Exclusive: Samsung's Conor Pierce & Graham Long, beyond the launch

Exclusive: Samsung's Conor Pierce & Graham Long, beyond the launch


Samsung’s VP of IT and mobile Conor Pierce and VP of enterprise business Graham Long discuss securing customer engagement beyond the point of purchase, a new ‘scientific’ approach to partner relations and ‘bridging the gap’ with b2b devices


After rationalising Samsung’s range of products and distributors, the UK portfolio in both the consumer and b2b space is much reduced from previous years. Discussing the reasoning behind this, Pierce told Mobile: ‘I think the breadth of our portfolio is an asset, but in the past it has potentially been a disadvantage. We used to have such a massive range that it was difficult to position it in a compelling way in the channel. That’s why we made the decision to reduce our focus on low end. I think that has really helped us to focus all of our investments and our portfolio into where we see consumer demand.’


According to Pierce, this demand lies in the top end of the market: ‘We’ve seen massive growth in the premium segment –  if we say the UK market is 18-20 million units a year, we see about two-thirds of the market where value is premium. There are two juggernauts in this space and the key is to really listen to consumer demand.’


The value isn’t just volume increase either. At O2 In February 2016, an S6 on contract was 60.10% of the launch price. This February, an S7 sells for 80.71%. So is premium device devaluation slowing? Pierce commented: ‘In the past we’ve been more focused than we should be on the sell-in, so driving volume into the market, which by default brings about challenges post-launch. What we’ve done now is be more careful, be really scientific about channel stock, sell through plan, activation plans and the value this brings to our partners and the end user.’


It’s a trend that pervades both consumer and B2B, with both Pierce and Long agreeing that the differences between the two markets are decreasing.


Last year, while several players exited the enterprise handset market, Long and Samsung bucked the trend by predicting that the Galaxy S7 would ‘bridge the gap’ between consumer and business handsets, as well as between Samsung’s focus on the consumer space when it comes to mobile devices. Looking back at how well its flagship achieved this, Long told Mobile: ‘We positioned the S7 as the device that was ‘Rethinking what a phone could do’ and I believe in the b2b sector it has absolutely done this. It includes business apps built for the Cloud to help customers stay in sync with what matters to them and their business; while also having expandable storage and improved battery endurance.’


Explaining why others may have failed to maintain a presence in the enterprise space, the Samsung enterprise VP said: ‘The divide between business mobile devices and consumer mobile devices is growing ever smaller. The challenge for any brand is to adapt to a rapidly evolving market.’ He continued: ‘You could also look at this from a historical perspective. As little as 10 years ago, technology at work far exceeded the tech people had at home. Now, that situation is reversed, and personal technology including mobiles is often far more advanced than the tech you expect to use at the office. People expect the same seamless technology they use personally to permeate their work life, and we at Samsung are in a great place to deliver that.’


The battle for engagement


Samsung’s upgrade programme was an important step in ensuring launch sales, but that’s not all. Pierce told Mobile: ‘What’s important is not just driving handset sales – and this is a learning point for us – it’s how to bring our ecosystem to it. How to add value around it through insurance or some kind of premium care package.’ He added: ‘What we’ve learnt and what we need to do more of is to build a bridge either with our channel partners if need be or directly through our e-store to build that relevant and continuous engagement with our customers.’


While Samsung’s battle for engagement aims to better leverage its market share, for newer players in the UK the aim is market share itself. Commenting on this, Conor Pierce stated: ‘It’s great when new players come on board, but a word of warning to these newcomers – the UK market is a lighthouse market globally, success in the UK resonates across regions and globally so it’s incredibly competitive and there’s so much noise from so many different industries in the average person’s life, it’s really hard to cut through this as a new brand, especially in premium.’


It’s not just in the consumer space that market trends are affecting the role of the device, either. Though still the root of many b2b communications offerings, as a revenue stream, mobile devices are falling down the list, replaced by the services that surround them such as cloud and security solutions. However, according to Graham Long it’s a change that Samsung is comfortable with: ‘Samsung is behind unified comms (UC) as a strategy as it gives us further opportunity to collaborate with our partners to deliver even more bespoke and relevant solutions for our customers. Our partners’ landscape is changing and we have to evolve with them.’


Elaborating on the role of dealers in Samsung’s IT and mobile business strategy, the enterprise boss added: ‘We sell exclusively through the channel, which makes our channel partners an enormously important part of our success. We see them as true partners: people we work with to achieve our goals, and with whom we discuss targets and plans. To this end we are therefore delivering joined-up solutions to dealers, which make offers more compelling and understandable to dealers and, of course, their customers.’


Part of this will also include changes to Samsung’s online sites for its channel partners. Long explains: ‘We’re always evaluating and improving our programmes and portals to ensure we’re delivering the best possible experience. The b2b purchase funnel is increasingly digital and we need to be where our customers are.’


VR focus


Selling 150,000 VR headsets in the UK in 2016, Samsung is the best-known player in the space. Building on this, Conor Pierce said: ‘This year our focus is to continue owning and shaping the market, but also to work closely with partners and customers to deliver relevant content across B2B and B2C.’


By giving away VR headsets with flagship purchases, the brand both bolsters its reputation as a market leader of the emerging technology and, of course, drives handset sales. However, Pierce believes the two advantages can be antagonistic. ‘It’s not just about “how do we leverage this category”; there’s a fine balance between using it to drive our premium aspirations in market share, because it is a great lever to pull on, and the more you discount it, the more you potentially take value out of the proposition.’


Note7 impact


Both vice presidents discussed the impact of the Note7 recall, with Pierce stating:  ‘I’ve been in this business for 20 years now, and last year was definitely an extraordinary year, with highs and lows. Highs being the success of the S7 and the low being the Note 7, it’s an issue I’ve never experienced before on this scale and I don’t think this industry has either. It was very humbling, and that means a lot of introspection as to how this could happen.’ He continued: ‘Internally we’ve built new bridges and relationships across multiple functions because every day for the duration of the Note7 issue we had an 8am task force, 20 people in the room, every day, even at the weekends. We’d come in and work on how we can work through this. It was a tough way to learn, but it has made us stronger.’


Describing the enterprise space, Long added: ‘The lessons of the past several months are now deeply reflected in our processes and in our culture, and we look forward to moving ahead with a renewed commitment to safety. Note7 devices never got to launch over here, which was of course a setback, however, due to the strength and breadth of our portfolio we were able to offer alternative products. For those customers that specifically required a stylus, our relationship with our third-party solution providers meant that we were able to provide a fully-functioning solution.’


Next big thing


Asked about the big opportunities in the mobile market, Conor Pierce speculated: ‘There’s something missing in the market; it needs a big catalyst and in my view there are probably two big items that excite me outside of what I do every day. One of these is the connected home; whoever brings a compelling, accessible proposition on the connected home will really drive and re-shape the market. The second part is that although the device has always been the driving force of the industry, there will be a moment in time where we expect quadplay to be the major driving force behind it. There’s a lot of movement in the market with players trying to introduce this, but whoever is successful in bringing a compelling quadplay service will help to reshape the market.’


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