Interview with Riaktr’s Co-founder Loic Jacobs van Merlen on how to “execute perfectly as a Telco in sales and distribution” and how this could be relevant to Latin American Telecom Operators.
Loic is a true Belgian entrepreneur passionate about Analytics, cutting-edge technology, Telecom, and fast-growing markets. He is one of the co-founders of Riaktr, and he has consistently helped the company reach a leadership position in the Telecom Big Data applications market by opening new markets, leading the development of new products, and managing our commercial team. He also opened the Brazil office four years ago and has a deep understanding of the Latin American Telecom industry.
Smart S&D ensures that Telcos’ sales and distribution resources are optimized. With the use of intelligent analytics to drive the action, the know-how, and the expertise of the telecommunications industry, it provides an automatic recommendation engine. By providing the team with the right tools, Smart S&D is able to feed the entire value chain across the entire organization at a granular level.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to Loic and discuss the Smart S&D product but in the context of the Latin American market. I wanted to go back to the source and understand how it all began, and about the exciting times that are yet ahead for the scale-up.
Here is the interview:
Could you talk about the context behind the Smart S&D product?
The market conditions for Telecom actors used to be a very different picture ten years ago. Before the market reached maturity and saturation, increasing revenue used to be much simpler. SIM cards would be offered, and the market would just buy them, no questions asked. Basically, they would open a new site, install a new antenna, and be an instant hit. However, as the market began to mature, and competition grew, the war on price and the need to differentiate themselves began as well. Telcos began asking themselves: how do I differentiate myself? So naturally, it initiated branding and pricing strategies.
The problem lies with the fact that the differentiating element is all about communication and marketing efforts. Nowadays, Telcos understand that they must execute perfectly in order to differentiate themselves and keep up with the increasingly demanding market. That is the main insight. Executing perfectly is the next level of optimization needed in the game. It is no longer enough to have the best brand or the best price. The consumer wants to have the best experience possible. So, it all comes down to ensuring that your execution in sales and distribution is perfect. You have the best store location; your product is always available; your salesperson at the store is providing the right experience, presenting the product in the right way, and is well prepared to explain and upsell the next product. In short, Telcos depend on executing perfectly in terms of sales and distribution.
Are you familiar with the Golden Circle by Simon Sinek? The theory that helps to explain the “Why” and therefore the purpose and the reason for a product or company to exist? In your own words, what is the “Why” behind the S&D product?
I would say that the main purpose of Smart S&D is to ensure that Telcos use their resources for sales and distribution in the most effective way. This means that Telcos get visibility into which tasks to prioritize, and which are the most valuable. For example, being able to visit the right store, at the right time, and take the right action accordingly. Again, it is all about giving Telcos the opportunity to execute perfectly when it comes to sales and distribution.
How to achieve perfect execution?
Today, the big question remains how to achieve perfect execution in terms of sales and distribution. The big question is: How? Needless to say, using Excel and other manual processes will not go far enough. If you, as Telecom Operator, would like to ensure that the focus will be brought to the right store, then optimizing your resources, analytics, and the use of Big Data is the only way. Being able to analyze every store, not only per region, and every product is the only way to identify certain patterns or behaviors that could raise red flags to a potential threat. It really comes down to the use of analytics and making sure these analytics are creating value. Again, the problem with reports is that, yes, you will get many insights on performance. However, you will also have employees drowning in information and being unable to generate an impact. In short, as a Telco, the most important thing is to generate actions from your analytics. This is how you execute perfectly. Having access to a recommendation engine that lets you know the right action to take on a daily basis. It is mind-blowing to know which daily tasks an individual member of the team needs to do in order to optimize the sales and distribution resources as a whole.
What would you say makes Smart S&D special? What sets it apart from the competition?
What is typically observed in the competition is the focus on SFA (Sales Force Automation). This means the creation of an application, an operational tool to make every visit to the POS (Point of Sale) faster. Therefore, they have features like taking a picture instead of filing in a report, ordering directly from the mobile device to restock or a map to take you to the POS, for example. The key factor here is that these Apps are not intelligent. When most Apps are doing sales efficiency, we provide the next step, which is called “sales effectiveness.” This means visiting the right store, at the right time and focusing on the right issue.
I would say we have a unique value proposition, which is the Recommendation Engine. We go beyond the use of basic logic and algorithms; we use the logic for constant learning. For example, receiving feedback from the recommendations and improving based on these. We provide recommendations at a micro level, therein, truly analyzing every micro-segment in the store. The level of analytics we bring is for building competencies and assets that have the best performance and accuracy for the telecom industry.
I would also stress another key differentiator is our ability to provide and feed the entire value chain. In case a Telco already has an SFA App, we have the ability to feed it, otherwise we can do it. If the monitoring feature is not there, or the dashboard to monitor performance is not there, we have it. In short, I can say that Smart S&D makes sure that—through the entire value chain and across the entire organization—the right tools are available to execute flawlessly in sales and distribution. For example, for the managers we have the dashboard, which allows them to track the global performance of their agents. On top of that, there is the Recommendation Engine that is giving the right recommendations on the field. On the other hand, for the field team, we have the App that helps them do their job better. Smart S&D creates value through the entire value chain and the entire organization.
