T-Mobile Means Business

By Stephanie Blanchard, Digital Editor — February 10, 2014

More than 111 million viewers tuned in to watch the Seattle Seahawks trounce the Denver Broncos (43-8) in this year’s Super Bowl. What better time to debut commercials than during the most watched television program in the country’s history?

T-Mobile’s ads, starring Tim Tebow, made the case for “contract freedom.” The carrier will pay contract termination fees to any new or existing customers who port-in their number to a post-paid Simple Choice plan and trade-in their eligible phones. (Up to $300 per line for smartphones and fees reimbursed up to $350 per line, for a possible total of $650 per line.)

T-Mobile does not believe it has received full credit yet, for the plan’s simplification or its potential impact on the industry. After all, the fact that families of five are eligible to participate may be lost in the initial fanfare. However, it’s still early in the game. Mobile Enterprise met with executives at the company’s headquarters in Bellevue, WA, to discuss how this aggressive initiative will especially help small business owners.

Why would an SMB choose T-Mobile over others? Through exit interviews of decision makers, the carrier learned that SMBs prefer flexibility, replied Milan Ruzicka, Vice President, B2B Marketing, T-Mobile. It’s that simple. Without a contract to deal with, a business owner has one less thing to worry about.  

Remember, the average small business has many concerns, often closing shop within one year as a result. Surviving through five years is considered a major milestone. When making a livelihood depends on navigating a volatile market, or operating on a shoestring, no one has the leeway to eat up early termination fees. So they remain locked in to expensive phone plans. And that’s where contract freedom comes in.

Disruption is the Play
According to the Small Business Administration, there are 23 million small businesses in the U.S., (other reports have it as high as 28 million) accounting for 54% of domestic sales, and 55% of jobs. While big business has eliminated 4 million positions since 1990, small business has actually added 8 million.

Measuring on brand level and tangible metrics, T-Mobile estimates its market share of SMBs is currently 7-10%, but Mobile Enterprise believes it is much higher and will rapidly escalate. Because in addition to traditional S-corps and C corps and LLCs, small business these days includes the sole proprietors who are glued to their smartphones, many of whom were tuned in to Super Bowl XLVIII, the third biggest blowout in the history of the game.

In 2014, mobile is also no longer an option, or a pipedream, but absolutely mandatory for an SMB which relies on outpacing its competitors. The term “mobile” itself will probably become obsolete, as most businesses move to the cloud, and ubiquitous connectivity is the norm.

T-Mobile strives to provide that ubiquitous connectivity though a nationwide 4G network, but also goes a step further. For example, the carrier makes recommendations to help business owners improve workflow. And in this arena, there is a lot of legroom, as SMBs have the ability to use consumer-facing apps not readily allowed in the large enterprise, such as DropBox. (This does not mean, however, that small business owners aren’t thinking about security. Ruzicka hears from many who are concerned with protecting digital assets. Give away a promotion code such as a recent Groupon, and the entire business can go under.)

In the End Zone
T-Mobile’s CEO, John Legere, is highly relatable not just to SMBs who go against the grain, but for anyone who prefers plainspeak. Not exactly the suit and tie type of guy, Legere does not shy away from interacting with customers, competitors, or just offering up opinions. (Name another telecom CEO with as much Twitter presence, or bleepable quotes, as Legere.)

So it was only fitting that Tim Tebow, a much maligned yet equally admired free agent, was chosen to represent T-Mobile because he has “the grit, determination and passion for doing the right thing.” Depicting Tebow as a firefighter, rockstar, doctor and other professions, the series of spots showed “how awesome life can be when you aren’t tied down to a long-term contract.”

Although the “uncarrier” had skin in this year’s Super Bowl, T-Mobile does not normally rely on traditional media to market to SMBs. Last year, the carrier sponsored On the Road with Free Enterprise, a two-month cross-country tour created by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. A product placement campaign during Shark Tank, a show geared towards entrepreneurs, was considered wildly succesful. In addition, a monthly newsletter is sent out to subscribers.

On a personal note, Ruzicka said, he is impressed with the level of passion and dedication throughout the company. “We do care about the customer,” he stressed, adding it’s certainly not the carrier’s goal to “nickel and dime.” As a result, there is often a “too good to be true” element to the plans offered but the intent is genuine: champion the client.

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