My last two posts examined the importance of incorporating marketing agility to drive business results within telecom companies. Shifting toward greater agility requires both large and small changes, both of which can be difficult. Let’s take a look at one underutilized tool and four critical metrics wireless operators can use to drive motivation for change while pinpointing places to improve digital results.

Challenge Your Frame of Reference

When considering agility and change, I often reflect on my experience running the St. George Marathon back in 2001. Since the race was my first marathon, I built a workout plan after a little light reading about marathon training programs and set a conservative goal to finish in 4:25:00 (more than 2x slower than the current world record). After several months of training, I crossed the finish line in 4:23:30 with a nearly overwhelming sense of euphoria and accomplishment.

Later that same year, I joined a men’s outdoor soccer league (I played soccer in high school and wanted to start playing again). The first game was a disappointment—I found myself running my marathon pace the entire game.

Reflecting back on my training program, I’d spent countless hours running at a 10-minute mile pace with little variation. The training unintentionally locked in my pace frame of reference to a 10-minute mile (a high contrast to the all-sprint workouts my high school soccer coach put me through). You don’t have to be Arjen Robben to run circles around a mediocre marathoner jogging slowly across the field during a soccer game.

Breakthrough Plateaus (Is 100% really 100%?)

Athletes often use interval training to break through plateaus in performance. During interval training, athletes practice running at a higher pace over a shorter distance than they can currently sustain during their target race distance. Benchmarking and trending my marathon training pace in comparison to my sprint pace on the soccer field would have created motivation, urgency, and the right perspective to adjust my training program to include interval workouts.

Benchmarks provide similar lift for wireless operators by creating:

  • Motivation (we’re not where we want to be)
  • Urgency (the comparative trend isn’t moving in a positive direction)
  • Perspective (uncover new target areas and goals)

High growth and change in the telecommunications industry over the last decade have produced astounding results. Mobile operator profits have doubled, fueled by leaps in device capabilities that dramatically expanded relevance of mobile devices to users—see The mobile operator’s dilemma. However, as fixed and wireless markets continue to mature around the globe, the telecommunications industry is at risk of locking in an outdated frame of reference.

US Mobile

As an example, let’s take a look at mobile subscriptions per 100 people for the United States based on 20 years of wireless subscriber data from the World Bank. Looking at the data, you may make the assumption that mobile subscription growth has started to stagnate, just like my marathon training pace. US wireless operators could conclude they need to shift focus away from acquiring new customers and toward retaining customers, increasing revenue per customer, and cultivating adjacent opportunities.

vs UK mobile

However, when compared to the UK where mobile subscriptions top 124 per 100 people, the data tells a different story. While both countries are seeing subscription growth taper, UK subscriptions have reached a substantially higher level than the US.

Are there unique conditions in the UK driving the difference? Sure, differences include multiple SIM cards per person, shorter mobile contracts, and multiple devices per user. Could there be a market opportunity in the US to drive subscriptions to a new level? Definitely—just look at the jump in subscriptions in the UK from 1998 to 2000. Is driving subscriptions to a new level advisable? Probably—but caution (and a broader perspective) is advised. Single-minded focus on driving subscribers could unintentionally produce negative results, just like my training pace.

Break Away from Low Conversion

Let’s assume for a moment that increasing top line growth by driving new subscribers is a key objective for your company. You’ll get a lot of bang from conversion rate improvements since it compounds the effectiveness of all the other customer acquisition activities, so let’s take a look at conversion rates for North America wireless operators.

NA benchmark

If you’ve read Adobe’s 2014 Best of the Best Benchmark report, you’ll immediately notice the average conversion rate for wireless operators in North America (0.53% on desktop) is low compared to other industries (average for tech is 1.5% and average for retail is 2.2%). While long purchase cycles contribute to low conversion rates for wireless operators (2 year contracts anyone?), improving conversion does feel like an opportunity for the entire industry. Don’t be lulled into thinking these industry average conversion rates are satisfactory or 100% of what’s possible.

Here are a few places to start if you’re interested in taking a deeper look at improving conversion:

  1. Identify the optimal conversion workflow. For some wireless operators, the most profitable conversions may happen in-store (trying increases likelihood to buy), so don’t assume you should drive up conversion in your digital channels irrespective of in-store and call-center channels. However, by putting data systems in place to properly attribute cross-channel conversion, you may find digital marketing channels are influencing offline conversion more than offline marketing channels. If you’re already set up for cross-channel conversions, give yourself a pat on the back and go explore additional Big Data opportunities.
  2. Build conversion remarketing capabilities. Visitors leaving after initiating the checkout process are highly qualified leads. With a few changes to the checkout workflow, these prospects could be targeted with messages over email, text, or in-app communications. This is where marketing agility pays big dividends. In fact, Vodafone Australia recovered 15% of lost sales opportunities by remarketing to users who abandoned the conversion funnel.
  3. Include app conversion. While I haven’t included any app benchmarks in this post, a recent mobile maturity study by Adobe and Econsultancy shows more than 50% of marketers don’t know how app conversion compares to other mobile channels. If you’re not measuring conversion for your mobile app channels today, you may want to check out Adobe’s mobile app capabilities.

Dan Barker’s blog post on conversion rates also provides some great additional advice around improving conversion.

Break Down Internal Gridlock

In addition to conversion, digital telecom marketers should also include the following three benchmark categories and metrics when assessing their current digital performance and advocating for change. Understanding how well your competitors execute in these areas will help you pinpoint opportunities and break the mindset that your current results are “good enough.”

Single Access visits have been removed from engagement to eliminate users moving directly from retail sites to account functions, and percent of visits from mobile would be much higher if account management sites and functions were included.

Single Access visits have been removed from engagement to eliminate users moving directly from retail sites to account functions, and percent of visits from mobile would be much higher if account management sites and functions were included.

You’ll note each benchmark includes a mobile component. For telecommunications companies (and especially wireless operators), including a mobile perspective on all metrics is critical since the telecom industry sees much higher mobile visitation from users compared to other industries. By incorporating a device specific view, device-centric areas of optimization become readily apparent. Marketers may also wish to dig deeper on the following themes:

  • Penetration. Is the business supporting customers/prospects in key channels and device types? (Areas for additional analysis include percent of multidevice users and penetration for specific devices.)
  • Engagement.  Is the business providing the optimal experience for customers/prospects once they’ve committed to staying on the site? (Areas for additional analysis include video engagement and time on site.)
  • Completion. Are customers/prospects successfully completing key tasks? (Areas for additional analysis include self service and e-support completion rates.)

Get Moving

Since my experience back in 2001, I’ve integrated interval training into my running workouts with much more satisfying results both on the track and on the pitch. Benchmarking can provide similar improvements for wireless operators (as well as the broader telecom industry) by challenging the current frame of reference.

To improve the short-term digital performance of your business, use the benchmark metrics above to create urgency, motivation, and perspective; and be sure to incorporate benchmarking into the business results feedback loop to continue building toward future success.

Do you have a benchmark you feel is critical to marketers in the telecom sector? Please mention it in the comments below.