Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko said the company is still grappling with its monopolistic past, which has hampered its ability to function in a competitive market.
For decades, Telkom enjoyed a legally protected monopoly in the South African telecommunications market.
The company owned nearly all telecoms infrastructure in South Africa and if someone wanted a fixed line or broadband connection, Telkom was the only game in town.
Speaking at a recent Unleashing Leadership Potential event, Maseko said they were rocked when competition arrived.
“When you are a monopoly you do not have to compete, and that is what we were for 100 years,” said Maseko.
“We had salespeople – the title on their business cards said sales – but you were the only guy from who they could get the service. So, you are not a sales guy,” he said.
Maseko said Telkom only really began to sell products around 2010. Before that, the company was a monopoly which took orders.
“When Eskom says they sell stuff it is a crock of nonsense. They are the only guys. They don’t compete with anyone. They don’t have to innovate. They don’t have to compete on price,” he said.
Maseko said Telkom was exactly the same. “We did not have to sell stuff. We took orders. You called us for an order, and we fulfilled that order.”
“We probably slapped you around a little bit and still gave you the order,” he said.
The struggle to adapt
When the market changed and competition arrived, especially from the mobile operators, Telkom had to adapt and learn new skills.
One of these skills was how to sell, which Maseko described as a traumatic experience because it was not necessary before.
“I don’t think we are there yet because our systems and processes were not designed for a selling company,” said Maseko.
“Our people were not trained to sell. They were order takers – that is what they were trained to do.”
He said Telkom’s staff were not trained to sell on price and innovation and to ensure their products were better than their competitors.
“That is what we need to change, and I think that will take us a long time. To transition a company from a monopoly to compete on products and services – that journey still has a long way to go.”