).
Quite often, larger companies will often employ a dedicated person to action these MAC’s and other maintenance, because it is more cost effective in both time and money.

The thrust of what I was trying to say was that Asterisk/FreePBX/PiaF/Trixbox, etc gives the end user the opportunity to break that stranglehold perpetuated by proprietary systems.
It’s just ironic that when presented with such options, the client often chooses not to (which is good for people like you and I), but at least the option is there for them to explore.

Could not agree more.

I have had the same experience. Most IT firms are also very good at writing scopes, very little scope creep.

Personally (not my company) I am contacted frequently to fix self proclaimed ‘experts’ mistakes. There are many ‘hacks’ out there and they leave the customer hanging with a job half finished. Computer techs often try and get into the phone business with very mixed results. It only takes a few bad apples to taint the market.

I come at this from a differing point of view. I have a successful computer technology company that sells phone systems and I live in North Georgia (read Appalachia.) To give an example, the only two firms in my county that have PRI’s are the school system and the county government complex. To me, a large customer has 5 or more computers. Most of my small business customers have less than 5 workstations.

Linux in general has been a real door opener for me. My competitors offer a customer a Winders file server for some amount of money and I offer a Clark Connect (Linux based) file server that just works for less. Linux is an easy sell on the price point and you get continued follow-up business on it just as you would a winders installation. I run my own, albeit small, datacenter and sell backup services using rsync to my customers with Linux based servers.

All of that being said, the Asterisk/FreePBX combo allows me to install a full featured PBX for the cost of a key system. I have stubbed my toes plenty of times getting the install to go correctly and now I use this combination of equipment; PBX in a Flash on an Intel chipset, Sangoma TDM cards with hardware echo cancellation and Snom phones. This combination just works. I include 30 days of moves, adds and changes in the price of the system. After that, I bill the customer by incident. I tell the customer that this is open source software and that I am not charging a dime for the software. I am charging for hardware, labor and my expertise only. I have never lost a sale selling it this way.

Have a great day,

Hi All,

Thanks for your comments, I would be charging for my time , my question should have been can I distribute FreePBX ?.


its best to do it for free.

I know I’m not directly addressing your question (I’ll leave that for the FreePBX owners), but I’d suggest not actually making the OS a product you’re selling, but rather your implementation and maintenance of it.
Predominantly because FreePBX is, well free.

Not only would it be a bit of a slap to the face of the programmers (though I’m sure they’d love any percentage of the profit), but the end customer will eventually find out that the product is free.

No matter how you explain it to them, they are still going to feel like you ripped them off, by charging for a free OS.

If, however you charge for the hardware, configuring and implementation of the PBX, then if/when the accusation comes, you can honestly say you gave them the OS for free.
You could even be upfront about it, and make it into a selling point, but I’d suggest caution with that, as some adventurous/tight-fisted customers will then decide to do it themselves, make a right pigs ear of it, and then call you in to ‘fix’ it.

Sorry for the post in an old topic,

I have been using FreePBX myself for several years and I love it.

I run a small consultancy that provides IT support to very small business.
I want to expand this to provide PBX systems (3-5 extensions).

Can I create and sell my own systems using FreePBX ?.
I know that its open source but just need to clarify.