1. Money

How to Buy a Business Telephone System

A Guide to Help You Buy


For most organizations, the single most important piece of office equipment is the telephone. Business class phone systems usually start out costing a few thousand dollars, and the price increases proportionally to the size of the system and number of features that you want. The business class phone systems discussed here are for offices with ten people or more.

What Features Will I Need?

The features that bring value to your business and connect your business to the world are going to increase the total cost of the telephone system. The salesperson will try to sell you all the bells and whistles (that’s their job), but you need to look at each feature and decide if it will add value to your business or save you money.

Basic Features

Here are some of the more common features that are available on a business telephone system. Each brand is different, so ask the salesperson for a complete list of options.

  • Auto attendant usually takes the place of a receptionist by presenting callers with a list of options to route their call (“Press 3 to speak with somebody in Sales”). In addition, it can also allow callers to dial their party’s extension directly.

  • Conferencing Features allow two or more extensions to connect together to share in a conversation. Usually, the default is two. If you require more than two, ask what the maximum number of participants is. Some systems only allow internal extensions to be conferenced. If you require external conference calls, ask about that too.

  • Automated Directory allows callers to look up an employee’s extension by entering the first few letters of their name.

  • Voice Mail allows messages to be left for employees that are unavailable or on the phone already. Some systems allow separate third-party voice mail equipment to interface with their equipment. Depending upon pricing, this could save you money.

  • Call Hold is the ability to put a call on hold while the user attends to other matters. Usually included with the system.

  • Call Forwarding gives the user the ability to forward all calls to another extension or to voice mail temporarily.

  • Speed Dial is a useful time saver for frequently called numbers.

  • Redial allows the last number called to be redialed with the touch of a button.

  • Paging allows a user to speak over a public address system to locate an employee or give announcements.

  • Music on Hold gives your callers something to listen to while they are on hold. It can be music or prerecorded messages advertising your company.

  • Back Up Power will provide an alternate source of electricity for 10 to 60 minutes in case of a power outage.

Advanced Features

Advanced features will add significant cost to the total system and will add an on-going cost over the life of the system. However, this could be offset by the customer service and time saving ability they bring.

  • Remote Location feature allows simple connections to offsite employees or small remote offices by simply dialing an internal extension.

  • Find Me / Follow Me permits users to forward their phone on demand to another phone, cell phone, home phone, secretary, etc.

  • Computer Telephone Integration (CTI) provides the ability for the phone system to interact with a computer system. Examples are a user clicking on a telephone number on the screen and the phone system automatically dials the number (reduces wrong numbers and saves time). Or, when a customer calls in, the phone number from the Caller-ID is passed to the computer and the customer’s account is automatically displayed on the screen before the employee answers the phone. This option is very pricey.

How Big Does the System Have to Be?

The next question you have to answer is where you want the phones. The following list is the most likely places you will want to locate a phone extension:

  • Receptionist
  • Each office
  • Fax machine
  • Credit card terminals, data ports
  • Conference room
  • Shop/Warehouse floor
  • Public areas (waiting room, hallways, entrance ways, etc)

Next you will have to determine how many simultaneous phone calls will be coming into and leaving the office. The sum total of incoming and outgoing calls at any given moment is the number of lines (or trunks) that you will need. Common configurations are 3, 8, 12, 16, 24 or 48 lines. Larger systems have expansion slots, so you can add more lines at a later date. Remember to account for future growth (25% is not uncommon). Important: if you size this too low, callers will get a busy signal if all the lines are being used.

Finding a Phone System Dealer

Finding a dealer is not hard. First, you can look in the yellow pages of the phone directory under “Telephone Equipment & Supplies” to find a dealer close to you. Also, business / office technology trade shows are a good place to start. Not only will you be able to meet the sales and support people, but you may be able to demo a system, too. Finally, the best way is to ask around. Ask people you know who have a business with an office. You will also get an assessment of the quality of the equipment and level of service that was provided.

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