Rob Shardlow: ‘We want a simpler route to market’

Rob Shardlow: ‘We want a simpler route to market’

As sales director at Virgin Mobile, Rob Shardlow spent nearly nine years battling against the MVNO’s bigger rivals in a bid to secure substantial market share.

Four months into his new post as Vodafone’s SME sales director, Shardlow says he wants to bring some of Virgin’s street fighting tactics to the network.

He explains: ‘At Virgin, as an MVNO, we had to think smarter, quicker and use guerrilla tactics, and always maintain a challenger mentality. That is key – that and always keeping the customer at the core of what we do.’

But how will fighting talk translate into grabbing more market share? Shardlow says there is no ‘silver bullet’.

He adds: ‘I wish there was, but it is a mature marketplace. We have to move forward incrementally on a number of fronts – by bringing in new products, through training, our marketing programme, customer propositions and partner tiering – it’sa game of inches.’

Shardlow has already launched an overhaul of Vodafone’s SME partnership arrangements. He says he will be drawing on his 21 years of experience in managing indirect channel partner relationships to bring about change.


‘We need successful, thriving relationships with our channel partners. They must be robust, solid and long term to ensure we continue to win business share,’ he adds.

Partnerships
Shardlow stops short of revealing his action plan for Vodafone’s indirect channel partners, promising to reveal all by April.

However, he does admit he is studying other partnerships outside of mobile for inspiration. He says: ‘We are comparing what we offer our partners now with good stuff going on elsewhere. We are looking at some partnership propositions in other parallel programmes such as Microsoft.’

Vodafone’s new iPhone distribution agreement is central to the company’s assault on the SME market this year, combined with major investment in its network and a growing unified comms offering. The operator has launched the iPhone 3G and 3GS across its own direct channels and with 20 choice independent partners.

‘Clearly the iPhone is a very important development for us and has been very well received in the channel. We have shifted over 100,000 units into the market already,’ says Shardlow.

But Vodafone’s push into converged offerings needs to be managed, says Shardlow, adding: ‘We need to future proof the programme so that it lasts and is not changed frequently. There will be new products and new partners down the line.

‘We have mobile-centric channels and partners, but in an increasingly converged world we have got to remain relevant, so that has to change.’

And there will be partners working for Vodafone in the future that it doesn’t even know about today. Shardlow says: ‘Many mobile partners will broaden their convergence offering, some will stay mobile partners and then there will be brand new alliances from the fixed-line world moving into mobile. It will be a multi-disciplined world of partners.’

Shardlow is also looking at what he calls ‘the hot topic of revenue share’.


He denies that he is playing catch up with its competitors. ‘We have seen others bring revenue share to the market and who now face the challenge of managing revenue share in an upgrading world,’ he argues, adding: ‘We want a better model that works at launch and through the life stages of the customers we have.’

Shardlow says this model will take the best of both worlds: ‘There is probably not one model for all channels – if you enforce a set of commercials across a diverse channel, it doesn’t often work. It makes sense to be open and flexible, particularly in a tough market.’

So what do Vodafone’s dealers and distributors need to do in the battle to win greater SME business share?

Shardlow says training is crucial. ‘The dealer and distributor communities wishing to be involved in the converged space need to think about their skills competency and what their customers need in order to work in that environment. For example, a mobile centred workforce needs to upskill in its mobile fixed-line skills.’

New products

Partners also need to be willing to sell new products. Shardlow adds: ‘It is not just about voice. Every small business user has a need for mobile broadband and mobile email and it is incumbent on the channel to sell across the product range. We are asking our partners to be as bold and ambitious as they can.’

He is also looking at streamlining the network’s distribution system: ‘Vodafone has been in the business for 26 years and its distribution system has evolved piecemeal; inevitably it needs to be tidied up to get a more efficient market leading distribution structure.’

Shardlow declines to confirm market rumours that Yes Telecom will become the central distribution centre and be rebranded as Vodafone Distribution, promising more details ‘later in the year’.

However, he says: ‘Ultimately, we want one route to market, one set of processes and systems and we will work across our partnership relationships and bring them together. We will bring them together in one consistent route to market.’

He says this is no ‘quick fix’ and adds: ‘But we want to maintain the momentum. We want a simpler and more harmonised route to market.’

Part of this overhaul will see Vodafone investing significantly in its partners.

Shardlow explains: ‘The way we manage our partners, the commercial model we use and the level of investment in our partners varies on how they deal with us. I want to say that regardless of where our partners come from, we will put in a consistent level of investment.’

However, this is a two way street, he warns. ‘We will invest in our partners and provide incentives, but they must reciprocate the investment. We are going to raise the bar on ourselves and on our partners.'


As sales director at Virgin Mobile, Rob Shardlow spent nearly nine years battling against the MVNO’s bigger rivals in a bid to secure substantial market share.

Four months into his new post as Vodafone’s SME sales director, Shardlow says he wants to bring some of Virgin’s street fighting tactics to the network.

He explains: ‘At Virgin, as an MVNO, we had to think smarter, quicker and use guerrilla tactics, and always maintain a challenger mentality. That is key – that and always keeping the customer at the core of what we do.’

But how will fighting talk translate into grabbing more market share? Shardlow says there is no ‘silver bullet’.

He adds: ‘I wish there was, but it is a mature marketplace. We have to move forward incrementally on a number of fronts – by bringing in new products, through training, our marketing programme, customer propositions and partner tiering – it’sa game of inches.’

Shardlow has already launched an overhaul of Vodafone’s SME partnership arrangements. He says he will be drawing on his 21 years of experience in managing indirect channel partner relationships to bring about change.
 ‘We need successful, thriving relationships with our channel partners. They must be robust, solid and long term to ensure we continue to win business share,’ he adds.

Partnerships
Shardlow stops short of revealing his action plan for Vodafone’s indirect channel partners, promising to reveal all by April.

However, he does admit he is studying other partnerships outside of mobile for inspiration. He says: ‘We are comparing what we offer our partners now with good stuff going on elsewhere. We are looking at some partnership propositions in other parallel programmes such as Microsoft.’

Vodafone’s new iPhone distribution agreement is central to the company’s assault on the SME market this year, combined with major investment in its network

Written by Mobile Today
Mobile Today

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