The Choice Architects II: Roger Vigilance, Vonage

Roger Vigilance, marketing director of Vonage talks to Iain Carruthers, of ICM Unlimited about how Vonage pivoted from an international calls provider into becoming a business brand

He has the best surname in the business world. But as importantly, as marketing director of Vonage UK, Roger Vigilance has guided the brand through a major evolution.  It was a straightforward VOIP (call using broadband) provider. ‘Our core business used to be international calling:  ethnic minorities making calls back home,’ he explains. ‘We’ve moved that to small business.’  Vonage now offers a business phone system run in the cloud; a landline number and voicemail, unlimited calling, full mobile integration at a low monthly cost. The ‘sweet spot’ is micro-businesses and people working from home.


Watching your assumptions

It was Vigilance’s background in the US which taught him the importance of diversity. There he realised how different consumers were, ‘not just continent to continent, but state to state, city to rural. ‘The worst thing is to assume you know what you need to know.’

Because lots of people used Vonage for international calling to family and friends, the business had assumed that was the right opportunity.  It was only through close customer insight that Vigilance spotted that valuable users were actually using their account to run their small business – often an international one. ‘We couldn’t work out why until we really understood the customers who were buying,’ he says. By acknowledging that their previous assumptions were wrong, and having the insight to look again at the consumer, Vonage framed a whole new business opportunity.


Small is beautiful

With its small budget, Vonage cannot compete with the huge telecom players. So how does the brand get noticed in a crowded category? ‘The challenge is to evangelise through our marketing activity so that more people can know about it, understand it and see the benefits and the value,’ he says. Customer satisfaction is crucial, ‘We’ve got a small market share relative to the big boys but our customers are loyal, supportive and happy. What we need to do is find creative ways of establishing brand awareness.’


How does your brand help?

The first question any B2 brand needs to address is how you help your customer run their business better. Vigilance acknowledges that the telecom category has commodified itself.   So he’s trying to promote a different kind of choice, ‘We looked at how we could be useful to someone running a small business. An example might be ‘Do I appear more or less professional?’ ‘Do I have better or worse access to my customer base?’ We can help them do that.’ Vonage is price attractive, says Vigilance, ‘but we’re trying to get people to see its potential – not for technology’s sake, but for how it can help them operate.’


When buying is your marketing

Vonage’s campaigns are is ‘targeted and selective’ and Vigilance uses a variety of marketing channels to reach them, including TV and radio. Digital marketing is key when it comes to influencing consumer choice: Vonage has invested in digital search, SEO and increasingly on social media. But another important channel is much more traditional: ‘Word of mouth is strong for us,’ Vigilance explains. ‘It implies customer satisfaction.’

The call centre has a particular sales process that’s an important part of Vonage’s marketing. ‘Customers in this category describe the buying process as one of the banes of their lives. We try to be as personalised, tailored and consultative as possible,’ he says. Vigilance’s goal is to ensure that the potential customer comes off the phone thinking, ‘that was a really great call. We gather the right facts from the customer before we sell anything,’ he explains. ‘We recommend what’s best for the customer, even if it’s a cheaper product – or we might even recommend not to buy from us.’

In this way Vigilance believes customers leave thinking they’ve found the perfect solution for their needs, as opposed to feeling unfulfilled because they’ve been presented with three options which they did not choose. What’s more, the consultation process usually results in a sale: ‘We’re good at converting our website traffic to calls and we’re good at converting our calls to sales, all of which we try to do with high levels of customer satisfaction.’


What’s the catch?

So what is the most important lesson Vigilance has learned about decision-making? ‘Simplify the choice,’ he says. A light bulb moment came when he realised that after having decided the price looks right, a telecoms prospect will immediately think ‘what’s the catch?’ ‘People are frightened of spending too much time on a new product which will be difficult to service, or won’t be right.’ The trick is to reassure these customers that there is nothing that hasn’t been explained. Restraint is crucial: ‘It’s the time to avoid the catches, provide social proof, provide information to alleviate their concerns, ’ Vigilance observes.

‘We are always trying to find ways to make that better,’ he says. ‘It’s these things which are critical to helping people through the journey.’


Beware of assumptions

Roger Vigilance’s rules to live by:

  1. Challenge what you think you know. Every few years, behave as if you don’t know anything about your brand and look at it again with fresh eyes. Some of the best ideas come from putting everything you knew to one side and starting again.
  2. Ask tough questions. (Like ‘what business are we in?’) Carve out enough space and time to ask the right questions of yourself, the team and the brand. That way you can open up new issues and disrupt the status quo.
  3. In a service business, buying is marketing. Understand and simplify the buying experience, because that sets the bar for the rest of the experience.