What is a Virtual Phone Number? How to Send & Receive SMS via a Virtual Number

Virtual phone numbers are incredibly convenient for large enterprises and small businesses alike. There’s simply no other communication technology that offers the same level of freedom for sending SMS online.

Do you need one phone number that customers can use to contact you directly for certain areas of the business? A virtual number gives you the flexibility to do that.

Do you want to ensure your valuable SMS marketing campaigns don’t get flagged as SPAM? Virtual numbers can do that, too.

Here at SMSGlobal, we want to make your mobile communications a success. There’s no easier way to strengthen your mobile strategy than sending from a Virtual Dedicated Number. In this guide, you’ll learn why all businesses need a virtual phone number, what type you should choose, and how to maximise its benefits. Let’s get into it, shall we?

How does a Virtual Phone Number work?

Unlike a personal mobile number you use to talk to your parents, virtual numbers aren’t connected to a specific landline or mobile device. Instead, a virtual phone number can redirect calls and text messages to any internet-connected device.

That device could be a web platform, a software app on your PC, or even a mobile phone too. For example, if you reply to your dentist’s text message to confirm an upcoming appointment, the office administrator will probably view this confirmation on an in-browser SMS platform—not on their personal phone.

Typically, a company will purchase virtual phone numbers from a communications provider like SMSGlobal and then integrate these numbers with their existing business software or CRM.

Dedicated Virtual Numbers vs Shared Virtual Numbers - Which is best?

There are a few options to consider when choosing a virtual mobile number. Depending on your communication requirements, your business can use either a dedicated virtual number or select from a pool of shared virtual numbers. The main difference lies in customer communication.

Let’s say you’re sending with a shared virtual number provided by your SMS service. When you send SMS to customers, your customers can reply and you will receive the responses in your account. There’s a catch though; you can only receive replies within 48 hours of sending the campaign.

One of the biggest downfalls of using a shared virtual number is that your customers can’t proactively reach your business via SMS. Your business has to open the line of communication as they can only respond to a campaign or a thread.

If we’re being honest, shared numbers rarely cut it these days for enterprise communication. Especially if you’re planning on sending out bulk SMS campaigns regularly. If you want all leads and customers to be able to reach you (whether or not you’ve previously messaged them), then a dedicated virtual number is the way to go.

Virtual Phone Numbers vs Traditional Phone Numbers

Traditional phone numbers are connected to a line or device. With old-school landlines, the phone number is tied to that line, regardless of the device. And for mobile devices, the number is tied to a SIM card and a device. If you manage to snag the latest iPhone, you need to set it up with your phone number.

On the other hand, a virtual phone number is connected to your business, not to any specific lines or devices. You can set up your virtual phone number to reroute to a specific end-point, whether it’s a device or app, based on what keys the customer enters in response to your automated menu.

Why all businesses need a Virtual Phone Number for SMS

You might be sitting there wondering if a virtual number falls in the ‘nice to have’ category, or if it’s something your business actually needs. We’re here to tell you that dedicated virtual numbers are definitely a must-have for all types of businesses.

If any of the following applies to your business needs, it’s time to get a virtual mobile number:

  • Consolidated business phone numbers
  • Sending or receiving enterprise SMS

Consolidated business phone numbers

Emergency medical services and businesses consolidate phone numbers to one front-facing number for the same reason—ease of remembering, finding, and using.

If your ‘Contact Us’ page, business card, or other resource lists multiple numbers, you risk confusing your customers. Worse still, your customers might become frustrated if they use the incorrect number by accident.

When you consolidate business phone numbers into a single number, you offer the gift of simplicity to your customers. Then, by responding to the menu options, they can navigate to the right employee or department. It’s a win-win situation!

Sending and receiving SMS messages

Thinking about sending SMS as a business? Perhaps you want to use text messages to…

  • Communicate with staff in the field
  • Notify subscribers and loyalty program customers of sales and promotions
  • Follow up with leads to schedule a sales call
  • Remind leads and customers of upcoming appointments

Whatever the reason, when you send business SMS, you shouldn’t send it from your mobile. It’s expensive, and frankly, really inefficient. Instead, send texts through an online SMS platform that offers a web-based gateway like MXT. Online SMS services allow you to send SMS directly within your CRM, marketing automation software, or from your email inbox with Email-To-SMS.

