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October 2010

21st Century Order Management: The Cross-Channel Sales Conversation

21st Century Order Management: The Cross-Channel Sales Conversation

A few years ago, Verizon introduced a clever slogan for its business:  “Make Progress Every Day.“

To me, it’s a great slogan because people who make progress every day are the active and busy people of this world.  And whether they are raising kids, taking on new challenges at work/home or running a business, they’re the same kind of people who appreciate smartphones, high speed Internet and other advanced communications services.

“Progress people“ also fit the profile of high value, upwardly-mobile customers who can afford advanced communications services, so almost every CSP wants to attract them.

The Current Sales Order Process

OK, let’s play a little game of make-believe and see how well our current sales-order processes and systems would handle the ideal customer’s quest to acquire a new smartphone.

In this case, Verizon’s ideal customer is Jane, a 30ish working mom who’s a lawyer by trade with a couple kids in grade school.  In between the tough case load she’s got this week, Jane’s got a few things on her mind today such as ordering a new smartphone, picking up a carton of milk on her way home and meeting her son’s teacher at the school tonight.

Now as a CSP, the smartphone sales channels you’ve put in place — call center, website, retail store, etc. — all need to respond to Jane’s needs.  And it’s quite likely Jane won’t complete that smartphone sale through one channel alone because it’s a complex decision, and in today’s busy world, the customer decides the mix and sequence of sales/ordering channels.  That often means several “sales conversations“ need to occur before the order is closed.

At lunchtime, Jane does a little research on smartphones by visiting your website where she actually starts her order.  Jane likes what she sees and narrows down her choices to five smartphone models.  To get a better idea of the strengths of each phone, she speaks to a live agent at your call center.  On her way home from work, Jane is feeling ready to buy, so she drops by one of your retail stores to try out some of the handsets.  Finally, when she arrives home after placing her order for a smartphone, she realizes she ordered the wrong data plan and wants to have that updated before the handset is shipped.  At the same time, Jane orders an accessory for the phone.

OK, the ordering scenario just described is a highly complex one that transverses multiple sales channels in a matter of a few hours.  While Jane does “make progress“ and eventually buys a smartphone, the ordering process is a convoluted, multi-step one requiring her to repeat steps and provide the same information at each channel.

Is your Sales Process Seamless?

So here’s the question: How well would your ordering process handle such an order?  Would your process execute the transactions seamlessly, allowing an efficient and accurate handoff of information from one sales channel to the next?

Probably not.  At most CSPs, these processes would be highly disconnected.  Frankly, CSPs have a long way to go to deliver true cross-channel ordering.  In wireless, for example, there’s very little capability today to start an order online and complete it at a store.  But that’s exactly the experience consumers are looking for.

So how are you, as a CSP product manager, going to orchestrate this incredibly complex customer-ordering experience?

Introducing the Cross-Channel Ordering Hub

At Sterling Commerce, we feel the answer is to insert a cross-channel ordering hub in the middle of all these transactions.  A cross-channel hub basically sits above all of the sales channels (or touch points), interacts with them all and allows a CSP to keep the sales conversation moving forward.  The hub manages the order no matter where it originates, who touched it, and who finally completes it.

The diagram below illustrates the many sales channels the hub gets inputs from: kiosk, the Web, call center, direct mail, television/IPTV and the many retail partners and third-party agents who are often involved.

And given the many nuances in sales channel systems and processes, building a cross-channel ordering hub won’t be easy or cheap to build.  Yet attracting and retaining busy, communications-savvy customers like Jane is certainly a worthwhile goal.

For customers who have already implemented a system like this, the benefits of cross-channel orchestration are far-reaching.  Intelligence about a customer’s needs extracted from one channel can actually drive real-time offers in other channels where the customer roams to next.

Customer service is also greatly enhanced.  For example, if a customer recently complained to the call center about service and the customer arrives at a retail store to disconnect service, cross-channel intelligence about the problem can enable the retail store agent to respond, “I’m truly sorry about the problem you had with our service this month.  What I can do for you is this: give you a special discount of one month’s free service for your trouble.“ Action like that could very well save a good customer.

OK, the next question you’re probably asking is: What’s it actually take to put a cross-channel ordering hub in place?  Well, that’s the subject of my next blog.

This article first appeared in Billing and OSS World.

