Problems with communications products and bills are almost always discussed from the customer’s perspective. In the enterprise wireless realm, however, operators face their own product, pricing, and billing problems. With good tools, an enterprise manager can put an operator’s sales rep on the defensive with little room to maneuver. This is a problem that needs to be addressed through better tools and smarter product management.
I’ve been on a major enterprise’s side in a wireless contract re-negotiation with the four largest operators in the U.S. I can tell you that it was almost too easy to put the sales reps on their heels and play them off against each other. It was easy because we had dozens of variables to negotiate over. We built a detailed matrix of all of these variables, comparing them across carriers. As a result, we created a complex game of give and take that confused the reps so often they pretty much had no choice but to capitulate or walk out. Walking out would mean losing a multi-million dollar account to their chief competitors, so they really had no choice but to capitulate.
We had a decisive advantage not only because we represented a big buyer, but because we had effective tools to use at the “point of attack” and the sales reps didn’t. They relied on paper contracts, out of date pricing tables, and latitude given to them by their managers to keep the customer at all costs. We had comparative data tables and math that our client – the enterprise’s wireless telecom contract manager – used to eviscerate the reps. Not surprisingly, he enjoyed every minute of it.
Historically, confusing contract variables played in an operator’s favor. Telecom managers would become so confused by all of the plans, discounts, credits, and add-on services that they’d be paralyzed at contract time. The rep would offer up what seemed like a generous discount structure. The enterprise manager could then feel like he or she had won something. In the meantime, bills – accurate or not – would be paid every month, often without being audited, and monthly costs would rise endlessly.
Now that enterprises are becoming more savvy with analytics, this advantage is going away. Sometimes enterprises grumpily wake up to the fact that their reps haven’t been entirely straight with them. When a company decides to counter attack, as our client did, the tables are turned drastically in the enterprise’s favor.
This whole process needs to change. Operators should never find themselves in adversarial negotiations with their best customers. Products and contracts for enterprises need to be easier to manage. Contracts also need to be updated proactively so that an enterprise’s mix of plans, discounts, and discounted handset options reflect the operator’s most current inventory and best offers given the size of the customer.
The best way to do this, most likely, is to get product management under control. Obsolete plans and services needs to be retired and replaced for the enterprise. The more care the operator can provide in this way, the more confidence the enterprise will have in the operator. That confidence usually translates into thousands of lines being won away from competitors. The icing on the cake is to provide proactive invoice auditing – or more simply, metrics that demonstrate that every bill accurately reflects the enterprise’s contract terms. If the operator can follow that up with rate plan and discount optimization, that’s all for the better.
Whatever the case, operators will ultimately benefit from a proactive, care-driven approach to enterprise wireless. This isn’t just because it will make enterprise customers more loyal, but because it will minimize the beatings sales reps will increasingly take as major enterprises become smarter and more aggressive about managing their rapidly growing wireless contracts and expenses.