Keep it Simple

I spend a lot of time looking at the products that carriers sell and one conclusion I reach is that simpler is better. I have found carriers with a multitude of options, with dozens of data products, many cable TV options and even many voice options. And I think I know where this came from. In the 90’s there was a movement to ‘give the customers more choice’ and I think that led some carriers down the path of customizing products for every customer who asked for something different.

But that does not seem to make sense for a variety of reasons. In probably the most extreme example, I know one carrier who has over forty Internet data products. This leads me to ask if a company really needs to be selling a 10 mbps, a 15 mbps, a 17 mbps and a 20 mbps data product? And the obvious answer is no. There is not enough practical difference between these products to justify having different ones.

It makes a lot more sense to have just a few data products. The companies that I see doing the best at selling data have three of four products, which can be characterized in terms of speed and price as low, medium and high, with maybe a fourth thrown in for a lifeline product. And they will have just a few cable TV options instead of the dozens of packages that I see at some companies. The same with voice, there might be a basic line and a line with unlimited long distance.

There are a number of reasons to keep it simple:

Customer service. It is important that all of your employees, from top to bottom in the company know your products. To some extent every employee in your company is a salesperson when they talk to the general public at or away from work. The basic triple play products are the core of what most carriers sells for a living, and if your employees don’t know what you sell then they can’t talk about your product to the public. As an example, every employee at your company ought to be able to instantly quote the latest prices and speeds for your Internet data product. This is an easy challenge to test – go out today and ask the next few employees you see if they can cite the speeds and prices of your basic residential and business data products. I would venture to say that most companies are going to fail this simple test.

Let’s face it – the success of your business depends on you being able to make a convincing story to customers of why your product is a better deal than the competition. For data products that difference is going to boil down to speed and price. Sales don’t just happen on the customer service lines, the opportunity is there every time one of your technicians is fixing something or an employee is standing in line at a grocery store. So make the products simple and make sure your employees can all cite your products and prices.

Sales, marketing. It’s much easier to market a simple product line. If you can summarize your pricing with a minimum of copy then you can spend your marketing efforts on talking about the benefits of your products and how you are a better deal than the competition.

And it’s certainly a lot easier to take an order from a customer when you don’t have to explain a ton of options. I can’t imagine the effort that is required in a company with dozens of data options when it is time to explain the product to a new customer or to discuss upgrading to an existing customer. Keeping it simple makes the whole sales process easier.

A simple product line also makes it a lot easier to build a customer portal so that customers can change products on their own. I just wrote last week how I recently went to AT&T wireless to change my voice plan and I was a bit overwhelmed by the number of options I had. I’m in the business and if I felt that choosing an option was a lot of work I wonder how somebody unfamiliar with the products in our industry must face these kinds of choices.

Provisioning. Whether you provision manually or have software that allows you to automatically provision products, having a simple product line is going to cut down on errors in provisioning. I talk to employees at carriers all of the time and a common problem I hear is that customers don’t get the products they thought they were signing up for. And when that happens you have started out on a sour note with a customer. With a simple product line, provisioning becomes a lot simpler because there are only a few options that customers can buy.

I do have a number of clients who have simple product lines. But even with those companies I will often see things like a phone product priced at $18.62 and it makes me wonder why it’s not priced at $18.99 or $18.49 or some number that everybody can remember. If you want your own folks to remember the prices, keep them simple as well.

Some companies seem to get this. I look at Google in Kansas City and their product line is downright sparse. They literally only have a tiny handful of products. I have written about them before and I think they have taken simplicity too far. But it’s easy to understand how much easier this has made their launch considering that they are new to the business.

So take a look at your product list with an eye to see if it’s simple and easy to understand. Or better yet, get some people outside of your staff to look at it. If the general public gets your products then you probably have it right.



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