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TMCNet:  ALL BUSINESS: how to Entice INDUSTRY CUSTOMERS [Rural Telecommunications]

[June 28, 2014]

ALL BUSINESS: how to Entice INDUSTRY CUSTOMERS [Rural Telecommunications]

(Rural Telecommunications Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The rapid introduction of new business communications solutions means there are more players competing for the same revenue. Businesses need to be enticed to become customers and then enticed to remain loyal. The key to success in this environment is stepping up marketing efforts that differentiate your company and strengthen long-term business relationships. If you're looking for ways to achieve this, you might find the actions of your industry peers helpful.


The Lure of Knowledge Nex-Tech (Lenora, Kan.) is raising the bar when it comes to using educational opportunities to lure business customers. The company is organizing TechEdge, a new conference for business technology experts, which will be held at Fort Hays State University. Nex-Tech Marketing Analyst Trisha Sauer explained that the telco is targeting current customers and new prospects such as hospitals and government agencies, with a goal of getting 200 to 300 attendees.

Keynote speaker Mitch Holthus, the voice of the Kansas City Chiefs, and an FBI presentation on business security are draws for the event. At least 15 to 20 of the telco's vendor partners are expected to participate and run breakout sessions. Those sessions will cover topics such as security and surveillance, cellular technology, phone systems and VoIP, wireless access and mobile devices, cloud systems and network security.

Existing and potential business customers are expected to enjoy the $15,000 prize-a-palooza. A portion of those prizes will come from participating vendors, which are required to provide a prize valued at $300. In return, the vendor will receive registrants' information and the pleasure of drawing the winning name for the vendor's prize contribution.

For those interested in undertaking a similar event, Sauer recommends leveraging vendor relationships and enticing attendees with a recognized "name" to be the keynote speaker. To market the event, the company used its e-newsletters, videos and email, in addition to plugging the event during the company's two monthly business-oriented webinars.

Personal Touch Bridget Watkins, vice-president of marketing and sales for All West Communications (Kamas, Utah), stated that business customers are key to the company's revenue and profitability. To win and keep those customers, the telco's objective was to do something its competitors couldn't easily replicate in its incumbent and competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC) areas. The telco's solution was to dedicate specific sales reps to specific business customers and to support those reps with a dedicated inside coordinator.

In filling the business-dedicated positions, Watkins said, "We weren't interested in someone who could sell ice to Eskimos. We were looking for people who could recognize win-win situations; someone that could get to know our customers on a personal level and make the business relationships feel more like a partnership." For the dedicated sales rep program to work, it's vital to know profit margins. At All West, sales reps must accrue sales equal to the amount the company pays to employ the person before bonuses can be earned. Based on the service profit margins, the bonus rates are set to encourage reps to sell higher profit-margin offerings.

"Margins constantly change because of industry dynamics, and every quarter things get adjusted to adapt to those changes," she stated. "We want to generate revenue, and we want it to be profitable revenue." The program kicked off in August 2013. In October a survey was conducted to obtain business feedback. One finding was that All West's customers expect issues to be resolved in less than four hours. "We knew through our tracking that we were resolving issues quickly, so we had set the bar high for ourselves to maintain," Watkins said.

Watkins explained that customers in the CLEC area have had experience with other service providers, and when customers in that CLEC area look at the service they received from their prior provider and compare it to the service they get from All West, the customers in the CLEC are reluctant to switch because they know from experience that the level of the service isn't likely to be as good.

"Businesses in the CLEC know from experience they won't get that level of service from our competitors. It makes a customer think twice if CenturyLink or Comcast comes knocking," she stated.

The program seems to be paying off. The company hired an additional sales rep in February 2014 to keep pace with inquiries from businesses.

Pnevenb bhe Runaround Nex-Tech has started a slightly different type of serviceoriented program. Marketing Sales Manager Dustin Schlaefli explained that Nex-Tech is a diversified, statewide operation that offers a multitude of business technology services in addition to its traditional phone and broadband offerings. Since calls from business accounts could come in to one of the company's 16 stores, Internet help desk, customer service or receptionist, the result was "a lot of hands in the pot." To streamline the business customer's experience, NexTech dedicated internal support reps to provide businesses with concierge customer service. Business customers were segmented based on their size, volume and longevity with Nex-Tech. Those companies with the highest rankings, and a few others that were hand-selected, were each assigned a specific internal business concierge. For all other business customers, the concierge group would provide a point of service on a first-available basis.

The goal of the program is to provide business customers with a more streamlined experience by having the concierge be the business' single point of contact. The job requirements for the concierge positions include being highly trained on the telco and technology billing system, knowing the wireless side of NcxTech's operation and being somewhat technical. The goal is that these individuals can quickly resolve higher-level questions for customers or determine the resources needed to provide the on-site service if required.

"The biggest challenge for us was determining how many staff we'd need to dedicate to provide the service," Schlaefli stated. The program kicked off in October 2013 with three full-time employees. A fourth position was added in February 2014.

