Competitive Telecom Marketing

Today’s guest blog is written by Mindy Jeffries of Stealth Marketing. She will be writing a series of blogs that will appear here on Fridays for a while. If you want to contact Mindy you can call her at 314 880-5570. Tell her you saw her here!

Welcome to the new world of competitive targeted marketing; a world where you put each of your current customers and potential new customers into a bucket that best describes them. This may sound complicated, but competitive targeted marketing fits easily into budgets because you just manipulate the buckets one by one. What this means is that if you can afford to market to only one bucket of customers this month, you do that.  If you can afford several buckets, then you can market to more. In order to market to all of your buckets over time you have to generate a viable telecom marketing plan.

The first step in this process is to get your customers into the various buckets. To do that you need to put yourself in your customers’ place and examine the choices every customer has sitting at home at the end of your lines. What are they evaluating each month? Since you don’t know what your customers are thinking this becomes a series of riddles as you try to get into the customer’s mindset. And you should have a solution for every riddle. If you can’t answer the riddles posed by some of your products you should be using that product yourself to see it from a customer perspective.

Here are some of those riddles, meaning the questions that your customers are probably asking:

  • How much will this cost?
  • Can I rely on their customer service?
  • What’s best for me – a local provider versus not so local?
  • Programming choices?
  • Who has the channels I love?
  • Are telephone services limited to cell only?
  • How critical is 911?
  • How is reception on the various carriers in your area?
  • What Internet speeds do I need?

As you answer these riddles from a customer perspective you have your matrix!  Now, how do you shape the marketing messaging to compete against your competitors? In order to figure out how to shape your marketing messaging, you must ask yourselves questions about your products.

For example, let’s evaluate your Internet product. How competitive are the speeds? Usually, speed is where telecom companies can be very competitive. What service has greater reliability during a storm? Which service in your area is back in service quicker after a storm? Reliability is an area that is hard to beat in telecom companies. Ask yourself the hard questions and evaluate your product honestly compared to the competition.

Telecoms own the information channels, but most of us don’t think that way. We derive messaging from the fact that we open the information channels back up quicker when you need it. Still haven’t found your marketing edge? Examine some other aspects.

  • Are there unique ideas for pricing that fit local niche markets?
  • Can you undercut the competition by bundling?
  • Packaging? Buy the fastest Internet and get phone for free?
  • Are there areas you can serve that can’t get Internet any other way, but can get video and phone other places?
  • There are lists available of phone or Internet customers by competitor as well as satellite lists. You can buy those lists and then you can mail just those specific customers with a compelling offer. Show them how you can compete!

Once you form your matrix you can put each of your customers and potential customers into a bucket. You then decide what product you are going to offer them at which compelling price and how are you going to tell them what you have to offer by which medium.

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.



What’s the Right Number of Staff?

NYC: American Intl Building and Manhattan Comp...

NYC: American Intl Building and Manhattan Company Building (Photo credit: wallyg)

Over the years a lot of my carrier clients have asked me what the right number of staff should be for their organization. And of course, to some extent the answer is – it depends. There are differences between carriers that make it hard to compare two companies that might have roughly the same number of end-user customers.However, even with that said there are some general industry metrics that I have used during most of my career as a guideline when I want to examine the level of staffing at a given company. These are metrics that I gleaned from my mentors in the industry, and it is a little surprising to me that these metrics still seem to be a good guideline thirty years after I first heard about them. A typical telecom company is far different today than they were thirty years ago, but they still have the same basic functions that need to be done – administration and back office, technical, install and repair, customer service, and sales and marketing.

The general metrics I have always used as a starting point to look at an individual company is as follows:

Small Carrier               – Under 15,000 customers

Medium Carrier           – 15,000 – 50,000 customers

Mid-size Carrier          – 50,000 – 250,000 customers

Large carrier                – Over 250,000 customers

The metrics for the right number of employees is expressed in terms of the number of employees per customers. Basically, the larger a company gets, the more efficient they ought to be in terms of that metric.

Small Carrier               – 175 customers per employee

Medium Carrier           – 350 customers per employee

Mid-size Carrier          – 500 customers per employee

Large carrier                – No idea

These metrics apply roughly at the midpoint of each range. This means that one would expect a carrier with 7,500 customers to have about 175 customers per employee and one with 32,500 to be at 350. It’s straightforward math to see the metric for any company by knowing the number of end-user customers they serve.

There are factors that can change these metrics for a given company. For example:

  • Side businesses. Many carriers run side businesses in addition to their core business. These might be such things as construction or telephone system sales. As long as these side ventures are paying for themselves, then the employees engaged in these business lines would not be considered as part of the metric.
  • Geographic spread. A carrier that has to cover a large geographical area is going to need more technicians in trucks than a company that is geographically concentrated. A company with widely dispersed exchanges is also probably going to need more inside techs.
  • Outsourcing. One has to look at what functions are outsourced. For example, a company that is providing its own help desk or NOC is going to be different from one who does not. In looking at staffing, though, one has to always question whether the company should be doing functions internally that could be better outsourced.

In my career I have rarely seen a carrier that is understaffed, but it is fairly common to find companies that are overstaffed according to these metrics. If a company looks at these metrics and finds itself to be overstaffed, the question is what to do with that knowledge. What I have found is that workforces tend over time to find ways to justify themselves. When there are too many staff internal processes will be less efficient than at other companies and the employees will have found tasks to keep themselves busy. These inefficiencies can be of many types including things like inefficient paperwork for installation and repair, excess record keeping for time and materials, or excess testing and maintenance being performed.

Another common issue in companies with too many staff is that every job is in a silo, meaning that each employee only performs the tasks for their own job description and do not do tasks outside of their silo. Silos are necessary for large companies but they can be poison to smaller ones. It is very rare for the amount of work needed to match up exactly with the number if silos, and so you end up with staff who don’t have enough work within their silo to fill a full day. In smaller companies a better structure is one where employees wear many hats and are able and willing to kick in around the company where needed. I know that I am visiting a very competitive company if I walk in and find an outside installer manning the phones because somebody called in sick. That is the kind of teamwork that is needed in smaller companies to be efficient.

It often requires an analysis by an outsider to spot these kinds of inefficiencies because over time it’s easy for people at a company to think that the way they do things is the only way. I have worked with many companies over the years who have undertaken to reduce staff to be more efficient and I cannot think of one of them that was not a more profitable and efficient company after the transition. It is never easy to make a decision to reduce staff, but it is sometimes exactly what needs to be done to have a better and more profitable company. But before using these metrics to reduce staff get an outside opinion because these are ideal metrics and there are reasons why you might need a different number of staff than suggested by these metrics.