Where telecoms companies get the small business sales process wrong

Communications service providers (CSPs) know that small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) represent a significant market for both basic communications services and a range of additional, value-added services, such as security, unified communications, hosting, ecommerce, and online applications.

They also know that many SMEs seem almost impervious to sales and marketing messages, difficult to reach, and even harder to convert into customers. It’s not surprising that many CSPs decide to hand off the challenge of selling to SMEs to a network of (often smaller) channel partners – often retailers of IT equipment as well as resellers of communications services – for whom the effort involved in dealing with SMEs can be made worthwhile.

The more savvy of the CSPs – whose wholesale divisions are viewed as an asset rather than the troublesome requirement of a regulator, or a low-margin provider of last resort when the retail arm has failed – support their channel partners very well. They develop packages of products and services ready-made to appeal in the market; provide them with sales and marketing support; and give them access to the order management and provisioning systems to enable high levels of customer service to be provided throughout the customer lifecycle.

And yet there is so much that doesn’t work properly in this process. Let’s look at the processes involved in selling and delivering a communications product, or a more sophisticated set of products and services, to a small business.

CSP small business sales process

CSPs are great at delivering products to customers. Some of them (but not all) are reasonable at customer service, too (we’ll be returning to this topic in the future). But I believe they are not good at understanding SMEs’ requirements (I have written before about how assessing the ICT maturity of customers can help), and I don’t think they are very good at capturing what customers want, and identifying (and where necessary creating) products that match these needs, on a customer-by-customer basis.

Of course, a CSP could use the approach it would take to a large enterprise, and have an account manager discuss needs in detail and prepare a bespoke proposal. But the cost of sale for a small customer that will not spend large amounts of money precludes this approach.

It could adopt the approach that’s essentially: “here’s what we offer – choose what you want from this – take it or leave it”. But that’s missing a trick, particularly with customers that may not understand why some of the products offered might really help them, if only they had things explained.

It could use the approach of passing customer details to channel partners – but the CSP doesn’t get to understand the customer, and the channel partners’ sales teams are often very focused on individual products and either not inclined or ill-equipped to upsell.

You would imagine, wouldn’t you, that in the era of ‘big data’, when almost every interaction is logged and analysed, that it would be possible to automate intelligently the processes of matching SME requirements with combinations of products, and cost-efficiently supporting the sales process – whether via a network of channel partners or within the CSP itself.

I have been musing about this since Amdocs introduced its latest version of the CES 9 OSS/BSS suite. One of the components of the suite is a product called Business Service Capture – specifically aimed at enabling sales staff to capture small business requirements and generate service design and quotations more efficiently. Amdocs claims that this can cut the time needed to generate a custom service quote by 75%, and halve the number of post-sale reworkings of contracts. Business Service Capture is a complement to Amdocs’s CRM, order taking and management, product catalog and inventory systems.

Amdocs Business Service Capture

Amdocs Business Service Capture [reproduced with permission]

Interestingly, Amdocs’ marketing of the product suggests it is coming at the opportunity from a slightly different direction from me (though we meet at the same point). Amdocs’s view is that many ICT products and services are becoming increasingly commoditized, and therefore simpler sales approaches can and should be found for things that were previously created on a bespoke basis by an experienced sales executive. My view is that a way needs to be found to create attractive products that meet real (rather than assumed) needs.  Amdocs’s system needs to ensure that the requirements capture is designed and described in language that SMEs will understand and respond to, even if they don’t know what products they might need.  I assume Amdocs has been working on that.


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