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How Salesforce is Helping Communications Companies Meet Their Goals and Respond to Market Changes

In this Futurum Live! From the Show Floor at Mobile World Congress 2023, I am joined by Meredith Alexander, Senior Manager, Product Marketing and Kishore Sannidhanam, Vice President Industry Advisors, Communications & Media for Salesforce for a conversation about what is happening in the communications industry, and what organizations need to know to adapt.

The conversation revolved around:

  • New trends in the communications industry
  • How organizations can unlock new revenue streams through NaaS marketplaces
  • A look into the Salesforce App Exchange marketplace
  • What’s new from Salesforce that can help communications companies meet their goals and respond to market changes

It was a great conversation, and one you don’t want to miss.

To learn more about the latest communications trends that can decrease churn and boost efficiency, visit Salesforce’s website here.

You can view the video of our conversation here:

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Transcript:

Shelly Kramer: Hello and welcome to the Futurum Tech Webcast. I’m Shelly Kramer, principal analyst at Futurum Research, and I’m here at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this year. I am joined by some VIP guests, Meredith Alexander and Kishore Sannidhanam from Salesforce. We are going to talk today about trends in communication and what’s happening and what’s going on with Salesforce and all kinds of exciting things. So tell us a little bit about yourself, Meredith, other than the fact that you’re freezing because it is freezing here in Barcelona today.

Meredith Alexander: And it’s quite cold outside. I’ve been outside all day. So yeah, my name’s Meredith Alexander. I’m a senior marketing manager here at Salesforce covering the communications industry. So I’ve been here just almost two years now. And prior to Salesforce, I was actually at IBM doing a very similar job, covering telco media and entertainment industry. So it’s so nice to meet you.

Shelly Kramer: It’s great to meet you too. Kishore?

Kishore Sannidhanam: Well, first of all, thank you for having us on the show, Shelly. I’m Kishore Sannidhanam. I lead our industry advisory function for communications at Salesforce. What that means is my team helps our sales teams understand how best to sell into communication service providers. And also we work with customers in terms of what are the best practices and how should they react to what’s happening in the industry and then how Salesforce works. Been with Salesforce coming upon 11 years. Yeah, long time. And been doing this at different companies globally for the last 20 plus years.

Shelly Kramer: Great. So you mentioned trends in the communication industry. We’ve got a lot of changes, a lot of things in play. Talk with us a little bit about some of the key trends that you’re seeing.

Kishore Sannidhanam: So the way we’re looking at the market, there’s a couple of different factors happening. One is on a macro level, we all know what’s happening with the economy worldwide. And so our communication service provider customers are at an interesting inflection point, if you will. What I mean by that is, on one hand, as we were here at the show, we see it’s in full swing and they’re all back, probably I’ve heard it’s larger than ever before.

Shelly Kramer: Right.

Kishore Sannidhanam: So we’re already passed 5G. They’re talking about 6G and things like that. But on the other hand, everyone’s thinking about how do we consolidate and how, if you will, work towards the margin pressures that they all have. I think the key things we’re seeing is automation is a key topic, right? So everyone’s thinking about consolidation on automation, how do we do more with less? And then if we kind of break it down into what’s happening within each sector, it’s a slightly different story based on where you’re at. So on the B2C side, fiber is growing like weed.

Shelly Kramer: Right.

Kishore Sannidhanam: There’s a lot of new fiber companies starting up. But then we are also just starting to see some consolidation happening in fiber. One of the major fiber priors in the United States actually just a couple of weeks ago announced that they’re going to actually pull back the number of households. But then we also hear a lot of new companies coming up. I think on the B2B side, it’s all around how do we do more self-service and automate for our customers. And then what do we do to actually capitalize on all these 5G investments we’ve made? And so we’re starting to hear a lot of customers talk about network as a service, B2B, DX marketplaces and things like that.

Shelly Kramer: Well, they’re focused on monetizing 5G. What vendors, including Salesforce, are trying to do is trying to help facilitate that with solutions that make sense. I think that it’s funny, I laughed when you said do more with less. I mean, that is the theme of 2023. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, what vertigo you’re selling to, what solution you have, doing more with less is really I think a key theme. What about you, Meredith? Do you have anything that you want to contribute in terms of trends that you are seeing or anything you see customers struggling with or anything like that?

Meredith Alexander: Yeah, so we surveyed communication service providers from all across the world. Thousands of them in fact. They’re in customers and some of the service leaders too. We found that customer service and the customer experience is really close to mine for the customers. So 88% of customers surveyed said they value the experience that the company provides, if not more than in goods that the company provides. But 56% of the customers feel like they’re still being treated as a number. So we are seeing that gap between what customers are wanting from service providers and then what they’re actually receiving.

Shelly Kramer: We have a practice all around customer experience so this is very near and dear to my heart. It’s so important. In my experience and in some of our research, people are even happy to pay a little bit more to feel like a brand cares about them, that, “My problems are something that you are going to help me sort through and you are going to be there to support me” and that sort of thing. So I think it’s really, really… I mean, customers are telling us exactly what they want.