Copyright 2010 Black Swan Telecom Journal

John Konczal

John Konczal

John Konczal leads IBM’s worldwide industry marketing, market planning, and sales enablement efforts for the company’s B2B and commerce solutions ( Sterling Commerce , WebSphere Commerce, and ILOG Optimization brands) in the communications and media sectors.

His focus is on positioning e-commerce, order-management applications and B2B integration solutions to drive new revenue streams.

Black Swan Solution Guides & Papers

cSwans of a Feather

  • Flexing the OSS & Network to Support the Digital Ecosystem interview with Ken Dilbeck — The need for telecoms to support a broader digital ecosystem requires an enormous change to OSS infrastructures and the way networks are being managed.  This interview sheds light on these challenges.
  • The Data Center & Cloud Infrastructure Boom: Is Your Sales/Engineering Team Equipped to Win? by Dan Baker — The build-out of enterprise clouds and data centers is a golden opportunity for systems integrators, carriers, and cloud providers.  But the firms who win this business will have sales and engineering teams who can drive an effective and streamlined requirements-to-design-to-order process.  This white paper points to a solution — a collaborative solution designs system — and explains 8 key capabilities of an ideal platform.
  • Navigating the Telecom Solutions Wilderness: Advice from Some Veteran Mountaineers interview with Al Brisard — Telecom solutions vendors struggle mightily to position their solutions and figure out what to offer next in a market where there’s considerable product and service crossover.  In this article, a veteran order management specialist firm lays out its strategy for mixing deep-bench functional expertise with process consulting, analytics, and custom API development.
  • Will Telecoms Sink Under the Weight of their Bloated and Out-of-Control Product Stacks? interview with Simon Muderack — Telecoms pay daily for their lack of product integration as they constantly reinvent product wheels, lose customer intelligence, and waste time/money.  This article makes the case of an enterprise product catalog.  Drawing on central catalog cases at a few Tier 1 operators, the article explains the benefits: reducing billing and provisioning costs, promoting product reuse, and smoothing operations.
  • Virtual Operator Life: Enabling Multi-Level Resellers Through an Active Product Catalog interview with Rob Hill — The value of product distribution via virtual operators is immense.  They enable a carrier to sell to markets it cannot profitably serve directly.  Yet the need for greater reseller flexibility in the bundling and pricing of increasingly complex IP and cloud services is now a major channel barrier.  This article explains what’s behind an innovative product catalog solution that doubles as a service creation environment for resellers in multiple tiers.
  • Telecom Blocking & Tackling: Executing the Fundamentals of the Order-to-Bill Process interview with Ron Angner — Just as football teams need to be good at the basics of blocking and tackling, telecoms need to excel at their own fundamental skillset: the order-to-cash process.  In this article, a leading consulting firm explains its methodology for taking operators on the path towards order-to-cash excellence.  Issues discussed include: provisioning intervals; standardization and simplicity; the transition from legacy to improved process; and the major role that industry metrics play.
  • Wireline Act IV, Scene II: Packaging Network & SaaS Services Together to Serve SMBs by John Frame — As revenue from telephony services has steadily declined, fixed network operators have scrambled to support VoIP, enhanced IP services, and now cloud applications.  This shift has also brought challenges to the provisioning software vendors who support the operators.  In this interview, a leading supplier explains how it’s transforming from plain ol‘ OSS software provider to packager of on-net and SaaS solutions from an array of third party cloud providers.
  • Is Order Management a Provisioning System or Your Best Salesperson? by John Konczal — Order management as a differentiator is a very new concept to many CSP people, but it’s become a very real sales booster in many industries.  Using electronics retailer BestBuy as an example, the article points to several innovations that can — and are — being applied by CSPs today.  The article concludes with 8 key questions an operator should ask to measure advanced order management progress.
  • Real-Time Provisioning of SIM Cards: A Boon to GSM Operators interview with Simo Isomaki — Software-controlled SIM card configuration is revolutionizing the activation of GSM phones.  The article explains how dynamic SIM management decouples the selection of numbers/services and delivers new opportunities to market during the customer acquisition and intial provisoining phase.
  • 21st Century Order Management: The Cross-Channel Sales Conversation by John Konczal — Selling a mobile service is generally not a one-and-done transaction.  It often involves several interactions — across the web, call center, store, and even kiosks.  This article explains the power of a “cross-channel hub” which sits above all sales channels, interacts with them all, and allows a CSP to keep the sales conversation moving forward seamlessly.

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