Think of technologies like the Internet, videoconferencing, fax on demand and voice mail, and your first thoughts are probably not the high-tech infrastructure behind the scenes. You probably just log on, press "send" on the fax machine or transfer a call to the next office. Your mind probably does not flash to the world of telecommunications switching equipment-those closets down the hall or those 6-foot, blue-and-white cabinets at the corner of your office park or campus.
For the companies that provide your telecommunications services, however, those switches are vital to a worldwide telecommunications products and services market expected to top $600 billion by 2001. The Global Commercial Markets Marketing Division of Lucent Technologies is in the business of supplying that vital link in the communication net.
Lucent is the world's No. 1 seller of telecommunication equipment, and its communication systems and software are components of public switched telephone networks all over the world. Remember, Lucent emerged from AT&T and has Bell Laboratories under its umbrella. The company's 5ESS series of digital switches is one of the most widely used, serving over 72 million lines in more than 45 countries. The switches and software Lucent sells give network operators increased processing power and the bandwidth to reliably handle the tremendous demands for ISDN, local and long-distance voice and data, Internet access, wireless PCS and multimedia traffic capacity required by business and residential customers today.
Lucent's customers are mainly CLECs (Competitive Local Exchange Carriers), ISPs and ILECs (Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers). When these companies evaluate equipment from competing communications technology vendors, they look at performance, reliability, capacity and growth options. There are technical and standards compliance issues, and since switches are fairly high-end items, financial considerations to be taken into account as well. Since competition among service providers is intense, they also desire technology that allows them to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. As an example, Lucent has recently introduced a technology enabling users to program their call-forwarding options through a Web site. Customers could program their calls to follow them to certain locations according to their daily schedule.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 changed the marketplace completely. Explains Scott st. John, who was director of marketing at Lucent in 1997 and 1998, "You have to realize that for many years, when you wanted phone service, all you would do was go to the local RBOC (Regional Bell Operating Company). After deregulation, all of a sudden there was a flood into the market of Competitive Local Exchange Carriers who were now saying, `Don't buy Bell Atlantic. Don't buy Southwestern Bell. Buy your business service from us.' They sold a value story to business customers that promised more focused, reliable service and lower cost."
Checkmate Marketing and Business Solutions Program
Lucent understood that these companies were all new to the telecommunications market and in many cases were competing with the Bell companies that had been around for a hundred years. These upstarts needed help when it came to marketing themselves. Says st. John: "Lucent sells hardware infrastructure to service providers, and so does every other competitor of Lucent's, but as a value-added differentiator, Checkmate was created to differentiate Lucent in the marketplace."
Checkmate is the name of a comprehensive marketing support program Lucent has been developing over the last three years. (See "Elements of Checkmate," this article) By creating a suite of tools based on Lucent's in-depth intelligence about the telecommunications marketplace, Lucent hopes to distinguish itself from other switch sellers. These tools are an invaluable resource to a service provider's marketing, engineering, planning and sales departments. Ultimately, Checkmate is to help the thousands of companies installing networks for residential communities, hospitals, office buildings, campuses and other such places to do business successfully and leverage their investment in Lucent's technology.
Sometimes, Checkmate is bundled into the sale of Lucent's switches as a value-add. But since the program is rich in functionality, in many cases, Checkmate is sold even after the equipment sale has been made. What Lucent tells customers is, "We've put together a program not only of hardware, but of marketing professional services that will help you identify your marketplace and, once you've identified them, target the customers that are most likely to want your services. Once you've targeted them, we help you go out and not only market to them but sell to them."
A central component of the Checkmate program is a high-end presentation tool introduced in 1998. The tool does double duty. First, it helps Lucent sell its equipment and capabilities to resellers. Second, it can be provided to resellers as a tool they themselves can use to help sell telecommunication services to their own customers. "It was less a tool about presenting the 5ESS than it was a tool for presenting applications that would be driven off of the 5ESS and new ways for service providers to differentiate themselves by selling integrated solutions," says st. John.
"From an internal perspective, the presentation tool allowed the Lucent sales person to go out to a service provider and communicate to them the full suite of Checkmate capabilities. The presentation system was about articulating the Checkmate value proposition to customers. The proposition was `Lucent isn't just selling boxes. We have this whole suite of marketing professional services that you can avail yourself of that will help you to go out and market your services.' From an external standpoint, as the Lucent person was pitching the service provider all the capabilities of Checkmate, as one of those things, Lucent also sold the presentation tool. So, not only did Lucent use it themselves to communicate the Checkmate program, they also essentially sold it to customers to help them sell their services. It was a way to aid both verbally and graphically the Lucent sales force to help them sell their own services and to help them articulate the value of the solutions driven off the 5ESS."
For a new company especially, a stylized, polished and professional presentation system can go a long way toward enhancing the company's esteem. If the company can come in and look like it has a state-of-the-art-marketing department to go along with its state-of-the art services, it is more convincing and likely to compete well against larger players.
