Head of AT&T business sales talks turkey

FRAMINGHAM (10/23/2003) - Chris Rooney was named president of business sales at AT&T Corp. in April after having joined the company in February 2002 as head of its government services division. Rooney recently met with Network World Senior Editor Denise Pappalardo to discuss contract negotiations, the competitive landscape, customer satisfaction and how to increase revenue.

Customers have been saying AT&T is not offering competitive pricing until users are far into the contract-negotiating process. Isn't AT&T creating bad blood through this?

If there is one message I deliver to every field sales department it is to double our speed in all things. And it speaks to your point. We have to improve the speed with which we come to these conclusions with our customers, because that time can create dissatisfaction. When I first joined the sales team and we looked at our processes, we heard similar comments.

How is your department trying to achieve that goal?

We brought in Donna Henderson, who runs what I call the sales enablement group. Donna's job is to improve the negotiating process. She's in that position because she was running one of our sales regions in Dallas and was working with customers every day. We had to get someone in to do this job who is sensitive to customer issues and have them go through a methodical remediation process to ensure we can be more responsive to customers in this environment and be less difficult to do business with.

Has AT&T fully taken advantage of MCI's weakened position?

Our effort every day has to be full-out. I may be termed old-school, but I believe that an organization has to function at a high-performance level all the time. That may come from my 20 years in the Marine Corps.

I come to play every morning at 7 a.m. I expect everyone here to come and play, and take advantage of every situation that is favorable. Some might deem MCI's bankruptcy as a favorable situation. But you have to be equally aware that there is RBOC entry in our market. We have to work like the dickens to overcome that.

What were your biggest challenges as you took over?

Your first challenge in any new job is to understand the environment and the people in that environment. The challenge there was to begin to know the people in the team and the types of relationships they've developed with the customers. It's a big team of about 7,500 folks across 50 states and the world.

Did that process result in a lot of change within the sales team?

I probably have the best sales department with some of the best sales leadership I've ever seen. I've been equally pleased with the relationships they've built with our customers.

Some users have complained they are working with green sales folks. Are you saying there hasn't been much turnover recently?

No, there has not been a large amount of turnover. We have been trying to ensure that we build a strong relationship with each customer. We have been introducing new personnel into customer situations on a dedicated basis. This is part of a model called total account management that we introduced to look at each customer's needs.

Has AT&T changed how its salespeople are compensated since you joined?

Compensation programs are done on an annual basis, and I joined in April. You don't want to change a person's basis of compensation in the middle of the year. Going in to the next calendar year, we are absolutely committed to ensuring an alignment between the objectives of the company and the objectives of individual salespeople.

We're focused on growing revenue of our existing customer base, and we want to continue to grow with new customer acquisitions. Those objectives are aligned with the company's goals of revenue growth and profitability.

What do you mean by total account management?

It's an effort to ensure we are appropriately introducing our services, managing, selling and servicing customers - from a customer-care perspective to how that user's services are installed, maintained and billed.

In a recent survey, AT&T's customer-service ranking was lower than it had. How do you address these issues?

Customer satisfaction is a very critical barometer in our business. There are a lot of surveys done by media and consulting groups, and we have our own. We bring all of those together and cross-reference them on an ongoing basis. We have a joint undertaking between the marketing, sales and care departments to improve that overall satisfaction rating. Right now areas of focus in sales are around the proposal and contracting processes, and the responsiveness of our sales team. They are top of mind with me and they are top of mind with my team.

Who are AT&T's biggest competitors, the other interexchange carriers or the regional Bell operating companies?

I see them all as very worthy and very challenging competitors. RBOC entry has created a new challenger in our markets. And depending on location and size of a customer contract, the RBOCs are an equal or stronger competitor today than you might call a traditional IXC. You can see that in certain market share statistics. SBC, BellSouth and Verizon are all in the business of long-distance and each has a strong position in certain markets.

We're hearing that AT&T sales reps are pushing hard to sell local services with nearly all bids. What's behind this?

We've made a great investment in local. We're in 100 major cities. We have a great local service. We offer a competitive alternative that is very favorable for our customers and prospective customers. We want to service our customers' full needs from end to end. Users only want to deal with one vendor, not five local service providers plus AT&T. I hope we're talking with all of our customers about providing local service.

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