Online Sales of Business Tariffs in Telecommunications - From the Cross-Channel Reality to an Omnichannel Vision
Discussions covering the best cross-channel marketing strategies to adopt for the online sales of business tariffs over the course of the last 12 months have seen phrases such as omni-channel marketing and cross-channel marketing become commonplace; especially for businesses looking to sell complex tariff products online.
The terms “omnichannel marketing” and “cross-channel marketing” are not always precisely applied, leading to some confusion over what the terms actually mean.
To add to the confusion, discussions about cross-channel strategies for marketing tariff products online tend to be centered on the retail industry, and this is not representative of other business sectors; the telecommunications sector for example, cross-channel marketing strategies are very different. The strategies that must be adopted to develop online sales of business tariffs in telecommunications differ considerably to those used for the retail industry.
I felt it important to present the differences between the two industries by providing an example of the online distribution of telecom business tariffs. By the end of this post, I hope to have illustrated why there is probably no alternative to an omnichannel strategy for companies in the telecommunications sector.
Cross-Channel was never an innovation in online sales; it always disliked reality. Omnichannel is nothing more than matching the expectations of customers!
Cross-Channel marketing describes nothing more than the already dominant online sales experience for business customers. These customers inform themselves about rates online, but then they need to visit a POS to sign a contract, or at least use another sales channel such as a hotline. The larger the customer, the less likely it is that a deal can actually be closed directly in an online environment.
Completion rates through the online channel in the business segment are definitely not comparable with those of the private client segment. Since sales are achieved through multi-channel processes, the development of an online channel that customers can use to complete only part of the sales process is far from ideal, especially if that that channel does not work effectively with others.
In fact, Cross-Channel marketing was never an innovation in online sales; it always disliked reality. For instance, some companies adopted a tactic to subtly "force" customers to close a deal online - by “hiding” the hotline number on a website for instance. We all know: That did not work. Some cross-channel marketing strategies can be infuriating for customers and can drive them away in their droves.
When customers change sales channel, from their perspective they see a break in continuity and this affects their view of the company.
The message they are given is: "Go back to square 1!” All the information that has already been collected from online customers gets lost at this breaking point: What information the customer has already got so far - and the information about any tariffs that customer is particularly interested in - is similarly lost. There is no transparency from a customer perspective; E.g. Why conditions in the online shop are different from those at the point-of-sale? They fail to understand the complexities of implementing systems that can effectively allow the sale of complex tariff products online as well as facilitate cross-channel sales of tariff products.
From the perspective of the sales team, these fractures also have unpleasant aspects too. Sales partners lose valuable information that the customer entered online and believed was forwarded to the online shop. Unfortunately web analytics cannot be linked to financial statements. Etc.
At this point we need to develop the concept of evolving a cross-channel reality to an omnichannel vision: An omni-channel strategy offers a seamless customer experience instead of including an inevitable breaking point. Rather of a point of fracture, we get a predictable joint. The customer experience is not cut short, but continues and is seamlessly passed over to the next stage in the sales process.
The cross-channel reality is customer driven and it happens all by itself. The omnichannel vision; however, must be a conscious design and requires work in order to be effective in the real world.
The biggest obstacle for implementation of our omnichannel vision is the existing organizational and logistic dividing lines between the various distribution channels for most companies. "Who owns the customer?" This is the big question in 2015 for any company looking to sell complex tariff products online and it should be the first thought that comes to the mind when responsible sales managers think about linking channels.
That, of course, was already a big topic in the reality of cross-channel marketing! There are clearly fault lines, but the pressure does not often seem to ever be sufficient enough to get sales managers devising their sales targets consistently from scratch.
Also products (rates / conditions) and logistics have decoupled in many Telco companies’ online and offline channels. But from the customer's perspective, there is no longer any division there! Jason Bloomberg, in a recent Forbes article, aptly describes channel conflicts and points out that they are “a deceptive illusion in a world of blurred lines between channels.”
