Creating Value for Your IT Customers
You can increase the demand for network-centric solutions by recognizing the four phases of value creation. Key is determining what value means for each customer.
Creating value for IT departments is based on both technology application deployment, and creating measurable business value. As a growth-orientated systems integrator, you must be able to do both. I will address creating business value in this article and the technology/application piece next month.
In my experience, and maybe yours as well, there are four phases to being able to develop value for and with IT departments. Hopefully these insights will shorten the time from Phase 1 to Phase 4. Now, there are infinite variations of how you create value for your customers, from your perspective. However, the one thing I have learned about value is that it can only be defined by one entity, your customer. IT customers have their own definition of value. We will attempt together during the next month to discover how that might be defined.
So let’s explore the four phases and where you may need to move forward in developing a new relationship with your customer’s IT departments.
Phase 1: Fear of the Unknown
This phase occurs in both directions of the relationship. A systems integrator may be outside of their comfort zone approaching and conversing with IT departments, especially if they have been a traditional integrator, installing discreet infrastructure. Those IT people talk funny. They make me feel foolish. They can really be intimidating. So let’s start with a tale from the trenches.
I can understand how you feel. I have been there. The year was 1999. I was meeting with a new prospect who was interested in our new IP video system. The prospect was an IT manager at a major university in Ohio. So what was the problem they wanted to solve? Different departments needed to use a common auditorium. They would have to send a staffer to check if the previous scheduled program was finished so they could use the facility. This happened every day. Conventional CCTV was financially or technically impractical. An IP-addressable camera solution might do the trick.
Even being a recovering technology applications engineer, I was a little nervous as it was a big opportunity with a sophisticated IT department. I walked into the meeting with the IT director where five other IT people were waiting for us. I was certain they would have lots of questions, and that they would be skeptical. It’s etched deeply in my psyche. That type of predicament kind of makes you feel all alone.
Actually you shouldn’t feel that way because the IT people may be thinking those exact same thoughts when they first encounter these wild and crazy security systems integrators. They can be a bit strange. They talk funny. They want to invade my network space! So how did I handle this scary situation?
I did my homework about my audience, the IT department. I figured if we were going to attack this new market opportunity I better know what we were getting into and who we would be selling to. I discovered that just like most businesses, different levels of IT management had different points of view, departmental concerns and self-interests.
At the network “edge,” the IT administrators were very interested in network appliances (hardware), especially bits and bytes; speeds and feeds. Their IT bosses were interested in a bigger picture, like how an application solves problems, fits in the expansion of the network and positively impacts their sphere of influence. So, you may ask, how does this knowledge translate into a sales call strategy?
I walked into that meeting with a briefcase and an IP camera in a box. I was introduced to the group. I opened the box to reveal the camera and made a simple statement: “The record is four minutes and 18 seconds to get a picture across the network.” The technicians were immediately intrigued, engaged and took on the challenge with great energy.
I then started the clock, turned to the IT director and said, “You can allow as many department chairs to view the availability of the auditorium as you authorize on the network.” The IT director is now empowered with business influence, serves his stakeholders and shows the value of a robust network.
Phase 1 is both real and imagined, and value creation is negligible.
Phase 2: Territorial Encroachment
The phrase, “Get off my land,” suits this phase. Also, “Just stick to your knitting and everything will be just fine.” Or, “We never needed this in the past, so why start now?” Those statements can be equally attributed to an IT department, security department or a security systems integrator. I’ve heard them from all sources, dozens of times.
Change is really difficult for just about everybody. But it runs deeper than mere feelings; it can be grounded in departmental budgets. Breaking through this phase is all about asking yourself three questions:
- If I stay status quo, will something change outside my control that could negatively impact my career/department/business growth?
- Does the competitive nature of business change the expectations of the people I work for or serve?
- Am I unintentionally calling on the wrong level of management?
If even one of these answers is yes, it’s time to consider moving on to Phase 3 because Phase 2 is built upon a premise that nothing will or needs to change. You can sell products here but not much real value.
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