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Avoid Being Called a Commodity

By Sander Biehn | Oct 22, 2015


Working for an enormous Telco for many years has left a mark on me. I know how dangerous it is to become a commodity.  I watched as price pressures in the long-distance calling market gutted us back in the 90’s.  I lived to see the same thing occur to private data connections as the use of the internet hit the mainstream in the 2000’s.

Despite the fact my company was offering new and exciting services, all my customers ever wanted to know was my price for the commodity circuits. As revenues dropped, marketing dollars were slashed and the messages and enticing new service offerings ran out of funding.  Telcos face many of these same pressures today.  New entrants offering services over telco infrastructure threaten to make infrastructure that is not even paid for a commodity.

Ironically, much of the same technology that is fueling new services in the Telco space stands at the ready to fight price erosion. Powerful social media levers await that can assist enterprise sales in defending against commoditization promoting new services.

1. Targeting a small audience. Marketers wishing to reach the enterprise buyer often feel perplexed. Creating offers that get customers to try a new service often does nothing to get sales people to sell the new product. Events and media blasts are a flash in the pan of free jumbo shrimp and red wine that may make customers like your brand as they demand better prices. However, finding a forum in social media to discuss new services with prospects and industry experts remains largely untapped. Brands are being talked about, but rarely are talking in these forums which can provide incredible feedback on product development and what the competition is doing.

2. Getting the message right. Relying on a trained sales staff to articulate new ‘services’ messages can be frustrating. Sellers are comfortable with the existing portfolio and how to sell legacy products in order to feed their family. Outrageous commissions on selling services signal sales that the effort to sell these services is going to be equally outrageously difficult. Taking the stick approach is a great way to lose your top sellers to the competition. By creating online content that is sharable on social media, you are giving your sales team tools to make the transition. Combined with a commission spiff or marketing event to kick-off the new content, marketing can bring services top of mind not only to sellers, but also prospects. Who is more likely to be connected to the prospects than your sales people? Use that power to propel messages.

3. Shaping the message. Now the difficult news. In order for this to work, marketing is going to need to change the way messages are created. Instead of one broad statement cheering the accolades of the new services, messaging needs to take a cue from sales. First, messaging needs to be tailored to the customer vertical and job title. Marketing will need to know who the buyer is and what problems they need to solve. Content will need to start with problem statements. Additionally, content cannot be a list of features. It needs to be toned down and educational.  Sales people are aware of the pitfalls of trying to sell before you have educated a client. This is the lesson here for marketing.

History repeats itself as Telcos once again ‘race for the bottom.’ Using services to stave off commoditization will require sales teams to adapt. Marketing has a great opportunity to harness social media to drive that change in sales.