Industry veteran Keith Curran and private equity’s Dan Craddock join forces to create a new-style B2B format
“We’re putting the dealer back in control,” was the underlying message from Keith Curran when we met in London to discuss his return to the airtime distribution market.
The industry veteran (pictured left), and former chief executive of Yes Telecom, has re-entered the market by co-founding new unified comms provider plan.com with Dan Craddock (pictured right) – managing director of Isle of Wight-based private equity firm Bramden Investments.
The pair teamed up 12 months ago, with an objective to create a modern, “flexible” B2B proposition that appeals to the fixed, mobile and IT dealer community, removing the everyday barriers and frustrations they experienced on a daily basis.
According to Curran, key “frustrations” in the channels (mobile, IT and fixed) centred around inflexibility on tariffs, poor understanding of their commissions and difficulties in breaking into new markets (i.e fixed selling mobile and vice versa).
“Plan.com is about being simple and flexible,” said Curran. “Every dealer I have spoken to wants to be able to manage their own business in the way they want to – but restrictions from their airtime distributors and the networks heavily prevent that. Our aim is to give back some of that control.”
“This is not just simply a mobile play. Absolutely not. We are massively looking to appeal to the fixed-line players who want to break into the mobile space and the IT channels are increasingly seeing that all roads lead to the SIM card. It can be daunting for a mobile dealer looking to understand and sell fixed-line services given the vast number of factors to consider.”
Behind the scenes
Craddock added: “Those in fixed certainly don’t understand the whole mentality of giving things away for free. Plan takes all that away.
We deal with the complicated stuff so they don’t have to. Behind the scenes, there’s a huge amount of technology going on, but at the front door it’s simple to understand.”
The business will officially launch in June, providing a full UC offering. However, the mobile aspect is already up and running and has so far attracted more than 40 partners, each from different areas of the mobile and fixed industry (see box out).
Craddock, whose firm has a turnover in excess of £170m and a history of investments in the IT space and provided the backbone for Plan, labelled the connection process currently on offer to the market as 20 years out of date – and believes the combined experience of himself and Curran is a perfect combination. A number of former Yes Telecom staff, including Mark Stewart and David Illiffe, are understood to be on board.
“Everything we do at Bramden is based around maths and technology. Keith and I got in touch about a year ago, and it struck me straightaway how the telecoms space hasn’t evolved in decades when it comes to the connectibility process. From what I’ve seen, it’s still full of spreadsheets, dealers running a pound-per-box model, commission delays and basically having little to almost no flexibility when it comes to building a deal for the customer. So we looked at all that and went to work on how we could address it. It was a challenge but we feel we have created the ideal solution. “
So how does it work? The whole process of connecting a customer is done through the plan.com online dealer portal which can be accessed on either a PC, smartphone or tablet.
This, they claim, is to address, amongst other things, the vast levels of spreadsheets and manual paperwork that meets partners on a daily basis – as well as providing more flexibility when forming a deal with a customer.
Partners can build a plan from scratch, designed exclusively around the customer’s needs – although restrictions can be imposed on the account, if so wished. The same methodology will apply to both airtime and fixed-line connections.
These include, but are not limited to, adding or decreasing allowances such as texts, calls and data manually on the screen. The process is performed by using a simple up (+) and down (-) slide bar on the plan.com portal (see picture below). Curran insists if you can use a mouse, you can use plan.com.
Dealers can also manually adjust the default price of everything included within the package (out of bundled calls, texts, cross-network minutes, etc), as well as increase the length of the contract on a per-month basis (such as 19, 20 and 21-month deals) to help find a suitable deal for the customer, whilst remaining profitable. Dealers are also able to build and match identical deals used by any other operator or distributor (fixed and mobile) using this method.
Handset costs can also be factored into the deal manually (see box out, top right).
On the spot
“A lot of the dealers want to shave a little bit off the price here, or make a change there, which would normally require them to go to the networks,” said Curran. “Our portal allows our partners to make those changes themselves on the spot. Once they’ve done it, there’s no sign-off period. You’ve just done it. You don’t need to wait for some FD or manager to hopefully get around to looking at your request and calling you back.
“Can you imagine phoning up an operator and saying, ‘I have just invented this new deal – do you mind sticking it on the system for me so I can connect it?’ Of course not. It’s all about being flexible.”
