Recently, I had the privilege to hear a keynote speech by Thomas Lah, author of Bridging the Services Chasm at a technology conference in Chicago. The focus of his presentation was on the changing climate of technology sales and what we as technology companies need to do to meet the demands of our customers. Consumer expectations are transforming, and in order to respond, technology companies must also transform. The day of selling a product or license is no longer enough. Technology organizations must sell the value of the business outcome.
Really? (read with sarcasm)
As a former software developer and consultant, it seemed like a "no kidding" kind of moment that shouldn't need to be defined much less the topic of a keynote. However, I realized that there were many in the audience whose livelihoods were dependent on selling a product — not necessarily the solution that the product might
It seems to me that there is a distinct difference in the maturity of both buyers and sellers based on needs and experiences. This typically manifests itself when I speak with customers who have been "Sold", compared to those who have been "Solved". With that in mind, here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for a technology solution.
You Purchased a Product, not a Solution
Early in my career, I worked for a software training company. I taught courses ranging from Windows Basics to more advanced topics on PageMaker, Microsoft Access and Visual Basic. The classes were generally made up of engineers, accountants, and administrative assistants. Most came to the class because they had been sold on the idea that the software they purchased would solve their problems. Microsoft Access was on everyone's desktop, and users were convinced that they could develop a robust relational database through wizards and drag and drop features of the tool. Although you can get a lot out of a three-day training class, many of my students were simply out of their element. I have found throughout the years that customers are sold on software or a product and told it is a solution. The problem with that approach is that people solve problems, products do not solve problems.
All Technology Companies are Not Created Equal
When searching online for a technology company you will find pages upon pages of results. How do you determine the right technology company for your business?
- Check their credentials and their reference accounts.
- Find out if their engineers are degreed and certified in the technologies that they deliver.
- Research their online activity. Are they active in the user community for the technologies that they claim expertise in? i.e.,. Blogs, User Groups, Forums
A company's investment in the growth and development of their engineers is critical. Technology is constantly changing. If a company is not active in the technology community, it is likely that they are not up to speed on the latest technologies either. Most technology companies offer blogs and case studies that discuss the solutions that they have delivered. Read them! Educate yourself in their area of expertise and then pick up the phone!
Not All Sales Representatives are Consultants
There is nothing that bothers me more than to be told I am just a sales person. I might take exception to that because of my technology background and the number of years spent as a consultant. The truth is that a sales representative does not need to have a strong technology background to be a good consultant. A consultant is someone who has the ability to listen, assess, and make an unbiased recommendation. A true consultant will not recommend a product or solution that does not make sense for their customer.
No one wants to have an uncomfortable conversation with a client when they are not satisfied with the solution delivered. A true consultant who has your best interests in mind will tell you when they do not provide a good solution to your problem. Some will recommend an appropriate, reputable technology partner that matches your need. If you are ever in a discussion with a sales rep who does more talking than listening — run, don't walk to your next conversation. Finally, a good consultant will always bring the technical team in before promising a solution, timeline or budget. In the world of software solutions, if your sales representative promises you the moon without understanding the problem you are trying to solve you are likely to be disappointed in the outcome of your project.
Breaking it Down
I can understand why so many customers are disappointed after a seemingly simple software or product purchase. In order to achieve the business value or business outcome in the world of technology, you must go beyond the features of the product.
Consideration of the implementation and deployment process is critical. It is refreshing to speak to organizations who realize this and reach out to us as a possible implementation partner prior to committing to a platform. It is also rewarding to be a consultant and advisor to those organizations that have not yet reached that level of technology buying maturity. So to prevent being “sold” remember, products are not solutions, engage with a reputable technology partner and take the time to find and develop a relationship with a consultant that understands your business need.