Many IP telephony industry pundits, magazine editors, and marketers heralded
2000 as "The Year of the Application." It was the banner slogan at many an industry trade show. We also chimed in whenever possible,
since the underlying challenge was that it was high time to "put up or shut
The whole spin worked because it was borne out of sheer high-tech industry
common sense -- and just a tad of sheer economic necessity: Technology for
technology's sake can only take you so far, before you start to slide back down
the slippery slope. At some point, commercially viable applications and
solutions must be developed before actual customers and real revenues can start
Unfortunately, having a great application only fills the glass halfway, and many
companies tried to fill the glass to the top by finding a shortcut to the
marketplace. When the stock market and capital markets were rosy in the cheek,
the inherent weaknesses of these shortcuts were masked by the "green-out
effect" of money falling from the sky. Back in the salad days of yore,
partnering with your application in tow at an industry trade show was mistaken
for "customering" -- companies went on a yearlong partner-signing,
press release writing spree without any handle on the actual capability of their
newfound partners to execute on their business plans (assuming they had one) and
generate real business. Many of these companies that went down this path came up
empty as their partners failed to deliver a single order.
Other companies that have positioned themselves in the service provider/carrier
space also fell into the black hole known as "The Lab Trial." In this
scenario, a carrier lures the equipment vendor to send them a number of systems
at no charge so the carrier can run them through their paces, all the while
dangling the carrot of a potential order for full network deployment in front of
starry-eyed sales managers. At many of these companies, this hypnotized everyone
from the CEO on down. Now, with every carrier and service provider announcing
retrenchments in their bold network expansion and upgrade initiatives, the
trance has been broken and many IP telephony companies are getting the first
real wakeup call in their relatively young lives.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that while applications are nice, and
even essential, it's the really the customer that ultimately counts, and that's
why I am proclaiming that this year is to be known hereon in as "The Year
of the Customer." The Internet telephony companies that will survive this
economic downturn and the various vagaries of the marketplace are the ones that
have developed the tactics and strategies to attract, win, and retain real
customers. Here's a short checklist of some strategies that might help get the
Forge a Tight and Balanced Alliance Between Engineering, Sales, and Marketing
Teams. It should sound alarms if the engineering department dominates your
company's new "customer-focused" marketing and sales strategy. Not
that engineers aren't capable of adopting a "customer-facing" attitude
-- it's just that it's simply not their stock-in-trade. For example, it's one
thing to produce a spec sheet, and quite another to produce a compelling
customer success story.
Put Customer Service and Support First. If you are selling IP telephony
services, whether it be simple resale, or local/long-distance bypass
alternatives, there is an incredible opportunity for you to beat the traditional
carriers by playing a completely different game, and one they have no clue about
-- it's called "Providing Genuine Customer Service." Imagine what
would happen if you proactively contacted all your existing customers about a
rate change that would save them money. Or you promised to do this to convince
new customers to sign up.
Forget Trying to Be All Things to All Customers. This is a losing
proposition. Focus on what you do best, and then over-deliver.
Focus Your Marketing Efforts on the Things That Count. In this economic
climate, customers are most interested in solutions that will 1.) Save them
money; 2.) Make them money; 3.) Make them more productive so they can do more of
1. and 2.
Think Three Times Before Irrationally Cutting Your Marketing Budgets. History
has proven that companies that maintain or increase their marketing and
promotional investments in periods of economic downturn increase their sales and
share of market, both during and after the downturn.
Marc Robins is vice president of publications at TMC and associate group publisher for INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine. Marc has been covering the
communications industry since 1980, and his column takes a look at some of the
more interesting trends vying for attention in our industry. Please contact Marc
with comments at email@example.com.
To The May 2001 Table Of Contents ]