An SMS platform can make it easier for you to trigger SMS, track results, and respond to SMS replies all in one place.

When sending SMS from such a platform, it’s typically best-practice to use a virtual number, rather than a personal number. You don’t want to clog up your mobile inbox with texts from customers, do you?

Related: "How to send bulk SMS messages from your PC"


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How businesses use Virtual Phone Numbers for SMS

SMS codes (aka virtual mobile numbers) offer tonnes of benefits. You know how phone calls can be sent to a software app instead of a real phone? Well, text messages can be sent to an online app too. Using SMS software means employees don’t have to field incoming text messages on their personal devices outside business hours.

When connected to the right SMS provider, virtual phone numbers for SMS allow your staff to receive and reply to messages in one central place with Two-Way SMS. This can ensure that all messages get replied to. Plus, you can assign message threads to the right salesperson or customer representative.

You can also integrate SMS and virtual number functionality with your CRM and marketing automation software, such as HubSpot, Salesforce, and Marketo. This opens a world of possibilities for adding SMS capabilities to your sales and marketing workflows.

There are endless messages you can automate with virtual numbers:

  • Trigger an SMS when a lead fills out your contact form and ask to book a call with them
  • Automate SMS appointment reminders a day or two before the appointment
  • Re-engage leads and customers that are unresponsive to email messages
  • Send important business updates to staff and customers

Related: "How Virtual SMS Numbers Work for your Business"

Battle of the Virtual Phone Numbers: Long Codes vs Short Codes

Dedicated virtual numbers are available for both long codes and short codes, so that your business can have a consistent SMS ID.

What are short codes?

Short codes are exactly what they sound like; they’re a number that only consists of 5-6 digits. A short code is a unique dedicated number that comes at a premium with advanced internal routing capabilities (perfect for high-volume enterprise communications).

Shortcodes can be quite costly but they are important for businesses who want to receive SMS from new customers, not just get replies from their campaigns. Unlike a long code, short codes are easy to remember and therefore super convenient for text-in competitions, customer support, and more.

For example, a business can run a campaign using keyword triggers. They’ll promote their unique short code in-store or online asking their target audience to text-in the word ‘free’ to opt-in and receive a coupon code for a free item with any purchase.

What are long codes?

Depending on the country you’re sending messages to, a long code can consist of 11-16 digits. In the US, for example, a 10-digit long code (10DLC) follows the standard for all phone numbers: a 3-digit area code and a 7-digit phone number. This enables businesses to use a virtual phone number that looks just like a regular phone number.

Compared to short code pricing, long codes are a more cost-effective choice for SMB or companies just getting started with SMS. Alongside bulk texting capabilities, long codes also support Two-Way SMS functionality.

Many businesses use long codes for Two-Way conversations, such as:

  • Customer support queries
  • Customer feedback
  • SMS polls and surveys

Related: "SMS Codes [Explained]"

Which SMS code should you use?

To choose a long code or a short code? That is the question. In reality, both options are perfectly reliable and functional tools for sending business SMS. In saying that there are two main things you should consider; your estimated bulk SMS volumes and your budget.

10DLC allows businesses to send up to 30 messages per second. By comparison, short codes have significantly higher messaging throughput—perfect for sending out thousands of emergency alerts via SMS or marketing campaigns with large recipient lists.

For most SMB, 10DLC offers high enough volumes, but enterprises might want to invest in a short code to send even higher volumes of SMS per second.

If you’re still unsure what the best virtual SMS number option is for your business, our friendly SMS experts are here to help. Get in touch at any time of day, and they’ll help you decide which virtual SMS number is best suited for your unique business communication needs.

To set up a virtual number for SMS and start sending and receiving text messages, sign up for your SMSGlobal account today!