Craddock added: “Traditionally, a dealer would sit down, discuss a deal, then go back to the office, call the network, come back, and then discuss it further. Whilst you wait for an answer, the deal is going cold and someone else may come in to take them away. With plan.com we come and see you, discuss what you want, input that information in real time on a tablet, click ok and that’s it. You could literally create a bespoke deal sitting in a bar or during a game of golf.”
Choose your own commission
During the building stage, all the information regarding the full-cost breakdown and the value of the deal (monthly earnings) to the dealer is displayed down the right of the screen – updating with each adjustment. This information can be hidden, however, if building the deal in full view of the customer.
Dealers can choose what method of payment they wish to receive on each deal depending on their circumstances.
There are essentially three options regarding commissions. A dealer can choose to take 100 per cent of the deal value upfront, and, as introduced by Curran at Yes, receive a ongoing revenue share from any overspend.
Alternatively, a dealer can choose a percentage split (determined using the same plus and minus method) between upfront and ongoing, or, they can simply choose a full ongoing one. Details on the revenue share value varies between deals, Curran said.
Commissions will be paid on the fifth and 22nd of every month at present, although this can be adjusted to suit.
Key selling point
“It’s important that partners can make a decision based on their own circumstances. What about if my circumstances change and I’m stuck on a payment model which is no longer suitable?” said Curran.
“I might be having a good month for cashflow so may not need an upfront, or I might be having a bad one and need the upfront. The portal allows you to make changes to suit your needs.”
Another key selling point for plan.com, is the dealer dashboard (see picture previous page), which displays live information on all accounts and financial information. According to Curran, one of the biggest “headaches” from the dealer channel surrounds the way in which commission is paid and displayed.
He claims feedback shows that rarely is commission paid on time or accurately and full-time staff have to be employed to manually check “endless paperwork and reports”.
The dashboard removes these “pains” and can be customised to display specific information (see image).
Curran said: “It’s not just about building a live deal for the customer, it’s also about giving them a live dashboard, which updates in real time showing them exactly where they are at during that month. There is a huge amount of information which allows them to use and really tailor their business. It’s not rocket science.”
Profitability is king
Of course, not every deal can be customised and connected, warns Craddock.
Dealers are not given targets, and there is no signing-up fee – however, Plan is interested in good quality average-revenue-per-user (ARPU) business and long-term relationships.
The connection process allows dealers to take value out of their own commissions, should they wish, but plan.com has no desire to do that, as writing unprofitable deals is something he claims is often done by operators.
Craddock added: “To be frank, we are not in the market for very small, low ARPU customers. We can genuinely say, if your customer is worth more and spends more, we will pay you more than anyone else. Simple as that.
“Obviously there are hard limits, you can’t give it all away for free,” he said. “We’re all in the business to make money. If you are a partner and you want to give away all your commission, then we’re happy to let you to do that, but there is a level where it becomes uncommercial for us to do it.”
Every market a target
Curran believes there to be around 600-700 mobile, 1,300 fixed line and a whopping 12,000 IT resellers in the UK market today – and he wants plan.com involved with them all.
He insists, whilst quality ARPU is king, the door is open to everyone – and they do not discriminate against company size or status, such as Vodafone platinum or O2 CoE.
He added the opportunities available to the channel using plan.com will help many smaller partners drive their business forward as they may not have been given the opportunity, nor have the financial clout to do it themselves.
“This is a level playing field. You are not on a partner tier and we are allowing you to do whatever you need to do to win the business,” said Curran.
“Some of the smaller partners simply can’t see a way forward in today’s market. That’s why so many have sold out and exited in the past few years. And that’s the key, because they look at the so-called big boys, and think they can’t compete, but instead of getting the support, they aren’t given the chance and often get shoved in to a lower tier, making it even more difficult. We are providing that opportunity and putting everyone on a level plying field.”
Craddock concluded: “We are taking this very seriously and have big expectations. We expect bumps in the road, and we may not be for everyone, we know that.
“But our commercials are competitive, and there are things we offer which truly have the ability to change the way in which they can run their business.
“We’ve been connecting for about three weeks now, and the hits to our website show people are talking about us. We are open for business.”