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Epicus Uses Partners to Sell Bundled Telecom Services

Southeastern telephone service provider Epicus Inc. is boosting sales by bundling its telecommunication services into convenient packages and marketing them via partnerships to take advantage of pre-existing business relationships.

Epicus, Lake Mary, FL, has had success promoting its Freedom Rings bundled telephone service plans via direct mail in partnership with a local utilities provider in Florida. The company is launching a test affinity marketing campaign to consumers connected with University of Central Florida athletics and plans a new business-to-business telemarketing effort throughout the Southeast as well.

Freedom Rings offers a bundle of local, long-distance and enhanced services such as three-way calling, caller ID and call waiting. The company credits its new marketing strategy with turning its second-quarter 2002 into a $225,600 profit compared with a $242,150 loss in the same period in 2001, with a 9 percent rise in sales.

“During the last 12 months, we've evolved into a new product set, a new way of looking at our service package,” said Mark Richards, CEO of Epicus. “Rather than try to own the customer, we own the relationship with somebody the consumer trusts.”

The company has had outbound teleservices agencies marketing its telecom products to businesses in BellSouth's territory in the past, and will let those agencies continue their work under the company's old marketing strategy. However, Epicus wants other telemarketing firms to pitch its new BTB marketing effort, dubbed “Freedom Rings at Work.”

Epicus thinks its bundled offer will appeal to business prospects as it has to residential consumers, said John Wind, vice president of marketing and strategy. Yet the existing offer is working, and Epicus doesn't want to hinder its current telemarketing partners, who will continue to market the old offer, which was a 15 percent discount on the rate the prospect was paying BellSouth.

“What we don't want to do is go through a product change with our existing telemarketing firms,” Wind said. “We felt that if we tried to take the existing telemarketing firm and try a new methodology, we'd blow the whole model.”

The new telemarketing campaign begins in 30 to 60 days, Wind said. The residential version of the bundled offer began about five months ago in direct mailings to residents of New Smyrna Beach, FL.

The mailers were inserted into monthly bills sent to 20,000 customers of the Utilities Commission of New Smyrna Beach, the local power utility authority. The mailer offered telephone services in three packages — $24.95, $39.95 and the Freedom Unlimited plan for $49.95, which includes unlimited local calling, long distance and all of the enhanced calling features including voice mail services.

The campaign also includes newspaper inserts and direct response radio advertising in the New Smyrna area. Epicus helped the utilities commission upgrade its call center staff to handle increased call volumes and train for sales calls for telephone services.

“The radio ads bring in more calls than we can handle,” said Ron Vaden, general manager/CEO of the New Smyrna Utilities Commission.

The partnership with the utilities commission was made possible during the recent deregulation of the power industry by a little-known change to federal rules that allowed power companies to offer telecommunications services to their customers. Many utilities providers invested money in their own telephone networks, and lost their shirts, Richards said.

“It takes a lot of telecommunications knowledge,” he said. “Power companies don't have that.”

Epicus also has partnered with sports marketing agency ISP Sports, Winston-Salem, NC, to market Freedom Rings at Home to fans of University of Central Florida sports as part of a test affinity marketing effort. The company will send direct mailers targeting UCF sports fans and alumni. Epicus plans billboard, AM radio and television advertising as part of the campaign as well, Wind said.

The campaign is expected to begin today. According to Wind, Epicus expects about 2,500 new customers from the test.

“It's being viewed as a trial by us and ISP Sports,” Wind said. “If it goes well, it will be expanded to other schools.”

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