Companies that sell to Telecom companies and specifically to Mobile Operators, face a market that consists of several hundreds of potential customers (out of which a few dozens are tier-1 operators) and have distinctive characteristics. Product Managers that work in such companies have to deal with some challenges typical to the Telecom market.
Pressure to develop features per customer
Mobile Operators are big organizations that have superior negotiation power over their vendors. In most cases, the mobile operator will publish a bid with specific requirements that your product need to comply with in order to win the deal. Since deal sizes are usually significant for your company, as a product manager you are under pressure to develop features required by a specific potential customer.
Mobile operators are different from each other and often have different product requirements. Therefore, if you are not careful, you can find yourself with multiple silo projects instead of a product. To avoid this situation, you need to make sure your product is highly configurable, and have customization layers that enable maintaining common modules that are identical for all customers and at the same time support specific customer requirements.
Identifying common requirements
The number of potential customers is several hundred at most (the global number of mobile operators), so market data is more difficult to obtain. You need to obtain data from customer meetings, surveys and RFx documents.
In many cases, your information is based on interactions with a relatively small number of customers and potential customers. Do not assume that if, in 3 out of 5 meetings, customers requested a specific feature, it means that most operators will want it as well. Try to obtain information from many mobile operators – through more customer meetings, RFx documents (list of requirements shared by mobile operators as part of a bid) and surveys to get a picture that better represents the market.
Satisfying multiple personas
Mobile Operators are complex organizations where multiple departments are involved in the purchasing decision. Engineering, Marketing, Finance, Operations and Customer Support may all be involved. For Product Managers, this means that they need to consider multiple personas that represent all key decision makers and make sure the product provides value to each of them and does not have negative value to minimize objection (e.g. Operations object a product that is complicated to operate).
In some cases, Mobile Operators use the product to provide a service to their customers. This is a case of Business-to-Business-to-Consumers (B2B2C), in which in addition to the Mobile Operator personas, the product should provide value to a consumer persona (end-user).
Long sales cycle
Standard sales cycle in Telecom includes multiple bid phases and takes between 6 months to over a year. Upgrades of products that are installed in the operator network are usually not simple and do not happen often. This cycle affects the time-to-market and slows the introduction of new features to the market. Product managers have to take it into consideration in their roadmap and version release planning.
This means that mobile operators invest less in value added services (VAS) and are more focused on reducing their expenses. It is more difficult to convince mobile operators to purchase, so your product must have a clear business case that shows your product can generate significant revenues or reduce cost. Mobile Operators will want to test it in their production environment before they are convinced, so it should be possible to conduct Proof-of-Concepts (PoC) with your product at minimal cost for both your company and the mobile operators.
The impact of NFV
There are predictions (e.g. by Northstream) for a breakthrough and strong growth in NFV activities in 2017. It seems that the hype is phase over and it is time for NFV to really take off. If the prediction is correct, Product Managers should analyze how it affects their product. Product Managers should ask whether it is an opportunity or a threat, whether their product should be adapted for NFV and take the required measures to benefit from this change.