3 Ways to Build Successful Partnerships with Mobile Network Operators

MobileFarmers
It can seem obvious, but mobile network operators (MNOs) are businesses that, at the end of the day, are motivated by their need to generate revenue. Yet a relationship between a development implementer and MNO can lead to a mutually beneficial program for all parties, including the all-important end users.
Getting to this point takes a certain level of negotiation, engagement, and refinement, agreed an ICTforAg Conference panel on how to partner with MNOs on ICT4Ag. They shared 3 of their secrets to building partnerships with MNOs.
Finding Champions at the MNO
You should always look for champions of your endeavor, and they can be found in unexpected places. Receiving support from these individuals must involve appealing to them from a technical and commercial front. Having a supporter who understands the business case and take it on but also having them available during the implementation phase of the project can be essential to its viability.
“As a first step, we always try to meet with the marketing manager or the head of the value-added services department within an MNO,” says Maggie McDonough of Souktel.
Striking a balance between profitability and CSR/PR
When negotiating your offer with an MNO, look beyond pure monetary value to attain their support. McDonough suggests one way is proposing attractive insights to market segments that wouldn’t be attractive initially, such as rural areas. Gaining market data on consumer preferences, habits, and interests becomes highly valued as MNO competition becomes fierce in the era of price-cutting.
Offering content can also be key. MNOs rarely have the capacity to generate their own local content and have to go through 3rd party aggregators for content. Localized content that can be provided directly to users becomes highly valued by the MNOs.
Internet.org’s Jennifer Fong cites the success of the partnership between Kenya-based Eneza Education and Safaricom. Eneza wanted to reach their costumers via SMS to private them with virtual tutor services, but SMS costs were prohibitive.
Eneza negotiated with Safaricom so SMS costs would be reasonable with the users, the operator would be able to reach a market, and both Eneza and Safaricom would get valuable user data. Fong says: “Being able to provide new userdata was extremely useful to the MNO.”
Engagement matters
Getting users to engage with your SMS and voice programs can be incredibly difficult. Most times, the percentage of engagement hovers in the single digits. A variety of factors can affect and sway the population of users.
Alloysius Attah of Ghana-based Farmerline has seen by engaging with users and assisting them through their process, which has a positive impact on responses and data accuracy. Many times, users wanted to respond but didn’t know which input to press in an SMS message or what to reply back with in a voice message.
“If the accuracy of the data matters to you, then it helps to have someone interpret the question to users. Without training, people didn’t say anything. With training, they were able to give some sort of feedback.”
An underlying issue can also stem from the hardware and software side of the process. Through engaging with the communities, they found many phones had faulty Qwerty keypads, which made inputting a valid reply difficult for the user.
McDonough says her team had similar issues of software misreading Arabic SMS messages, creating data interpretation problems. They changed to voice-based input for their surveys, resulting in higher engagement and accuracy.
Douglas Reyes-Ceron is a Visual Communications intern at DAI.