It was an exciting and informative week at TM Forum in Nice, France. The sun was shining and there was a lot of good discussion around Network Function Virtualization, Software Defined Networks, the Internet of Everything and Customer Experience Management.
None of these themes exists in isolation and a question threaded through many of the conversations with both Communication Service Providers (CSP) and CSP vendors – where will revenue come from over the next 2 years? I’d like to look at this topic in the context of the Business-to-Business customer experience.
Configuring, pricing, quoting, contracting and collecting payment (Quote-to-Cash) for the next generation of communications services can be a challenge. There are many more parties in a transaction but most are looking for a simpler experience. Here are some key areas to consider when planning for how to sell next generation digital solutions.
What am I selling?
The days of expecting customers to understand the complexities of the CSP network and partner relationships are limited. The CSP should take care of translating the customer expectations into the required services (network, software, hardware, professional services, partner components). When configuring a solution to quote consider asking, and planning for how the customer expects their business to change over the term of their contract rather than only focusing on what they need today. Keeping configuration focused on customer needs and outcomes, rather than network parameters can help with sales training, customer alignment and creates a higher probability of closing a deal. An example would be asking what security threats, percentage of mobile workforce and customer growth are foreseen over the next two years rather than how many offices, devices and data quantity a customer needs today.
How am I selling?
It can be tempting to try and automate as many of the steps as possible in the business customer (and partner) buying experience but there can also be a cost in missed human-to-human connection. Balancing the blend of digital (eCommerce, partner portals, intelligent assistants, mobile quoting and contracting) and personal (printed documents, phone calls, face to face meetings) touchpoints is a critical factor in the B2B sales experience. By capturing and analyzing which combination of tools and skills helps close a deal, it is possible to fine-tune processes and behaviors towards a higher probability of winning and retaining business.
What’s the best price for this customer?
Trust and pricing are key factors in B2B buying decisions. One of the most important moments with a B2B customer is when you are presenting the price for the first time. Applying machine learning to pricing can help generate the correct price with the correct discount based on historical trends for the customer, segment, product mix and other factors. As the mix of partner solutions increases it is also critical to be able to analyze the margin on a deal including discounting and promotions applied during the sales process.
Does my selling experience consider contract negotiation?
Contracts are an essential part of the sales process, but can also tend to get overlooked as a post-sale function. Providing a seamless flow from quote to contract and a well-defined process during negotiation can help further trust. For renewals and changes, it is also critical that there is full internal visibility of existing assets and contract(s) for the customer, including contracted pricing.
How will I get paid?
Billing and payments have been a cornerstone of the CSP environment for a long time. As services evolve there has been a business trend and preference to move towards simpler billing models. The challenge is keeping the revenue aspects simple while complexity of products and partners increase. It’s key to keep in mind where the customer sees the unique value of the services provided by the Digital CSP. For example, it may not be in data transmission but in the security and expert services provided in addition to the transmission. Being able to bill and recognize revenue across all services simply and accurately is a key consideration, even more so in light of ASC 606 regulations.
Overall, as disruption affects different industries, we are starting to see more similarities between once disparate industries. The divide between configuring solutions for manufacturing, which translates to a bill of materials; communications or software companies, which translates to technical and provisioning attributes, is narrowing. What is also increasingly common is the need to consider and improve the business customer experience across all parts of the Quote-to-Cash journey, not just for the initial sale.