Two years after Nokia CEO Stephen Elop’s infamous burning platform memo, which preceded the manufacturer’s unprecedented leap to Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS, the onetime mobile behemoth has reason to be optimistic.
It posted its first quarterly profit in almost two years following the launch of its long-awaited Lumia Windows Phone 8 devices. Nokia UK chief Conor Pierce sounds confident and upbeat as he speaks to Mobile whilst dashing between meetings. Against the roar of London traffic, he says: ‘The heavy lifting is done. We’ve established ourselves as a clear challenger in the smartphone space and are well on the way in our journey.’
He proudly points to recent figures from Kantar WorldPanel Comtech which show that Microsoft almost tripled its share of the UK smartphone market in 2012, up from 2.2% to 5.9%. ‘Nokia Lumia smartphones did the lion’s share of increasing those sales,’ he says.
But can Nokia keep up the momentum this year in the face of increasing competition? One retail source said: ‘With BlackBerry launching a very aggressive push into retail this year along with Samsung, and Sony chucking millions at promoting its devices, Nokia could disappear off the radar unless they do something big.’
Another independent retailer said: ‘It’s about whoever shouts loudest. Sales staff go for the easy sell. Nokia must keep building a really supportive relationship with frontline staff. BlackBerry understands that. I’m not sure Nokia do.’
Is it getting the point?
IDC’s devices analyst Francisco Jeronimo believes Nokia could fall back from its recent gains if it does not pay closer attention to front line sales. He explains: ‘Nokia has to improve its point of sale strategy. Consumers still feel they don’t know enough about Windows Phone 8 and sales personnel don’t have the training to show them. Nokia needs more sales training staff to help sales people understand the product and to support them.’
Pierce agrees that point of sale is key but only one of a number of fronts in its continued battle to win hearts and minds. ‘We have a high calibre field sales team that is very passionate and well trained and we have made some investments in the team in the last few months, but it is not only about having feet on the ground, it is about how you engage with the consumer across all channels.’
He points to net promoter scores NPS to illustrate how Nokia is holding its ground. ‘Our NPS is at an all time high for retail staff. Nokia Lumia has never been in a better place in terms of its stronger, wider portfolio, the way we differentiate ourselves in terms of apps and services. Brand awareness is at an all time high and there is much stronger confidence in the Windows ecosystem which has the highest net promoter score across all platforms. So it is a much easier sell for retail staff and we put a huge effort into building that.’
Pierce says operator support is also up, pointing to Vodafone’s ‘4G Ready’ campaign as evidence, which followed EE securing the Lumia 920 on a 4G exclusive. ‘Our partners really recognise the opportunities Windows 8 can bring to 4G.’ The manufacturer is optimistic of traction as more 4G operators come to the market this year. But while Nokia entered 2013 on the up, it is the months ahead that will reveal whether it has done enough to beat the roar of its rivals.
The race for third
The battle between Nokia and BlackBerry to establish itself as the third placed smartphone maker behind Apple and Samsung will be one of 2013’s most exciting stories. If UK chief Conor Pierce is concerned about competition from BlackBerry he’s not showing it. He dismisses concerns about the recently launched BlackBerry 10’s impact on Nokia’s fortunes. He says: ‘Whilst there may be increased competition we know how difficult it is to build a new platform. It was a huge challenge for Nokia and it will be a huge challenge for our competition. It takes time and a lot of work. We know that.’
He adds: ‘We are now a very different company from what we were one and a half years ago. We are very agile, very fast moving, highly engaged, passionate and confident and we listen to our customers – and we will continue to constantly adapt to new opportunities.’
Author: Carol Millett