Tuesday, November 09, 2010
Inside AT&T’s Windows Phone 7 Launch
Elizabeth Woyke, Forbes
At 4 a.m. on Monday, Siegfred Hennigan will slip into AT&T’s Times
Square store in Manhattan and rally a group of sleepy employees.
The group is rising hours earlier than usual to launch the first phones built on Microsoft’s new mobile operating system, Windows Phone 7. The handsets, which go on sale Nov. 8 across the U.S. at AT&T stores, represent Microsoft’s multi-billion-dollar attempt to re-assert its leadership in the smartphone market. As Microsoft’s launch partner, AT&T’s fortunes are also tied to a successful introduction of Windows Phone 7 (WP7).
The high stakes dictate the 4 a.m. start time at the Times Square shop. Hennigan, the sales manager at the store–AT&T’s largest in New York–says the early call will allow his staff to prepare for the consumers he anticipates will gather to purchase or at least test out the WP7 phones. To accommodate them, the store will open one hour earlier than usual, at 7 a.m.
While it’s a more measured approach than the mania associated with new versions of Apple’s iPhone, which AT&T also sells, it’s clear that AT&T is investing heavily in the WP7 debut.
Most of the carrier’s 2,200 stores will promote WP7 on a special wallcomplete with a dedicated touch-screen that will display explanatory information about the software. Half the stores are also devoting horizontal fixtures, known as “experience tables”, to showcasing WP7 phones. Some AT&T locations, including the Times Square one, will also post large WP7 ad murals behind their cash register counters.
Allocating this much space to a single launch is a major commitment, particularly at a carrier that offers as many different phones as AT&T. The iPhone is the only other handset that has its own wall in AT&T stores. The operator groups its other smartphones, such as those that run the Android, Palm or Symbian operating system, together on a general “smartphone wall”. (Research In Motion’s BlackBerry Torch, another AT&T exclusive, is exhibited in a standup display that gives it floor space but not wall room.)
The setup of the WP7 walls is also notable. Rather than simply show the new phones, the handsets–the HTC Surround and Samsung Focus–will be flanked by a large touch-screen monitor, one of Microsoft’s Xbox game consoles and a laptop running Windows 7.
AT&T wants to associate the phones with these other Microsoft products to point up how WP7 differs from other smartphone operating systems, says John Dwyer, AT&T’s senior vice president of sales operations and customer experience. “We want to show that WP7 is not just another device or operating system, but an integrated experience,” he explains. In fact, the tagline AT&T is using for its WP7 ads is “The only phones with Microsoft Office Mobile, Bing, Xbox LIVE and Zune Music.”
Though the Xboxes in AT&T’s stores won’t be plugged in–or for sale–having them nearby will help salespeople explain how WP7 incorporates Xbox games, says Dwyer. The Xbox tie-in may also boost sales of AT&T’s broadband Internet and TV service, U-verse. In regions where AT&T sells U-verse, its WP7 displays will mention that the Xbox can double as a U-verse set-top box.
To prepare to deliver that somewhat complicated pitch, AT&T’s sales staff took a four-hour seminar in the intricacies of WP7. Store manager Hennigan says the training began four weeks ago and included hands-on time with the WP7 phones as well as web-based tutorials.
It’s not the first time AT&T sales consultants have been tutored about particular devices, but Hennigan says the WP7 training regimen stands out compared to earlier efforts by Palm and Motorola. “Microsoft really threw a lot of resources into this launch,” he says. “The seminars definitely created excitement among the sales teams.”
The next few days will tell whether consumers are as excited about WP7.