Interview with Syed Jibran Ali Chief Commercial Officer, Wateen
Tell us about your professional background?
I started my career in 1987 from Hilton Hotel. I shifted to Dubai afterwards and worked with Lee Jeans for 3 years. Due to the Gulf War, I came back to Pakistan in 1990 and joined Coca Cola and worked there for 10 years. Then in 2000-01, I joined Mobilink as an Assistant Manager Sales and later on was promoted to Director Sales. I worked in Mobilink for 9 years and then joined Wateen in June 2009 as General Manager Sales. Currently, I am heading the commercial division as the CCO (Chief Commercial Officer).
What is the present situation of the telecom sector of Pakistan, especially the wireless internet sector?
I would differentiate telecom with regards to GSM and Broadband. In Pakistan there is a perception that telecom only includes GSM because it is a giant in the telecom industry. We are actually providing high speed wireless broadband. Before Wateen, I think there was no concept of high speed internet in Pakistan. Wateen is one of the leading companies which took the initiative of bringing high speed wireless internet in multiple cities. It was a risk bringing a 4G technology in this country as it was in a pre-mature stage.
Internet is changing the business lifestyle in Pakistan. A Few years back, not everyone owned a computer or had their own email addresses; today a business professional is expected to have an email address. This revolution was made possible because of internet and the demand for internet in Pakistan which is going to increase with every passing day. Social Networks have also encouraged people to use internet in Pakistan. Pakistan is showing one of the highest growth rates and Wateen is leading the way with regards to wireless broadband internet.
What are the major difficulties faced by Wateen?
The technology we have introduced in Pakistan is known as WiMAX (4G) which is a relatively expensive technology. The CPE (Consumer Premises Equipment) for this technology costs around $70 to $125, which means the cost of the equipment is around Rs. 6000 and after adding the company’s operational cost, it becomes Rs. 8000. This amount is very high and acts as an entry barrier in the Pakistani market. We are trying to lower the upfront cost to create awareness of this technology. To create this awareness in the market, we sell this technology at a subsidized rate so that the consumers experience it and understand the benefits. Another major challenge in business has been the increased cost of operations due to electricity outages. Our products delivery is hampered by excessive load shedding and forces us to install heavy generators or other mediums to ensure service and quality is never disrupted. The current recession slowed the growth in the business sector as well as individual spending.
What has been the response of the consumer to this technology?
We are educating the public about the wireless technology. We have started imparting knowledge from scratch and it was easier because everyone was already using wired-line for internet before this technology. We are not meeting the demand fully as we are relying on few vendors who are supplying this technology. This demand shows that there is opportunity in the market. We expect this trend to continue in the sub-urban areas and towns.
How many cities does Wateen have presence in?
We are the only wimax broadband company who are offering broadband wireless services in 22 cities. Most of the competition is present in the major metro’s or a handful of other cities. We have a partnership with USF (Universal Services Fund) who are helping us in promoting internet literacy in the rural and under-served areas of Pakistan. We are going in these areas with discounted prices and once they are educated about the internet, it will automatically create more business opportunities.
Who are your major competitors?
We consider PTCL as our strong competitor due to the age and size of the company. I wish that other companies would also grow stronger to make the market more competitive. Competition always creates opportunity. It will help everyone by creating awareness about internet and its usages in the daily lives of an individual, household or business.
How many subscribers does Wateen have?
Currently, we have 240,000 subscribers nationwide.
Which area of 4G wireless technology is unexplored?
The unexplored area of 4G wireless is voice. We are working on a product in this area but our in-direct competition is very strong with regard to fixed line and GSM. Our technology depends on electricity and in the current circumstances of load shedding of electricity; our product switches off without light. On the other hand, internet connections or land line phones which depend on wires are not influenced by load shedding. We are trying to initiate this Voice product by introducing backup batteries for uninterrupted service.
What are the major issues of your customers?
In Pakistan, the expectations of the consumers are very high. We are trying to meet the customer’s expectations as best as we can but this kind of technology does have a limitation. We say that this internet connection will provide download speed of 1Mbps. If we commit to this exact speed, it will become unaffordable for us as well as for our customer therefore we use a term “Contention Ratios”. We set contention ratios for every customer to fulfill the basic requirement of browsing.
How do you differentiate between the urban areas and the rural areas with respect to internet demand and usage?
We have divided the regions into 3 categories; Metro, Semi-Metro and Rural areas. Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi contribute to approximately 80% of sales. 10% to 20% usage is in Semi-Metro and Rural areas which includes, Gujranwala, Peshawar, Sialkot, Faisalabad etc. We are trying to create awareness in rural towns and in future we will see the percentage from rural areas increasing.
What are the 3 basic ingredients of selling a wireless internet connection?
The first ingredient is network reliability and meeting the customers’ expectations (consumer insight), when a customer requests for an internet connection. The second ingredient is the most important phase is relationship building, in which our company representative is dealing with the customer during the sale. The third ingredient is the retention phase (post sales experience) when the customer has purchased our product and how we uphold and continue the consumer relationship through reliable service delivery and world class customer service.
When are you expecting the cost of your product to be decreased?
This technology is new which is why our product is expensive. It is being introduced worldwide at a very fast pace. We believe that once more and more suppliers enter the market, the cost of the product will go down. Currently, Motorola, ZTE, and few other companies are manufacturing this product.
How many sales methodologies do you use to sell Wateen product?
We have employed cost-efficient methods and did not invest much in building large franchises of Wateen everywhere but used a smart franchise network which is focused on certain localities where the prime target customer is located. We also have a network for distribution called “Affinity”. It consists of affiliations with organizations that already have a distribution network and by selling Wateen product, they can increase their profits. We also rely on retail networks of computer retailers. Computer retailers are already spread across the country which is why we have utilized their services to sell our product. Lastly, we are selling directly to high value customers and for this, we have our own team. Hence, Wateen is providing direct or indirect employment opportunities to thousands of people related directly or indirectly to the telecom and broadband sector.
What are the key marketing initiatives that you have taken recently and how have the results been?
Our product is all about experiential marketing. Our aim is to provide ample opportunities for customers to test and experience our product as we don’t want to impose selling. We have conducted consumer engagement campaigns in the major metro’s by placing kiosks at high-traffic areas such as malls and apartment complexes. Here, the customers can experience the product first-hand and will ask us for it rather than us seeking out new customers.
What are your expansion plans?
We are already operating in 22 cities. Right now, we are trying to grow our coverage areas in these 22 cities rather than expanding to other regions.
What is your advice to youngsters who want to enter the field of sales?
There are two important things in this field. Firstly, you need to know about the product, its uses and audience. Secondly, be truthful to your customers and clients. Sell to build a relationship rather than to meet targets. When you build a long term relationship, you can easily achieve targets and the customer starts respecting you and your organization. “Sales” is all about attitude.
Wateen has its own fibre optic network of over 12,000 KMs laid across Pakistan. This has made us the preferred ‘carriers’-carrier” as we provide fibre optic services to all the GSM operators and also provide VPN and VSAT services to the majority of the banking and media sectors of Pakistan. In addition to the WiMAX provision to households and individuals, Wateen also provides fixed-wire broadband services through HFC (Hybrid-Fiber Coaxial) in the DHA areas of Lahore and in some areas of Multan.