Meredith Alexander: Right.

Shelly Kramer: All we need to do is listen to them, right?

Kishore Sannidhanam: Exactly.

Shelly Kramer: I think that’s super important. So let’s talk a little bit about network as a service. That’s kind of a thing. Tell us about it.

Kishore Sannidhanam: I think the biggest difference this time around with 5G or even with the fiber rollout versus the last 4G was up until that point of 4G, more or less telecommunication providers had a monopoly on the marketplace. They said, “Hey, we’ll create the new network. We’ll monetize it,” and then we all know what happened

Shelly Kramer: And you’ll live with it. Whatever we decide to do, you’ll live with it.

Kishore Sannidhanam: Exactly. You’ll live with it. But except the operators that we see here are the ones that spent the money, but the clear winners are three companies, the hyperscalers. I think with 5G and even now with the fiber investments they’re making, they’re very consciously thinking about, “How do we not just become another dump pipe? What is the value added difference we could create?” And so one of the things is if you look at any company, they have a core IP. If they want, maybe take Salesforce for example. If you look at every acquisition we make, it’s all about how do we make that customer engagement layer that much more relevant and sticky, if you will.

Similarly, it’s the network for these operators, right? So there is probably more innovation that happens in the network than in any different, in my opinion. I mean, just this conversation, all these bits and bytes going through those wires, it’s phenomenal, right? I mean, it’s not the lack of technology, but I think it’s the lack of monetization, if you will, or initiatives behind traditional monetization is worth just holding them back. So network as a service is something that they’re trying to do to address that, which is, how do we expose our network almost like an API so companies and consumers or startups, whatever you want, enterprises can actually create applications on top of it that they can monetize it. So as an example, at Salesforce, we have AppExchange, it’s what we call our app store. There’s over 4,000 applications on that marketplace.

Meredith Alexander: And service providers and partners too that are on the marketplace as well.

Kishore Sannidhanam: Absolutely. And so when we-

Shelly Kramer: You beat me to my next question, which was all about the marketplace. Yeah, no, but that’s so cool about these marketplaces, and the Salesforce marketplace in general, specifically rather, is that you can go shopping for whatever it is the solution that you specifically need.

Kishore Sannidhanam: Exactly. Right? But if you think about it, the core of it, it’s the exact same Salesforce instance. We did not create a whole new product. We just exposed it as a service. That’s where I think network as a service is, where they’re looking at the total value of the customer for them would be not just the connectivity, but the connectivity and the apps that would come on top of this network as a service that they could monetize on.

Shelly Kramer: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. What are your thoughts on the app marketplace?

Meredith Alexander: Yeah, so the Salesforce AppExchange, as Kishore just mentioned, is a great example of a marketplace because it really extends our customer 360. So now you can do things beyond what the core Salesforce offerings are by pulling in partners and applications too. So you can develop those services that you really need for your customers. So just a great proof point for how a marketplace can help enhance the company.

Shelly Kramer: Absolutely. Now I want to talk about the secret sauce. What kind of things are you working on, are you doing, have you recently launched, that are specifically designed to help customers navigate these challenging times and solve their comms problems?

Kishore Sannidhanam: So I’ll talk a little bit about what we’re doing from a telco perspective, and then Meredith, you can talk about the product innovation.

Meredith Alexander: Yeah.

Kishore Sannidhanam: We’ve been doing a couple of different catalysts with the tele-management form over the last couple of years. These are just for those that are not aware of what a catalyst is, it’s basically a proof of concept. It includes a one or two operators and then software vendors coming together and solving a real world problem, if you will, that would essentially become a blueprint or template and prove the value/possibility and feasibility.

Shelly Kramer: Which is attractive to customers, because I don’t have to be the first person to solve for this. I can walk in the path of somebody else. I think that’s a really great sales aid. You know what I’m saying? When you can see somebody else in my industry or a similar problem or whatever, it’s perfect.

Kishore Sannidhanam: Yeah. One of my bosses used to say that telcos will never be the first ones to try anything. They also don’t want to be the third ones to do it, right?

Shelly Kramer: Yeah.

Kishore Sannidhanam: So I think catalyst is a great way because I understand the risk versus reward, right?

Shelly Kramer: Absolutely.

Kishore Sannidhanam: So the couple of catalysts we did, the first one we did was more on the B2B to C side. So we partnered with Verizon at the time and a couple of other software providers and then we built a marketplace. The use case was a consumer use case where it’s a safety helmet, bicycle helmet, and then how can you go all the way from provisioning a slice of the network to monetizing so that this helmet company will actually sell the helmet with connectivity services included in it. Which was a great success. We won an award for it at TMF in 2021?

Meredith Alexander: Yes. Yeah, I worked on that one actually.

Kishore Sannidhanam: Right?

Meredith Alexander: Yeah.