The system works internally and externally because it is flexible. The flexibility comes from the fact that it is packed with a selection of canned presentations called "asset libraries." A salesman can choose from among these to put together a presentation that is targeted to the particular needs or concerns of a potential customer. Or if it turns out he forgot to include an important part, he has the flexibility to jump out of the planned presentation, open another asset library and customize the presentation to the customer's needs. Asset libraries are also useful to people at different levels within sales. One asset library would give a certain pitch from a library targeted to network resellers, and there would be another library for selling to end users. Depending on who the user is as a salesperson, she could pick the asset library that is most appropriate to her customer's needs.
The presentation technology itself was developed and licensed to Lucent by Sales Performance Systems (SPS), a joint-venture between Mediacentric Group and Sales Force Systems International, both in Florida. Prior to developing the current multimedia system, Lucent had cobbled together several applications like Macromedia Director and PowerPoint to build a presentation manager. By reviewing how Lucent sold and what end customers need to hear, SPS came back with suggestions and scenarios to more clearly explain the message. They also developed for Lucent a style so that the company's Internet site, intranet site, multimedia presentations and other basic components could all have the same look.
The main concern, however, was the flexibility of the system. SPS' president, Bruce Bennett, explains why: "If I am giving a presentation about services about the 5ESS, and someone asks me about scalability, I can't go open some other presentation." The time lost switching programs is one thing. Even worse is the uneasiness everyone feels when the presenter goes back out to his desktop and starts clicking around frantically trying to find a file or launch a program. Says SPS' Bennett, "It would be a fairly cumbersome opportunity, so I couldn't imagine an executive wanting to put himself in that situation. We have a map button and I can jump to any other asset in the whole library, do the presentation on scalability, then hit the back arrow key and go back."
Presentations are easily customizable too. The Checkmate presentation system makes this little bit of programming easy. It's possible, for example, to use the built-in screen editor to add new slides or a logo taken from the Internet just minutes before an event, and the slides will be integrated with the same background as other media in the presentation. According to Bennett, "It's very flexible in terms of making it look like each pitch to my client is totally customized to that client. That's all a part of going to that next step past PowerPoint-these little extras people want."
Sales scenarios built into the system provide an example. Explains Bennett, "During the scenarios, there's a little town and each building represents a customer or competitor or client. We have an option screen in which you put people's names. So I can put my customers' names and my competitor's name in there for this little village that talks about services. That gives the customer a reference. For example, you are here. This is your client calling in. You can do that two minutes before your presentation with a little text file." CDs of the presentation can also be made and used as leave-behinds should the customer want to show someone else or review the information.
"Since the multimedia presentation system is mostly a solution for people to use off their laptops out in the field, there's also a training module built right in."
Partly because it would be better to keep the presentation size down to something that would fit on a single CD, Bennett says that it is important to identify the goals for presentations and to understand exactly how success is graded. Lucent's st. John agrees. "The difficult part of a project of this magnitude is that you are trying to take so much information and condense it down into something that you can easily present to a customer. Different people have different views of what priorities go in. Managing that was probably the biggest challenge. So the problem from my perspective was not so much in the technical creation of the presentation tool, but in taking the content and getting it down to a manageable level."
For now, Lucent isn't using the Web for distributing these high-end presentations. While advanced streaming video technologies would allow this, according to Bennett, "Not a lot of people with dial-up connections are going to be happy with video quality when you stream it." still, there is an e-business buzz all over the industry and more and more corporations are gaining broadband access to the Internet. When the pipeline is big enough, it will be more conducive to running and distributing such presentations and that will probably flourish. SPS is planning for that future by taking all of the assets, the presentation system and editors they have and incorporating them in a browser.
Since the multimedia presentation system is mostly a solution for people to use off their laptops out in the field, there's also a training module built right in. If a user forgets how to do something, each section has animated tutorials that take them through the process. For example, if they want to build a presentation, the system takes them to a screen that looks just like the editor, and the pointer would actually move around the screen indicating the function buttons.
Friends in Need
The market is really what's behind the Checkmate suite. "If there would have been all seasoned companies in this particular market, then maybe there wouldn't have been a need for something like Checkmate," says st. John. "But the reality was, they weren't all experienced, and in many cases they didn't have the resources to develop and create all these tools themselves."
Checkmate was supposed to help them get to market quickly, differentiate themselves and keep training simple. It was also meant to offer customers an exciting suite of service capabilities that would be a value-add to the switches. St. John summarized the offer to Lucent's customers: "Once you've got the infrastructure that will allow you to sell services, let us help you speed up the process of marketing those services and getting customers on your network. Doing that will help you make your equipment investment more profitable, more quickly." With over 1,000 new companies expected to crowd the market in the next two years, that's a valuable offer.
The market for communications equipment and support services is growing 15 percent annually (based on industry sources):
- 900 million voice-mail messages are exchanged each business day.
- 2.7 trillion e-mails were sent last year- -that's 5 million every minute.
- Internet traffic is doubling every 100 days. More than 100 million additional Internet users are expected to come online by 2001.
- 75 million new customers signed up for cellular phone service in 1998, bringing the worldwide untethered population to roughly 285 million.