Friday, June 25, 2010

Should Revenue Assurance Tell People Their Ideas Don't Make Sense?

Just because my last post was about how Revenue Assurance should deal with people who are not very good at their jobs, I thought it made sense to talk in this post about how to deal with departments who come up with strange ideas - often ideas that do not make sense.

Finding Strange Ideas to Disagree With

For better or worse, in my personal experience, I have heard about this happening most between Revenue Assurance and Marketing/New Product Development. But obviously what I am talking about applies to any department Revenue Assurance works with. But just to be clear, I am not saying these departments always come up with bad ideas, I'm just talking about how to handle it when they do.

The reason I think this kind of conflict or disagreement happens so often with marketing (and I talk about the differences in culture between Revenue Assurance and Marketing in a previous post), is that marketing's job exists mainly to come up with new ideas all the time - as fast and as many as they can think of.

This is neither a good nor bad thing, it is simply their job and they tend to be good at it. They have to constantly come up with fresh new ideas to help sell your telco's products. Often times these will be great ideas that make a lot of sense and everyone agrees will be profitable and attract customers. But not all the time.

No One is Perfect, They Need Help and Advice

Sometimes they come up with ideas that don't make sense to anyone - ideas that you think no one would actually want (especially not customers), and that you are worried may actually cause harm to the telco. And we all know there are bad things that can happen when marketing campaigns go wrong.

I have heard of marketing campaigns/new products that (not on purpose) cause customers to churn. I have heard of campaigns that cause the telco to lose money. I have even heard of campaigns that cause the network to fail - so no one can make calls.

But that's not the worst part. The worst part is that marketing/new products is very expensive. So when things go wrong, you are actually spending money in order to lose money, or to make bad things happen to your telco.

Can Revenue Assurance Predict the Future? No!

At this point the temptation can be for you as Revenue Assurance to step in and say "I can see the future," "I know what's going to happen," or "You are stupid, I am smart, I can obviously do your job better than you can." And when something has just recently gone wrong, people might actually listen. But that is not what you want.

The problem is you do not necessarily know better than they do. You certainly cannot see into the future. I am not saying you should not trust your gut instincts that tell you something is a bad idea, but when you are trying to convince people that a marketing campaign/new product is a bad idea, your opinion doesn't matter - only facts matter.

More importantly, you do not want to volunteer to be responsible for something that belongs to someone else. The more you force your opinions on other departments, the more chance you will get blamed if something goes wrong. And because you have no real control over what they do, it can be their fault, but you still get blamed.

What Do I Do, If I Don't Argue? Act Like a Professional

So the short answer to the main question of "what to do when you see ideas that don't make sense" is not to argue and express your opinions in a subjective way ("I think this is stupid," "I think this won't work," "No one is going to like this").

The way you act like a professional is by offering a professional assessment of the idea in a way that makes use of your core skills. You are not a marketer or a product developer. You are Revenue Assurance. You find risk, find out how expensive the risk is, and you create controls if management says the risk is too high.

And that is how you can contribute usefully to these processes. The idea may be stupid, and not make sense, but it is not your job to say that. You are also not going to be effective saying that. More importantly, you may well be wrong. Marketers (hopefully) are professionals too, and you have to trust they are good at their jobs.

Revenue Assurance Handles Risk, and Only Risk

But you still have to trust your instincts. If you think a plan is risky, you can point that out. You can say there is a high chance of something bad happening, and you can calculate, if that happens, how much it will cost. As long as you can do this honestly, and with integrity, you are doing a good and useful job. You are being helpful rather than being unprofessional and arguing.

After you tell management and the marketing team about the risk, and how expensive it could be, your job is done. If they decided they are willing to take the risk, that is their decision and you cannot make their decision for them or force them to change their minds.
If things go right, then you were wrong, but you did not stop a successful thing from happening. If things go wrong, people are going to ask you "how did you know that was going to happen?"

And your response will be very simple "I work in Revenue Assurance. It is my job to know."

Being Right is the Best Way to Make Friends

Of course, after this happens a few times, people will actually start listening to you and asking your advice. In particular, sometimes management will say that the risk is too high. At that point, you can once again do what Revenue Assurance does best - you can create controls to manage the risk.

For example, if a department wants to pre-activate roaming for every sim card they sell - that is a big risk. If management is okay with this huge risk, they can go ahead, but you warned them. If they see the risk is too high for them to take, you can help find some way of making the plan less risky - or some other way of achieving a similar effect (advertising at airports, border crossings, making roaming activation easier etc.).

You Have to Know Things to Be Right

Now, all this sounds good, and all makes sense (at least I hope so). Our job as Revenue Assurance is not to argue with people, it is to provide them with the facts they need to make a decision. But how can we actually do this, how can we actually deliver? If you have never worked with marketing before, how can you help them understand risks better than they can?

This is where integrity plays a big part in what Revenue Assurance does. You cannot promise things you cannot deliver on. You cannot be too greedy and try to do all this at once. These are political and social skills that you develop over time, as well as knowledge you learn about the various departments you work with.

If you don't understand marketing or new product development, you cannot pretend or try to help them. Instead, if you really want to move into these areas, you must be patient and plan and educate yourself. So that when you are ready, you will be able to execute your plan with integrity.

But if that is how you approach these situations, with professionalism an integrity, I find it hard to believe good things will not come of it.

That's why I LOVE Revenue Assurance.

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