How to Drive Sales through Customer Relationships
We sat down with Oliver Bodden, Panasonic's new SIP and Applications Product Manager to discuss his thoughts on UC Mobility, customer relationships and where he sees the industry heading.
Can you tell us about your previous experience working with Panasonic as both a UC Technical Field Manager and in Panama?
A: I started working with Panasonic in 2011 as a sales engineer and moved up to a supervisor. Although I was working in Panama, I covered well over 25 countries in the Americas and the Caribbean. Half of my job was focused on training, getting the dealers up to speed on our product line-up from a features and benefits standpoint and letting our customers know – everything that Panasonic has to offer – that was the primary goal.
As part of that training role, we would sit down with customers asking questions to see how we can solve their problems with our products. The other half of the job was technical training. I sat down with all the technicians and taught them how to install the systems. I also worked in the marketing department where we would implement product strategy and launches based on what each country wants to do.
It was a very diverse and hybrid role.
Q. Did you have a typical market or customer that you were working with in Panama?
A. Our customers were largely resellers in the business communications systems field. We sold and installed products for them, but for specific products, I would also offer consultant services.
Most of the sales were with SMBs (small and medium businesses) with some bigger government related organizations. When it came to sales training, I would teach the general sales which would cover the smaller market.
Q. How has working directly in the field with customers helped you prepare for your new position?
A. In my perspective, every customer is different, so customer engagement is key for any product management position. You only have one set of eyes and ears so hearing what the customers say helps you build a flexible strategy. Our training was focused on giving them that flexibility with our products so they can reach end users.
Q. What are the most valuable lessons you've learned from your customers?
A. That every customer is different. Even though you are focused on achieving a goal, you have to be open to understanding your customers' unique needs. What we want to offer is not just a product, but a flexible solution that will solve their needs.
Q. In some of this relationship building with your customers, did you see any common trends?
A. For the most part, our customers need a full solution – that is also flexible – and they want to be mobile.
When it comes to mobility, the way technology is changing is shaping our lifestyles and the way we want to do business. Today, people require mobility along with unified communications so that they can switch from a call to an email to instant messaging based on where they are located. That is the main trend I've seen not only in the U.S. but also in Latin America.
Q. How do customers define mobility? Are there other features they require?
A. Mobility means that even though you are constantly on the go and multitasking – having a meeting at 3 p.m. and getting into your car to visit a customer – mobile technology is helping you do your normal job at the same time. UC comes to the table as a way to combine all of these communications systems into one useful, mobile platform.
Q. Can you share a little background on your new role and responsibilities as Product Manager for SIP and Applications?
A. My role as a product manager is basically to become an owner of our business - we're a small business within the larger business. You have to make sure everything is working on the marketing side, the sales side, the technical side. And at the same time, just like any business owner, you have to constantly be thinking about what to do next.
Q. Where do you see the industry and Panasonic headed in the next 12 months? 5 years? Beyond?
A. Panasonic's main goal is to focus on how our products help our society and our environment. Our 100th anniversary is coming up in 2018 and the main goal for that milestone is becoming the most eco-friendly and innovative company in the world. That is a global strategy. All products we develop are rooted in that mindset, this includes UC and other categories. I'm seeing a trend in UC and SIP business optimization, especially with our applications and collaboration tools. That's where the market is going, that's where society wants to be helped, and that's what we're aiming for.
Q. What are the three things you're most looking forward to accomplishing in your new role?
1. Increasing market awareness for Panasonic in the UC segment. We are aligned with current market requirements both as a communications systems and applications provider. My focus is expanding Panasonic in that area.
2. We want to make sure our resellers are profitable. We want to be able to provide them with the best tools to differentiate them from competitors. Allowing them to not only sell solutions but also to sell themselves as experts in the field along with the products they offer. To sell a difference is to sell a benefit, to sell a product is to sell a solution.
3. Focus on education. We want to help our resellers sell more complicated solutions and earn more revenue when they offer a product. Providing guidance and the proper educational tools to help them market themselves to compete with bigger companies is a win-win.
For more information on Panasonic's business communications Applications and SIP offerings, please visit: http://business.panasonic.com/unified-communications/unified-communication-solutions.html.