Tap In-Houee IT EHpenbs ComSouth Telecommunications (Hawkinsville, Ga.) business customers have access to a geek-squad-on-steroids type of service. ComSouth's Glitch Guys originally provided computer and IT support for consumer accounts. Its success paved the way for ComSouth Business Services. Unlike the consumer-oriented program. Business Services pulls together resources from its Glitch Guys, sales team. customer service group and field techs to provide the communication and IT services desired by the business.

Mike Penn, vice president of marketing and sales, stated that consumers normally have just a one-off need ranging from "my computer is slow [to] ... doesn't work well (or) ...has a virus." These customers typically elect to bring their computer to a ComSouth office where a Glitch Guy provides answers.

"Business needs are more extensive. They need on-site support for services ranging from configuring networks, installing phone and video services, and providing cabling services, backup solutions and computer diagnostics," Penn stated. "We've created a service niche by pulling from our range of resources and skills, which competitive solutions providers have found difficult to match." Offen bhe Labesb and Gneabesb Services One of the latest services that may help telcos entice and keep business customers is called hosted unified communications (UC), which typically includes cloudbased PBX and managed services. ANPI (Springfield, 111.) is one of several companies offering the ability to private label a hosted UC solution.

ANPI's hosted UC bundles hosted PBX, unified messaging, present and active instant messaging, audio/Web/voice collaboration, desktop sharing and integrated mobility. Having this level of sophisticated communication capability traditionally has been financially out of reach for medium and small companies but is now offered in one fully integrated solution. With the private label offering, telcos can repackage the hosted UC solution to target the business market. Because the offering is completely turnkey, telcos can start selling the solution immediately while receiving sales training, marketing support and support assistance from ANPI.

Chief Marketing Officer David Byrd stated that one of the primary benefits to a telco offering a hosted UC product is that it gives them the flexibility to gain business customers outside of the telco's service infrastructure. Because it's an IP offering and not a telecommunications service, telcos can sell to businesses beyond their borders as long as they have a broadband connection.

"Telcos can add new revenues inside and outside their established territories using the host UC product, while still keeping their traditional offering and price structure intact," he said. For businesses buying the hosted UC service, they get communications services at a more competitive rate.

ANPI's solution is currently in use at Kingdom Technology Solutions (Fulton, Mo.), the CLEC for Kingdom Telephone Co. (Auxvassc, Mo.), and at Cirrinity Wireless, the CLEC of Wittenberg Telephone (Wittenberg, Wis.). Kingdom Technology Solutions and Cirrinity are using the system for their own businesses and are now offering the service for resale under their own brand names.

In early April, ANPI formed a strategic alliance with Indatel a team of wholesale carriers that provide telecommunications solutions via fiber option network routes throughout rural and metro America. The companies believe the synergy between their organizations will enable them both to provide future customers with greater efficiencies and economies for deploying services.

Tailor-Made Solutions Few telcos still enjoy being the only game in town. For the majority of providers, as technology continues to evolve, marketing efforts are becoming increasingly important for securing revenue and profits as well as warding off competition.

As a major contributor to the financial health of a telco, business accounts are particularly valuable. That makes it well worth looking for opportunities to become an indispensible resource and business partner, ideally through a means that will be difficult for your competitors to replicate.

Maybe it will be through educational events where there is the added potential for networking to generate word-of-mouth advertising between your current customers and new business opportunities. Maybe it will be achieved by ensuring your customers don't feel like they are getting the run-around because they have one reliable point of contact. Perhaps strategically leveraging the existing skill sets in your company will provide businesses with the peace of mind that no matter what IT issue crops up, they can get it resolved quickly. Or, maybe offering the latest communications technologies will be what's needed to persuade customers to sign on and stay with your telco.

While there is no one-size-fits-all marketing approach for winning and keeping business accounts, being aware of successful approaches used by industry peers provides a useful idea base to help you tailor your own new marketing efforts. 0 "WE KNEW THROUGH OUR TRACKING THAT WE WERE RESOLVING ISSUES QUICKLY, SO WE HAD SET THE BAR HIGH FOR OURSELVES TO MAINTAIN." BRIDGET WATKINS VICE-PRESIDENT OF MARKETING AND SALES ALL WEST COMMUNICATIONS "THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FOR US UJAB DETERMINING HOUJ MRNU STAFF UJE D NEED TO DEDICATE TO PROVIDE THE SERVICE." DUSTIN SCHLAEFLI MARKETING SALES MANAGER NEXTECH WE VE CREATED R SERVIGE NICHE BU PULLING FROM OUR RANGE OF RESOURCES AND SKILLS. WHICH COMPETITIVE SOLUTION PROVIDERS HAVE FOUND DIFFICULT TO MATCH." NIKE PENN TICE PRESIDENT OF MARKETING AND SALES COMSOUTH TELECOMMUNICATIONS TELCOS CRN RDD NELJU REVENUES INSIDE RND OUTSIDE THEIR ESTRBLISHED TERRITORIES USING THE HOST UC PRODUCT UJHILE STILL KEEPING THEIR TRRDITIONRL OFFERING RND PRICE STRUCTURE INTACT." DAVID BYRD CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER ANPI Anna Henry is a freelance writer. Contact her at Headlineink(g) comcast.net.

(c) 2014 National Telephone Cooperative

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