Omnichannel also means, ultimately, "Omni-analytical". The comprehensive analytical view of customer data - for so much effort is expended in the online channel- should not be given away lightly just because the customer changes channel.
Implementing an omni strategy and turning an Omnichannel vision into a reality essentially means making the transformation from the classic 'shopping basket’ to a much more flexible and mobile cart; one which can go back and forth between the online portal, call center, back office and point-of-sale.
Implicitly, this means that the" customer experience” is - in the broadest sense of the term - all the information and impressions a customer has collected during his journey. In a narrower sense, it means saving information about decisions the customer has made about products and the recommendations that customer receives. All of that information must be stored in a customer profile that can be opened and processed asynchronously through the various channels.
It should be irrelevant exactly where the customer takes that cart to checkout: The process should be the same from the customer’s perspective. A particular challenge in this regard is the validation period relating to a product selection, such as if the price changes between selection and checkout. Another issue is the management of cross-channel stock availability. From a technical perspective, there are overlaps with existing challenges in reverse logistics.
Also, it is essential that the path a customer has taken is monitored and recorded. When a customer is forwarded by a sales partner, the data relating to that referral is needed as commissions will have to be paid. The link between the customer and the referral channel can therefore never be lost. This data must therefore be transferred with the customer profile.
The transfer of product data via affiliate networks is usually achieved via URL parameters, and this method can only accommodate a very limited amount of product data. It may not be possible to transmit all the necessary data about the contents of the shopping cart if it contains many business products. This amount data cannot be transmitted using URL parameters. Therefore, affiliate marketing will not work well in a cross-channel scenario because the link between the recommendation and the closing transaction gets broken. In an omni environment this link is maintained.
The Omni-Channel Technology of Offer-Ready
Offer-Ready provides simple and effective building blocks for the rapid implementation of omni-channel strategies and can turn your omnichannel vision into a reality.
The Offer-Ready calculator is a reliable tool that allows the incorporation of tariff comparisons, rate calculators and apps for tariff recommendations into the online sales process. All input and calculated data is automatically stored in a customer profile that can be accessed, viewed, amended and printed from any computer using that customers unique encrypted ID.
In an interaction with a customer – using an online chat function or a website contact form - the encrypted ID can be transferred automatically. If the customer would like to visit a point-of-sale; a PDF file can be generated which will include the tariff comparisons along with a QR Code, which can be scanned by staff at the point-of-sale.
Alternatively if a call center is preferred, the customer is issued with a short code. This is displayed in the online portal in addition to the hotline number. The customer then calls the hotline and provides his code and the call center staff can use it to bring up the stored customer profile. If this happens at the beginning of a conversation with a customer, the call centre employee will have exactly the same level of knowledge as the caller, and will know exactly what tariffs were already recommended or even selected online by the customer!
Using the customer profile, the Offer-Ready quote generator can generate offers which can be exported in a variety of formats, including PDF or Microsoft WORD, which can then be used at the point-of-sale, in the back office or the call-center.
Customers will decide which companies get left behind
The importance of online channels in Telco business sales is likely to continue to be underestimated. In our cross-channel reality, it might be noticed that customers are informing themselves using the internet, but this is in fact never given the importance it deserves. The focus of appreciation remains fixed on isolated distribution channels through which the contracts are physically signed. This insulated internal view is at odds with the customer’s perspective of increasingly blurred boundaries between sales channels, and this rather technical, internal perspective of sales managers needs to change; certainly if online sales figures are to be increased, let alone take over from the more traditional channels.
Nowadays, business sales cannot survive without integrating online customers seamlessly into the sales processes of other channels, especially in the small enterprise segment. With the obstacles removed, it is possible to sell complex tariff products online and easily – and seamlessly - close deals started online in any of the other sales channels.
There are growing customer expectations, considerable savings to be made and while the fault lines will undoubtedly still remain, it is possible to walk around these and offer exactly the service each customer expects and save on costs. Your Omnichannel vision can be achieved. With Offer-Ready, at least!