I read an interesting article from Gartner recently. I found it so interesting I decided to do something I don’t often do, which is write about how marketing can impact the B2B sales process—especially with regard to wireline and wireless networks. This story is going to take the long way around the barn, so I hope you’ll hang in there with me until I finally get to the point of why I think this will be interesting for you, too.
At a time when self-service, virtual assistants, and automated interactions seem to be everywhere, it’s easy to think that the person-to-person customer experience is going the way of the dinosaurs. But the folks over at Gartner are predicting that B2B sales transactions will merge the best of digital and human methods in 2022. In the midst of the historic mass migration to online living and working amid the never-ending pandemic, Gartner also sounds a note of caution, saying that customers who pursue Sales rep-free transactions will regret their purchase decisions. Based on my own recent experience buying a new phone, I think Gartner is right. This has huge implications for telecommunication service providers and B2B sales across the board.
Customer experience means expertise that’s available when you need it
I got a new phone for Christmas. According to my youngest son, it was high time. He has marveled for years at how I could keep such an “old” phone going for so long. (Quick shout out to all the Gen Xers out there who know how to live and socialize without their phones glued to their hands and some kind of listening device permanently inserted in their ears. In another affront to Gen Z, I discovered that headphones and ear buds are different market segments; they’re not interchangeable terms that can be used vaguely by those who seek personal listening experiences.)
I bought the phone from a website that I trusted. I figured I’d have a better selection and it would get here faster. There were SO MANY OPTIONS, and long lists of features and benefits that blurred before my eyes like gibberish. After an hour of intense research that made less and less sense, I confidently chose the color I wanted and the base model smartphone. I selected guaranteed next-day white-glove delivery, completed the transaction, received order confirmation, and added the delivery time to my calendar. Take that, long lines in big box stores!
The next day, my delivery time came and went with no white-glove smartphone delivery. I checked my order status online. Surprise! It showed as “still processing.” Ominous. The same thing happened daily for the next seven days with no communication from the vendor or anyone else who might have my money.
So I called. According to the vendor, after processing the order (also known as taking my money) they promptly transferred the order to their fulfillment partner, who was now responsible for getting my phone to me via white glove delivery. After four hours on hold and three hours negotiating with the vendor and the fulfillment partner—who, by the way, would not confirm or deny that they had ever received my order, we all agreed it would be best to just cancel and start over. The vendor recommended I visit their storefront location closest to me for more information, and wished me a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Turns out it was good advice. With the help of a knowledgeable, incredibly helpful human being in a brick and mortar wireless retail store, I ordered a new phone. The sales representative assessed my usage and needs, and gently suggested a model that was a few steps above the base model I chose by myself. Grateful for the informed recommendation, I ordered it. It was a positively pedestrian experience that resulted in a new phone arriving at my house December 24 at noon. The delivery driver tipped his hat to me as he drove away. Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
So … what does all that have to do with marketing and sales for wireline and wireless networks?
Agility, agility, agility
Business to Consumer (B2C) markets are microcosms of Business to Business (B2B) relationships and networks. Business is booming, but the supply chain is still mired in pandemic backlogs. If B2C is experiencing shortages, choke points will appear in the B2B relationships that are connected to those interruptions. That means if businesses can’t get what they need one way, they will need partners who can deliver viable alternatives. As organizations refresh installed solutions and net-new service offerings fail to materialize as planned and predicted, providers need agile, multivendor networks to deliver practical alternatives.
Wireless providers have already proven their commitment to Open RAN, and they are getting more and more creative every day. They are mixing and matching RUs, DU and CU baseband processing. O-RU, O-DU, and O-CU adoption is growing in rural and suburban areas where legacy network integration is critical, and operators are starting to look at how RAN Intelligent Controllers (RIC) can manage specific situations in their networks in new ways with xApps and rApps. These providers are expanding the concept of end-to-end orchestration, automatically connecting network segments that were previously confined to their own domains.
There is no equipment catalog or professional services playbook for the infinite combinations of the converged radio and core network. There are only deep experts who know the network segments, understand the potential of convergence, and possess the ability to deliver on those possibilities. Some of these people work for providers, some work for telecommunications vendors, and some work for systems integrators. Some of them also sit on the advisory boards of standards organizations that are burning the candle at both ends.
Frankly, it’s a great time to be alive for solutions marketing. Everyone will be opening their wallets to create incremental opportunities for years to come.
Every transaction needs an expert somewhere
Of course, you can instantly order components and equipment online. Then what? What do you do when it doesn’t fix the problem you bought it for? Ask for more budget? How confident can any individual be that what they see will be what they get, when they want it? For the right price?
Somewhere in every transaction, providers need customer advocates who provide meaningful and trusted recommendations. That support must be attached to a business with a proven track record solving all the problems, not just the one at hand.
Sales cycles will get longer
Products and solutions are taking longer to ship. Do you have partners that want to lock you in for 18 months or longer with vertically integrated solutions that will be fantastic (we swear!) when the whole thing is finally delivered? Or do you want partners with the flexibility to help maintain and grow your network according to your business needs? Sometimes software solutions are better than more hardware. But do you trust your hardware vendor to tell you that? Figuring these things out will naturally draw out the sales cycle. So look for partners who are actively sharing expert content around the things you care about. Engage fiercely. We all have something to learn from each other.
There’s an opportunity in front of all of us right now
Consumers and providers alike need an expectation reset. Not because their expectations are unreasonable or wrong, but because the reality of every situation is fluid, and may require a different approach before projects can be finished. Providers need a new approach to product and solution development that is inherently flexible, gets products and services to market faster, and scales easily to keep pace with customer demands. For most, that means developing a new vision for the business that includes a digital roadmap, business process redesigns that cross customer service silos, and leveraging the network expertise of trusted partners at any and every stage of the procurement process.