The telecommunications sector has historically had a reputation as being a technology adoption laggard. While the industry produces some of the most critical infrastructure for running cutting-edge applications, the companies that comprise the space are often still stuck in a world of spreadsheets, manual processes, and outdated technology. In particular, critical go-to-market activities are often built off poorly constructed lists and human relationships. While sub-par market visibility and process inefficiencies damage growth prospects in the short term, this is nothing compared to the market share network operators stand to lose to their more advanced peers with the advent of 5G buildout and the data center push to the edge. Ultimately, network operators will need to become more data-driven and adopt new methodologies for conducting business or risk being left behind as hundreds of billions of dollars of additional capital are invested in the space in the near future.
The problem: poor market visibility and time-consuming processes
The daily operation of sales and marketing teams within network operators is very hectic. Whether planning go-to-market strategies for new routes or finding additional ways to monetize existing ones, time is limited to make decisions about how to drive revenue growth. Add to this chaotic environment the industry realities like mergers and acquisitions and it’s easy to see how service providers can quickly become reactive in the way that they operate. However, beyond the inherent challenges of sales and marketing teams at network operators, there are two fundamental hurdles that limit their growth potential: poor market visibility and the adoption of time-consuming processes.
With regards to poor market visibility, gaining access to real-time, comprehensive market data is a struggle at best and often times feels impossible. Data that’s needed to plan go-to-market activities for a new route or prospect an existing one is either scattered across a myriad of sources within the organization or simply unavailable. Moreover, commercially available options are often expensive, questionable in terms of quality, and don’t mesh well with how network operators go-to-market (e.g. there’s often no location-centricity). Without accessible, trusted, and easy-to-use market insight, network operators are forced to make “mostly blind” decisions regarding identifying their serviceable locations (e.g. finding more deals), prospecting customers (e.g. qualifying deals), and pricing to optimize margins (e.g. pricing deals). These are the three biggest components in driving revenue growth and as more locations come online over the next few years (e.g. small cell deployments, data centers, etc.), network operators will need to strengthen these capabilities if they wish to grow (or even maintain) their existing market share.
Beyond market visibility, network operators also need to re-think how they use their data-driven insight both internally and with partners. Far too many go-to-market activities within network operators are manually driven today. For instance, communicating serviceable locations to trusted partners is often done by piecing together half-accurate spreadsheets every quarter and sending them to a small collection of partners. There is little to no automation in producing a high-quality, constantly updated list of serviceable locations and sending it continuously to a variety of trusted partners in their format. As a result of this, opportunities for these providers to participate in deals are lost every day. Another example of a human-driven go-to-market activity is seen in the account targeting process. Network operator sales teams have been known to physically prospect a commercial location, where they actually enter the building and take a picture of the tenants, only to return to the office and conduct manual research on these tenants’ fit with their offerings. With this way of targeting, sales force productivity will either be extremely low or win rates will suffer or both. Ultimately, network operators need to figure out a way to not only access more trusted data but apply it in an automated way (e.g. an application suite) to drive effectiveness and efficiency in their go-to-market processes if they want to continue to grow.
The solution: trusted, location-oriented insight & applications
The answer to overcome these challenges resides in adopting a data-driven way of driving revenue growth. In the short term, network operators need to conduct a self-assessment and determine where they lack visibility in their go-to-market operators and ask themselves what type of data and insight they need. Commercial, off-the-shelf offerings may be appealing to fill some of these gaps, but they need to have a high degree of breadth and depth, demonstrate accuracy, and conform with the way service providers conduct business to be effective remedies. For instance, the desire for tenant data to prospect commercial buildings is great but purchasing tenant data from a vendor that only provides headquarter-level insight will be effectively useless.
From a process perspective, network operators need to conduct a similar self-assessment and determine where they are relying too heavily on human effort and relationships. While hard work and social relationships are cornerstones of business, they often prove to be difficult to scale. For network operators to keep up and thrive in an ever-expanding market, they need to architect themselves for scale and focus on automating as many impactful go-to-market activities as they can.
Incremental changes can yield big results
While becoming data-driven will certainly help network operators continue to grow in an increasingly larger and competitive market, it’s important to keep in mind that even adopting small, incremental changes to start can yield big results. While certainly adopting an “all-in” strategy on data and automation is ideal, progressively phasing in technology as a core component of go-to-market operations can be a more digestible approach to some organizations. However it’s done, what is clear is that network operators must start and continue down the path of becoming data driven if they wish to flourish in the years to come.