The Real Value of Bundling

Numismatics_and_Notaphily_iconMost telecom providers these days offer some sort of bundled product. Bundles have become such an automatic pricing tool that I think many providers don’t consider the value proposition behind bundles. Originally bundles were created to try to make customers want to stay with a provider – to make them sticky, in industry jargon. If your bundles don’t do that you are probably missing something.

Consider two different companies I know that have the best bundles. The first is not even a telecom company. I have a friend who owns and operates a CPA firm that has been in business for fifty years. His firm always did traditional bookkeeping and tax preparation work. A decade ago he started getting a lot of competition from other tax-preparation alternatives – the big companies like H&R Block and also software packages like TurboTax. He realized that his primary product didn’t offer any significant advantages over his competitors, and that if he didn’t change something he was going to see a lot of customer churn and he would always have to spend a lot of marketing just to retain a customer base.

So he decided to create bundles by offering other services that his customers already used and bought elsewhere. He first added a payroll service and made it easy for his customers to pay their employees. This was a product that was available from many other places, but he found that his customers preferred to buy the service from somebody they already trusted. He then added credit card processing since almost all of his customers accepted credit cards. Again, this is a widely available service, but many of his customers over time moved their business to him.

In recent years he has become even more creative. He’s become an insurance broker and can offer policies from a wide array of different insurance companies. Probably the most creative product he’s developed is a point of sale system that he developed himself. His customers are small retail stores like restaurants, nail salons, grocers – and he has a system on an iPad that can take credit card payments and that automatically logs each sale into the accounting system.

The bottom line is that he has created a suite of products that make his customers very sticky to him. He has priced each of these products competitively because his profit comes from selling the whole suite of products, not any one product. He has found that offering the bundle of services has greatly reducing churn and he rarely loses A customer. Customers have a hard time leaving him since they would need to find multiple vendors to replace him.

I have a telcom client who has done something similar. While they are a rural telco, they decided twenty years ago to expand into the business market in some nearly cities. They did okay selling telephone lines at first, but they saw churn and found that customers had no reason to be loyal to them as a provider.

So they decided to tackle a bundle of a wide variety of technical services needed by small businesses. Of course, that meant providing broadband as soon as that became a common need for businesses. But over time they have done a lot more.

They first tackled being the IT shop for small businesses. When they started this it meant installing and maintaining a server at a customer location. Over time that function has moved back to their own data center, but they still provide this service for most of their customers. They also created their own version of the Geek Squad, before there was such a thing at Best Buy. They will purchase, program, maintain and repair customer computers and associated electronics. They also have gotten into other lines of business – they resell, install and train on various major cloud software packages. For a while they offered video conferencing (before Skype made it free and easy). They even offer copiers, postage machines and other major office equipment.

Their goal was to make themselves indispensable to a small business by becoming a one-stop shop to buy everything electronic. And it has worked. They won over a significant portion of the businesses in their markets as customers and those customers are remaining loyal to them. A customer doesn’t have an easy time leaving them since that means replacing them with at least three or four other vendors.

These are two examples of bundles done right. If your bundles are only used as a pricing tool then you are missing the biggest benefit of the bundle – which is to create loyal customers who won’t leave you. Worse yet, I see mandatory bundles that trap customers into buying services they don’t want – and when these customers finally get fed up and find an alternative you’ll never see them again.

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