(This article was transcribed from our sister community, PMA, Customer Marketing Summit from 2021.)

This was a conversation between:

Ryan Tollofson, Director of Emerging Communications & Strategic Marketing (previously Director of Next Gen Communication & Implementation Services) at Telus Partner Solutions.

Ayushman Sen, Director of Stategy and Sales Enablement (previously Director of Customer Marketing) at Telus Partner Solutions.

Have you seen an evolution of new customer segments in the telco space?

Ayushman Sen: The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that segments have evolved significantly over time. I'll just give a snapshot of the last 30 years. There was a time when telco connectivity fundamentally meant landlines – most of us are old enough to remember that from our younger years. The internet was in its infancy and connectivity over long distances was expensive and dominated by national carriers.

Think about where we are today. It’s such a different word. There are so many different ways in which connectivity is done. We still have landlines – they’re not yet completely dead. We also have voice over internet – think of WhatsApp and Zoom and all the other over-the-top applications that allow us to talk to each other. There’s video chat, and there’s interactive chat, where you can collaborate and work with each other.

What was at one point in time a sector based purely on voice communication has now spread into different types of communication, cooperation, and collaboration between different people, and different tools allow you to do those different things.

As an individual, you probably use different solutions for different requirements. You probably call your parents on the phone and use something like WhatsApp to talk to your friends. At work, you might be using Microsoft Teams or something similar.

Looking at how communication has transformed and spread allows us to appreciate how, within the communication service provider industry, we now have multiple different entities, segments, and ways to provide that service.

Let's take a very specific example to answer your question. Broadly speaking, we have two categories of communication services in telco today. One is where we provide the solution directly to the customer, whether it's a consumer or a business. A good example is when you buy a mobile phone from Telus, you are dealing directly with a telco – us.

Now let's take the other category, where you use a network that was built by a telecommunications company, but you don’t deal directly with that company. A very simple example of that would be a Zoom call. The internet is flowing on a telecommunication infrastructure – either a phone line or the internet – but the interface is provided by a different entity.

That means that we, as the wholesale telecommunication service provider, need to think about how to enable the end customer. We, of course, continue to invest in our direct catering, but it is just as important that we take responsibility for ensuring that these secondary ways of reaching the end customers are equally enabled and efficient, so that we can do our part to support communication for business or personal needs.

Ryan Tollofson: Ayush, I agree completely with you.

One way to look at it is that telcos were once in the business of providing dial tone, and then internet, but we’re more in the information management business today, and that changes who we're dealing with.

In the carrier services or wholesale arm, we focus on enabling other telcos, but now we're also dealing with media companies and advertisers. We're in a world of media. There's lots of convergence happening, and that changes who our customers are, and therefore how we approach them, reach them, and engage them.

How are you adjusting to this change in customer segments?

Ryan Tollofson: Well, many things have changed, but many things have also stayed the same.

I'll start with an element that hasn't changed much lately, which is that we're in a space of coopetition. We're both collaborating and competing with partners and other telcos, so there are some pretty advanced channel dynamics happening within our space. That's not necessarily new, but the scale and the pace at which we are doing collaboration have certainly changed.

In partner solutions, we work with the four C's framework. Coopetition is C number one, and then our second C is collaboration. I think how we collaborate with partners has changed a lot. In the past, it was very regulated, very process driven, and very mandated. There's still some element of that; that's never going to go away in this space.

Now that we collaborate at the business level, we also need to look at the value we’re creating together, how we go to market together, how we do co-marketing, and how we co-develop our solutions. That changes a lot of the conversation and steers it towards creating shared incentives and making sure that there's shared risk and shared opportunity.

The third C is being customer-obsessed. We have to start with understanding the customer's needs and making sure that they are satisfied. If nothing else, the main reason for that is advocacy. We want to be able to replicate customers. We want to be able to multiply their satisfaction, create referrals, use them for testimonials, and make sure that they're able to get value out of what we're delivering them every single day.

At Telus, we’re customer-obsessed, and we prefer to work with partners who are too so that together we can create that value.

The fourth C, which is extremely critical, is culture. Telus has invested a lot of money, time, energy, and passion into our culture. We use culture as a rubric to decide how to form partnerships that will enable us to deliver value together. It’s part of our employee programming, our go-to-market programming, and our branding.

Our branding is quite strong. The brand story has evolved, but it hasn't really changed in the last 20 years. I think it's a very powerful brand, and it's rooted in a culture of delivering value to our customers and to society as a whole and making sure that social capitalism is part of everything we do.

Why are product and customer marketing important in B2B ICT, and how have they evolved?

Ryan Tollofson: That’s a very timely question. I suspect there are probably a few software people reading this as well as telco people. I have worked on both sides, and I think that our software colleagues may be slightly ahead of telco in this space, but we are catching up.

Where I think we have shared understanding is in the fact that we have to build our products and our go-to-market with customer needs at the center. Traditionally, many telcos have focused on taking products to market and then positioning the value of those products, whether you need them or not.