Kishore Sannidhanam: And then in 2022, we actually looked at… Actually, there’s a couple interesting things happened around the same time, right? So when 5G first came, everybody assumed that we will all pay more as consumers. And then very quickly operators found out that no one’s willing to pay more. And so the focus shifted onto business because there’s tremendous number of use cases in the business.

And even the marketplaces are really more enterprise marketplaces. So the next one we did was more focused on a business vertical. So this one was focused on a construction site. How could an operator or a third party construction company can provision a complete solution that includes connectivity for safety features, automating equipment and everything? And then that’s something that we did last year. Underneath that is all of the Salesforce 360 technology along with some partners. We took some of the learnings from that and then we looked at what’s the applicability beyond marketplaces. And that’s what we released as product enhancement. So Meredith, do you want to…

Shelly Kramer: Take it away.

Meredith Alexander: Yeah. So we just launched Contact Center for Communications, which is a further enhancement of our core product for communications, communications cloud. So this is some pre-built processes that help communication service providers do a couple of things. So the first is around agent productivity. So now we have an enhanced agent console so that they have all of the information that they need for their customers just directly at their fingertips-

Shelly Kramer: At their fingertips.

Meredith Alexander: … so they can solve those customer problems very quickly. We also have something called Timeline. And so timeline now makes visual sense of all these touchpoints that customers have had so the agents can see what has the customer gone through before.

Shelly Kramer: I was just having a conversation with my team 30 minutes ago about how frustrating it is to have a customer experience where you have to keep telling your story and you keep thinking, “This is ridiculous. This is the fourth person I’ve talked to.”

Meredith Alexander: Right. Exactly.

Shelly Kramer: So that’s wonderful.

Meredith Alexander: Right. Because customers, as I said earlier, they feel like they’re a number. So anytime that we can help personalize the experience really enhances that experience for them.

Shelly Kramer: Absolutely.

Meredith Alexander: And then on the business and efficiency side, we have now pre-built flows that allow communication service providers to just jump right in out of the box so that they can do very standard operations in their service-

Shelly Kramer: Quickly.

Meredith Alexander: … service department.

Shelly Kramer: Yeah, get to speed. Get it integrated quickly?

Meredith Alexander: Yeah.

Shelly Kramer: That’s very cool.

Meredith Alexander: And so two of those, one is identity verification and one is service availability checks. So these are things that we were seeing that all of our customers are doing and implementing, and they’re starting from scratch every time. And so we looked across the industry and all the other implementations and actually have set up these predefined processes.

Shelly Kramer: No more reinventing the wheel every time.

Kishore Sannidhanam: No. And then on the B2B side, obviously the biggest challenge with enterprises and CSPs have is integration.

Shelly Kramer: Right.

Kishore Sannidhanam: So we’ve introduced what we call is MuleSoftware communications where we have pre-built integrations to most of the commonly used BSS systems and the number keeps growing. This is something that not just Salesforce would create, but our partners can create.

Shelly Kramer: Right. Right.

Kishore Sannidhanam: And then that’s another great way for them to somewhat de-risk, if you will, their implementation and then bring the time faster to market.

Meredith Alexander: So one more innovation building off of what Kishore just said is we have launched across Salesforce, data cloud. So this allows us to better collect, analyze, and act on our data.

Shelly Kramer: And make use of Tableau.

Meredith Alexander: Yes. And with Tableau so you can visualize that data too. So now that you can pull all of your customer data in in a one harmonized view so that you can then apply AI and analytics and start having real time personalization and real time segmentation.

Shelly Kramer: Exactly what customers want.

Meredith Alexander: Yes, exactly.

Shelly Kramer: Awesome. Meredith and Kishore, thank you so much for spending time with us today. I’m going to include in our show notes a link to where they can learn more, our audience can learn more about some of these solutions. I hope that you have a great rest of Mobile World Congress 2023. And for all of our sakes, I hope that it warms up just a little bit.

Kishore Sannidhanam: Absolutely. Thank you again so much for having us on the show.

Shelly Kramer: Absolutely.

Meredith Alexander: Yeah, thank you.

Shelly Kramer: Thank you so much.

Author Information

Shelly Kramer is a Principal Analyst and Founding Partner at Futurum Research. A serial entrepreneur with a technology centric focus, she has worked alongside some of the world’s largest brands to embrace disruption and spur innovation, understand and address the realities of the connected customer, and help navigate the process of digital transformation. She brings 20 years' experience as a brand strategist to her work at Futurum, and has deep experience helping global companies with marketing challenges, GTM strategies, messaging development, and driving strategy and digital transformation for B2B brands across multiple verticals. Shelly's coverage areas include Collaboration/CX/SaaS, platforms, ESG, and Cybersecurity, as well as topics and trends related to the Future of Work, the transformation of the workplace and how people and technology are driving that transformation. A transplanted New Yorker, she has learned to love life in the Midwest, and has firsthand experience that some of the most innovative minds and most successful companies in the world also happen to live in “flyover country.”

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