How Not To Sell Phones: The Way Almost Everyone Does
By Mike Masnick, Wed Mar 09 02:15:00 GMT 2005

With the switch from regular handsets to feature phones and smartphones, no one seems to have rethought the process by which phones are sold.

While voice may still be the killer app for mobile phones, that doesn't mean anyone selling phones should ignore how all the additional features change how people buy phones. In buying a phone, it used to be that the most important thing was basically how it looked and how it felt in your hands (or up against your face). These things were pretty easy to figure out with a quick stop at the store -- or even just by scanning pictures of the phone. With many phones looking more or less the same, it wasn't that difficult to imagine the basic differences between them. There were some issues with the user interface on the various phones, but once you figured out the basics (how to call numbers, how to answer the phone, how to check voicemail) you were usually pretty set for the life of the phone.

That's not true any more. Phones have increasingly complex features, increasingly complex purposes and increasingly complex user interfaces. However, they're still sold the same way: by showing you the phone itself and asking you to make a yea/nay decision on the spot. This is causing various problems for new buyers. They have no idea how the phone's features work or if they're what they really want. Even worse, they have no idea if the phones actually work with other accessories such as bluetooth headsets or bluetooth-enabled laptops.

In other words, more advanced phones aren't just about the plastic shell any more, but the features and the user interface. However, the sales process is still focused almost entirely on the device itself. This isn't just a question of users not understanding how their phones work or even operators not doing enough to educate buyers post-purchase. The problem is that most phones are still very much a "black box" for buyers until they've bought it.

While it's not quite that easy to simply let users "try before they buy" -- more should be done in really demonstrating features to users before they buy, and giving potential buyers a real ability to test out features within a store setting. Unfortunately, many handset sales reps only understand the very basics, or can simply repeat the brochureware that comes with the phone. Perhaps an interesting model to follow might be Sprint's latest efforts in the US to put full repair shops within retail stores, in order to quickly fix and return broken phones. What's really happening is that they're moving the expertise down the line to make it easier for a subscriber to access. Setting up retail operations with more highly trained sales reps who go beyond just showing off the basic features of the phone to understanding how the phones really work, and working with buyers to find a phone that really meets their needs could go a long way towards smoothing the upgrade path to higher end feature phones and smartphones.