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VOIP is hot.

It’s hard to find anyone to argue that. Solution providers are doing a brisk business especially in the SMB space wooing clients over to IP telephony. The latest figures from the Dell’Oro Group show VOIP adoption jumping 30 percent year over year among SMBs.

But the driving force behind many of those sales is that most lethal of channel toxins: It’s cheap. Even as VARs are pitching the cost savings of VOIP systems, they can hear commoditization creeping up behind them. Sell folks on cheap and someone will always out-cheap you. How long will it really be before the margins erode and direct sales are eating your lunch?

Not long at all, evidently. Your users can go to Costco today and pick up a  Quanta Computer’s Syspine Digital Operator Phone System—which runs Microsoft Response Point—for just $1,800. The VOIP starter kit comes with a base unit and four phones along with the management software and all analog adapters. Phones can be added for $280 a pair.

That’s what selling on cheap buys you.

The good folks at Adtran know a thing or two about selling VOIP gear through the channel into the SMB space. Business is booming, according to Ted Cole, Adtran’s vice president of sales.

“VOIP is huge,” Cole says. “It’s hitting a point where people have seen enough trials occur. They’re seeing a payback associated with VOIP as well.”

In fact, they’re seeing the payback and not much else. A lot of the VOIP implementations among SMB users are delivering traditional PBX features and capabilities never seen before at this business strata. But according to Adtran Vice President of Global Marketing Leslie Conway, those capabilities hardly figure in the current VOIP equation.

“Users are not using most of those fancy features, according to our data,” Conway says. They use the phone and just the very basic feature set.”

That smells like opportunity to channel players trying to sell VOIP on value. It’s time for solution providers to add to their VOIP sales repertoire and start singing a different tune; one of business improvement.

VARs need to trumpet the entire value proposition of VOIP which includes not just cheaper phone calls but, indeed, significant ways to improve the organizational and business performance for end users. Put on your trusted adviser cap and think. For example, in these days of skyrocketing gas prices, the ability for small businesses to leverage enterprise-like conferencing, call following and seamless telecommuting through VOIP should be high on the IP telephony pitch list.

If you want to continue pulling significant margins on basic installs for your SMB customers, the value proposition should also include the ease and flexibility that allows the system to be reconfigured on the fly as businesses grow and change. Adding new users, moving extensions and allowing temporary access to the system for contractors are all big VOIP selling points.

Not only can a small business act big by pushing a number of remote users through a centralized receptionist and using four-digit extension dialing, but all remote and traveling workers can access the system and act as if they are working right from their own desks. VOIP is a force multiplier for an SMB with a limited sales force and lofty ambitions.

Ultimately, of course, VOIP is the gateway that leads to converged voice and data. It provides the perfect upsell for a customer who is really ready to take the next step in next-gen communications to build their business.

“I definitely think there’s opportunity there for VARs once the system is installed,” says Cole, adding that he’s heard from small business owners who are getting interested in VOIP’s more whiz-bang features. As a result, Adtran recently added VOIP specialization and training to its mid-tier ADvantage partner program “to help partners develop that expertise in IP telephony products… that helps them deliver a complete solution.”

The alternative is to continue quoting 13-cents per minute calls to South Korea and ignoring the business advisory opportunity VOIP offers. Until the next set of Costco coupons turns up in your customer’s Sunday paper.

Chris Gonsalves is editor-in-chief of Channel Insider. Let him know how you’re impressing customers as a trusted adviser at