Really, the goal of product marketing and customer marketing is to flip that process and work from the outside in to develop a product that delights the customer and meets the needs that they aren't even able to articulate. That's not easy to do when you're selling minutes, mobile phones, wavelengths, or pipeline facilities. From a telco perspective, those are widgets, and positioning them is how our sector has grown for a long time.

Now that we're competing against media companies and over-the-top players, as well as competing for your attention in a sea of advertisements and offerings, everything has turned on its head. Taking telco from a place where we just put widgets onto the market to a place where we’re actively understanding customer needs and serving those needs with a product or solution is a pretty big reversal for us.

I'm on the product marketing side for our Next Gen voice; I also work on product management and product development as part of that. I wouldn't be able to do my job if I didn't have the support of the customer marketing organization to reach out to our customers and understand what they need.

Similarly, when I'm trying to develop a product and bring it to market, we work very collaboratively to make sure that we are communicating the value of that product and enabling all of our cross-functional teams. I, in turn, then take the customer's needs and make sure that we can develop a product that meets them in a timely fashion, and then package and price it.

In summary, going from just pushing products out to understanding how to satisfy needs has been a big change for us.

Ayushman Sen: You got it bang on, Ryan. I'll wrap it up with three points on how customer marketing has changed. I'll tell you how it was even a few years ago, how that was already changing, and how COVID has accelerated that change and taken it to a completely different scale.

Initially, as a telco, we had a commodity service of connectivity, which offered a good rate and a guarantee that the quality would be good. We had a laundry list of services, which we would take to people who needed connectivity through different forms of advertisement. They would pick and choose and go with the solution that was most appropriate in terms of quality and price point. That's it. Customer marketing was over.

Today, if you just think of all the different ways communication is enabled, you just can’t do that anymore. You can’t go with your list and expect people to identify which item on that list is most suitable for them. You have to know who is going to be seeing your list. You have to segment them, understand which part of your solution is appropriate to them, and understand why it is appropriate because they will not use all of your solutions in the same way.

The same solution can have a very different application between one customer and another, so the story you're telling has to be presented with a case study or a video illustrating why you, Customer A would want our solution, which might be very different from why Mr. Customer B would want the same solution.

That understanding of taking the right message to the right customer has certainly become more nuanced, more strategic, and imperative to success.

The other thing that has evolved as things have gotten more and more digital is that what was previously unknown has started becoming known. There are digital footprints everywhere. There’s customer intent data and there’s customer intelligence data. It comes in multiple forms including cookies and forms that customers fill in. Some of that data is in marketing reports. Some of it is collected by aggregators.

All that information helps you to understand what the customer desires. We convert that into a better story for our customers. That's a relatively new thing that has developed in recent years, and it’s driving a lot of change in who we take the story to and what story we present.

Lastly, there’s digital selling, which was greatly impacted by COVID. Digital selling was already picking up on the consumer side of the business. People were getting comfortable with ordering cellphones on the internet, for example.

On the B2B side, people still wanted to have personal relationships because they were often spending millions of dollars on a contract. It's instinctively difficult for us humans to do that – just filling in a few forms and hoping that whoever is on the other end of the form does their work without putting a face to it. It's a human instinct, right?

That human instinct was broken by COVID. People still managed to continue their business, and in fact, connectivity became the crux of your ability to connect the business. We moved to a virtual world and a digital selling space, and we had to rethink how we build those relationships and engage the customer when we can’t take them to a restaurant or meet them at an event.

Customer engagement became a kind of mystery land where everyone tried out different things. I’d be lying if I said this problem has been completely solved. A lot of different solutions have come up, some successful, some not. We have seen virtual conferences with varying levels of success. We’ve seen webinars, where you send targeted invitations to people to come and see a specific part of the solution.

My personal take is that the success of these virtual engagements depends on a combination of the homework you’ve done to understand who you're talking to and what you're talking about, but also a bit of empathy and retaining that personal touch. That’s difficult to do over a virtual call because you can't shake hands or share a coffee.

A combination of those two, if they’re done effectively, will help you to be successful as we retain digital marketing going forward, even when COVID is over.

Ryan Tollofson: That’s a great perspective, Ayush. I would add only one thing, which is that customer expectations are now quite high. We’ve become accustomed to being able to do what we're trying to do in an online meeting. Also, when we moved in droves from home lines to cellphones, there was no forgiveness for call quality – we expected it to work exactly like a landline. Our job is to understand customer expectations when they’re continually accelerating.

We also have to think about the value chain. We're not only selling to organizations, particularly with a mission-critical service like telecommunications; we're also selling to the market of one.

Every single person in an organization who's using your service is going to want it to work. They’re going to have opinions about its quality and specific perspectives on how they want to use it. Therefore, we need to be able to tackle organizational needs along with each individual user. It certainly isn't for the faint of heart, Ayush, so I’m glad you're doing customer marketing instead of me.

Need a refresher on B2B Marketing?

B2B and B2C businesses will work quite differently when it comes to customers and marketing to those customers. The different customer segmentation types will be more varied than, say, two B2B companies, due to whether or not they’re interacting with an individual customer or a multi-level organization.

In this article covers:

  • The difference between B2B and B2C companies,
  • Why this difference is important,
  • The differences in their customer bases and,
  • How they market to them when making sales.