Partner or perish

Joseph Waring
24 Jun 2011

"What do my customers want?" While it may seem like a simple question, it is shocking how many operators really don't have a clear picture. Traditional telcos are still focused on the technology - bringing down the cost per bit and delivering the fastest speeds. The marketing guys are mostly left out of the equation.

That's the "old" school. A roundtable of telco and media executives moderated by group editor Joseph Waring recently discussed how operators have to open up, give up some control and accept they are now the servant of the user.

The days of pushing ahead alone in segments that aren't their core competencies, such as music and entertainment, are over. The new model is partnerships, in various forms, and increasingly dealerships.

Softbank senior executive VP Ted Matsumoto said that in the past business executives were motivated by egos - they wanted to control the market by having others use their technology or products. "But today no one can do everything so it's a mixture of many people putting together components. In this new world, once you accept that the customer is the top priority, your life becomes easier. To be successful we have to get user support - no one will argue with that."

But he notes there is always the tendency for a company to want to "be the guy who sells to the users, but actually it has to be a mixture," citing the example of the winning package of iPhone hardware, Apple App Store and the operator's network and services.

When you realize you are the servant of the user, Matsumoto said it breaks down any reluctance to tie up with others. He said Softbank's exclusivity for the iPhone has given it differentiation and is the secret to its success.

Blyk co-founder Antti Ohrling pointed out the distinction between partnerships and dealerships, which need to be exclusive to have value. He said he's sure there are big players out there that will never give exclusivity because they don't need to.

"But on the other hand, operators sit on that gold dust of knowing their customers better than anybody else. By combining that intelligence from the network with Blyk's intelligence about what people say they like and don't like, it's a staggering picture you start to develop."

He said that is a level of intelligence that is not available from the over-the-top players, noting it gives operators a chance in a specific geographical area.

But having access to customer data and using it are two very different things. Nucleus Connect CEO David Storrie expressed surprise at how little some telcos know about what their users want.

"As a wholesaler, our whole business is based on partnering with the service providers. When we sit down with potential service providers, the first thing I do is ask them what they are trying to deliver to end-users, and you'd be amazed at how many blank faces there are on the other side of the table," he said.

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