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What Is a Virtual Phone Number?

by Joe DeBari

A virtual phone number will help you meet the needs of your flexible and remote staff members while also extending the reach of your business.

Many cloud phone system providers advertise virtual phone numbers as part of their feature platforms. We’re all familiar with regular phone numbers and how they work, but what exactly makes a phone number “virtual”?

The short answer to “what are virtual phone numbers” is simply this: Numbers that are used to transmit and receive calls over the internet rather than strictly through copper telephone wires. But let’s take a closer look at how this virtual way of communicating can help you meet the needs of your staff, while also extending the reach of your business.

What Is a Virtual Phone Number and How Can Your Business Use Them?

Route Your Business Calls Anywhere

In the past, a phone number was provisioned to work over a single phone line, and that line was physically connected from the phone company to the destination (a home or business office) by telephone wires. Any calls made to that phone number could only be sent to that specific destination. And in the case of a business phone number, the business would have phone system hardware, such as a private branch exchange (PBX) in the office to configure call routing rules, extensions, voicemail, etc.

Because a virtual number isn’t anchored to a specific phone device, phone line or location, a business has greater control and flexibility in how it receives calls. When used with hosted VoIP or Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) providers, virtual numbers can be directly purchased from the provider and managed via the web in the service’s admin portal. This allows businesses to set the destination of a virtual number and permanently or temporarily change it in real-time without having to wait for the service provider’s technician to get around to the task.

Unite Sales or Support Departments in Different Cities or States

For businesses that have multiple office branches, one of these kinds of numbers can seamlessly unite staff working in different locations. Instead of incoming calls ringing phones in only one office, a virtual number can be set up to ring phones across separate offices.

How? If you have sales reps in different cities, make the destination of the virtual number a call queue or ring group. Incoming calls to the virtual number will then ring the phones of all reps who are a part of the queue or group—simultaneously or sequentially, depending on the ring strategy that you have set up. Any rep can then answer the call, no matter which office she is in.

Use a Local Phone Number in an Area Where You Have Many Customers

If your business has many clients or customers located in a different city or state, let them call you by dialing a local phone number in their own area code. Virtual numbers will help you establish a presence in areas where you’re not physically located while also reducing the cost of your incoming calls. Just purchase the phone number from your provider (OnSIP has a pool of phone numbers available to customers for immediate activation) and assign it to ring phones in your office— even if your office isn't in the geographic area serviced by the number’s area code!

Measure the Performance of Sales, Marketing, or Advertising Campaigns

When running sales or advertising campaigns, it’s imperative that you measure the overall health and success of the efforts. Rather than funneling all calls through your main business line, assign a unique virtual number to each campaign that you are running. That way, you’ll know which campaign moved someone to call just by the number that was dialed. And when the campaign is over, download and review your business’s past call detail records to see how many calls came into those dedicated virtual numbers—it can be one of the data points that help you evaluate how successful your efforts were.

Enable Remote Working and Geographic Flexibility

You can also use these unique call features to support remote working and business travel. Perhaps your business’s owner wants to be reachable on his cell phone while away from the office but doesn’t want to give out his or her personal cell number to the entire company. By using a virtual phone number and setting its destination to his cell phone, staff can reach the owner simply by dialing the virtual number.

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