E Channel – Sales Reps Slow to Adopt Mobile Pricing Tools

Posted: 09/2001

E Channel

Sales Reps Slow to Adopt Mobile Pricing Tools
By Josh Long

Telco Exchange Inc., a pioneer in the telecommunications portal sector, has been offering web-enabled pricing tools that can be accessed over a wireless device for more than a year.

But service providers that could place the tools in their sales representatives’ hands have yet to embrace the technology.

Telco Exchange, a pricing and ordering web portal targeting businesses, has developed an application that allows a sales representative to obtain digital-line pricing quotes over a wireless device. In a matter of seconds, sales professionals can obtain quotes on T1, DS-3, DSL and frame-relay configurations.

“I don’t think people are ready for a web-based pricing tool,” says Kevin Dunetz, chief technology officer of Fairfax, Va.-based Telco Exchange. “It is not a product that is flying off

the shelf.”

Although five major carriers license Telco Exchange software, which allows them to co-brand a website for their agents or to incorporate a pricing tool on the web for their direct sales staff, the telecom providers have not incorporated the web-enabled wireless application, dubbed TX-MobileQuote, Dunetz said during a July interview. The carriers that license the web-enabled software would pay an incremental fee to use the wireless application.

Thousands of sales representatives have potential access to the pricing tool through Telco Exchange’s partnerships with carriers. But telecom providers often are slow to incorporate new applications for their own professional use, Dunetz says, citing as an example the RBOCs, which do not have an electronic web-based pricing tool they can give to their sales people.

Despite that, it was CICAT Networks, an agent representing the Bells, which launched Telco Exchange in the late 1990s.

“The telephone industry is really kind of backwards in a lot of ways,” Dunetz says, adding that he believes sales representatives are more comfortable sending and receiving information through PCs, faxes and other customary means.

Master agent Jim Gledhill agrees.

“Everybody who is making money is serving commercial accounts, and for most commercial accounts they can get anything they want off the Internet,” says Gledhill, president of Salt Lake-based, which offers local, long-distance and Internet services.

If agents need information they make a phone call or sit down on a customer’s PC or laptop, Gledhill says. “So I don’t see any need for any wireless [access].”

Analysts say, however, that mobile applications will provide a critical foundation for interaction between businesses and their employees and partners.

“An example of a user who will benefit from the use of wireless devices is the sales professional, who is constantly on the road and needs to access corporate information systems to check product availability and enter orders,” states PricewaterHouseCoopers LLP’s Technology Forecast: 2001-2003.

In June, the consulting firm announced a global alliance agreement with Palm Inc. to provide mobile enterprise business solutions to clients. From real estate to IT to law to publishing, Palm cites numerous examples of private and public sectors accessing data on wireless devices.

For instance, attorneys at one Houston law firm use their Palm VII handhelds to check the status of cases, access e-mail and track billable hours.

In another example, Palm cited a field service computer repair company that uses Palm handhelds to provide national field service personnel with real-time access to the company’s service management database. Equipping more than 100 field engineers with the devices has reduced staff and cost-call expenses, saving the company between $10,000 and $15,000 per month.

In the telecom sector, Telco Exchange is developing a solution to aid technicians. The company plans to introduce an order-
management system on a wireless device during the fourth quarter. The solution will be geared toward smaller telecom providers with an emphasis on speed, Dunetz says.

For instance, the order-management system will enable technicians installing VPNs to access configuration information in order to activate a network. This also will allow them to confirm that an order has been completed and ascertain where the next job site is located, among other relevant details.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Cellmania Inc. has been developing an application geared towards technicians. The application, which would prove useful in the utility and telecom industries, supports two-way pagers, WAP-enabled phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs), including devices that work over Pocket PC from Microsoft Corp., or Palm operating systems.

Cellmania representatives say the mobile business solutions integrate with back-office infrastructure. They add that from a business station, a company could incorporate service or product promotions geared toward a specific demographic or customer. Technicians would have access to such promotions while they are in the field.

For example, technicians might offer a special deal on routers based on excess stock in a particular region; or they may promote video cards every time customers receive a monitor, says Cellmania spokesman Sean Girard.

Cellmania co-founder and vice president of marketing, Neerav Berry, says the company is in talks with a handful of prospective customers, comprising telecom and utility companies.

With the economy in a downturn, sales cycles have lengthened, Berry says. However, he says companies “still have budgets for these kinds
of projects.”

Bernie Taylor, a spokesperson for the Herndon, Va.-based CLEC Net2000 Communications Inc., says the company believes accessing data on a wireless device would serve as an important tool for sales representative to obtain information “on the fly.”

But, he added, the application must be priced reasonably.

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