Could Sirius Do A Better Sales Job?

Howard Stern Sirius

When Sirius XM (NSDQ: SIRI) announces its earnings before the market opens Tuesday, analysts will be looking for financial results; the subscriber numbers were pre-released weeks ago with improvements in every key area, including converting trial subs to paying. But could that 45.2 percent conversion rate be even better if the satellite radio company improved its sales style? And could it be worth more?

As mentioned here before, my household has been on a six-month new car trial and has to decide soon whether or not to re-up. The first effort (and so far the only one) from Sirius to get us to do just that arrived a few days ago: a plain, white letter with a format mixed between bill and offer, along with a card listing the 130 radio channels in the basic package. Twelve months for the price of 10 ($129.50) or 24 months for the price of 19 ($245); monthly ($12.95) or quarterly ($38.85). So far, so good.

The primary goal seems to be renewing the current deal, and given that what Sirius needs first and foremost is that conversion, it’s not a bad one. But it’s also missing chances to entice our renewal with a service upgrade and to add us as users outside the car. No mention of the “Best of XM” package unless you get to the bottom of the channel listing. (The Sirius Everything+Best of XM package, available only on some radios, runs $16.99.) No effort to upsell to an online subscription, say something like sign up now and get online, usually $2.99 a month, for $1 month or the like. No mention of the iPhone app. You have to know about those last two by osmosis, look for packages online or call. Log in to handle it online, nothing changes. No incentive to upgrade.

There’s also no effort to let potential subs know there are cheaper options, including a family pack ($11.95) and a la carte.

The fine print: The letter said to respond by May 9 to get the renewal offer; the fine print said it was good through May 24. The really fine print says month-to-month can only be done over the phone, not through the form. That’s also the only place a prospective subscriber hears anything about the music royalty fee, with no mention that it adds $1.98 a month to the standard $12.95 — which means the price you’re seeing isn’t the price you’ll be paying. (‘Free’ months don’t incur a royalty.) There’s also a threat of a $2 fee every time you get a paper invoice.

Sirius has made tremendous improvements in the last year, aided by some financial stability courtesy of a key investment by Liberty Media (NSDQ: LINTA). It even stayed above $1.00 enough days in a row last month to avoid being delisted by Nasdaq. I’m not sure why its direct marketing is stuck in the last decade.

Earnings preview: TheStreet.com (NSDQ: TSCM) has a good roundup of analyst expectations. Thomson First Call analysts estimate $671.32 million for revenue with even earnings per share.

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