The last point I would like to talk about, not only linked to the product but as a company, we have the know-how and expertise of the telecommunications industry due to our experience working with different Telcos across many countries and multiple IT systems. We have seen every type of CDR, every type of telecom data, and because of this, we have been able to enrich and perfect the algorithms accordingly. In terms of speed to value, what another company would take up to six months to grasp; it only takes us a few weeks.
When it comes to Riaktr as a company, what would you say is the core differentiator?
I would say that as a company we are very good at creating solution Apps that allow companies to extract the full value of their data and drive operations in the right direction. We are not just building a dashboard; we are building Apps that drive action and therefore value. However, how do we create value with analytics and Big Data? We understand that in order to create value, analytics needs to recommend action.
When it comes to Latin America, as a brand, what kind of personality and tone is appropriate to match the core of the company?
That’s a really good question because it frankly depends on the market. Sometimes I believe presenting Riaktr as an active dynamic startup is key, but not when wanting to be perceived as an authority figure. For example, when pitching to an investor, I want Riaktr to be perceived as a well-established and strong brand. The cool and fun persona is out of place in this case. The same can be said about the Latin American market; I believe it is important to show the quality of innovation characteristics of European brands. We want to show that we have the know-how and the innovation capable of guiding Telcos to achieve their full potential. In this case, I believe that being bound and determined yet innovative is the key. We could almost say that they may have the tech giants or the largest consulting firms coming to them, but these will not help them crack the problem. We are the experts and the most innovative. We bring the best practices on innovation to developing telecom industries like Latin America.
What would you say is the best way to approach a Telco in Latin America?
In the complex world of B2B, there is a concept called inside-out selling. In order to convince a C-level executive to buy your product, in B2B, it is not enough to do “solution sales.” Simply communicating “these are your pains and needs, and this is how my product responds to your pains and needs” was good in the 90s. Today, your client is able to do their own research about their pains and find solutions. They will try to search for a product, so they can handle it by themselves. Here is an important insight: they want to learn. They want to be convinced of the concept behind your solution for them to advocate for your product, and well, buy it. So instead of focusing only on the product, generally what you need to do is to educate your client. Your client needs to make sure that it is his own decision, not yours. In that sense, the shift goes from “my product fits your need” to “I recognize your vision and believe in your product, so I seek it.”
From what I understand, you opened an office in Brazil five years ago. What would you say have been some of the learnings from Latin America?
I would say that one of the learnings came from the second time we pushed for the LATAM Market. I believe we were too product oriented and not flexible enough. On several occasions, a Telco would detect a need different from the one initially discussed or needed some degree of customization.
On the other hand, I can say another learning was that at some point we tried to shape ourselves too much in the “LATAM way.” We believed that in order to compete in the Latin American market, we needed to look and act the way a Latin American company would. In fact, I think that the positioning of a European company is actually appreciated. We do things differently, and that is attractive to Latin American companies.
What about the competition in Latin America? Any direct or indirect competition?
At the moment, we have no direct competitor, but the main competition tends to be our own clients. Some Telcos have big IT departments, so they believe that they can build everything in house. I think one issue with Telcos is that they lose sight of what they do and what are their capabilities. They tend to try to bite off more than they can chew, so to speak. For now, the main competition will come from the Telcos themselves, because their first instinct is to try to build internally. The thing is, we are not a threat to the IB or IT departments; we have a solution that could be implemented right away and adapted to the organization’s ongoing strategy. We collaborate to fit our clients’ needs; we do not mean to replace or change the strategy.
The other competition element is the local service provider. Sometimes you have big consulting firms that are being placed across different projects inside the Telco’s company and are constantly competing for the same pitch.
Any possible partnerships or new opportunities in Latin America?
What I see that could be extremely interesting is, for example, right now for an FMCG client I am speaking with a company specialized in SFA technologies. They have an SFA App, which has what is called “Retail Execution.” It is more adapted to mature distribution channels than we are. They have a strong presence in Latin America for the CPG and FMCG market. Perhaps with our expertise in Telcos, and their expertise in more mature distribution channels, we could really build something together. More than a competitor, I see them as a possible partnership.
On the other hand, at the moment, Smart S&D is more adequate for indirect distribution channels. Nevertheless, many countries in Latin America such as Chile and Argentina have 60% of their distributors as a direct channel. So, perhaps working on an algorithm to match the needs of a direct channel could be an interesting opportunity. This could be achieved even with a Craft project, Riaktr’s customizable solution, so the idea is to never close the door on a new opportunity.
About the author:
Alondra Gutierrez is part of Riaktr’s commercial team and works as Market Expert for Latin America
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