Wednesday, November 3, 2010

For Want of A Nail

Last time I talked about a buyer-oriented "translation" tool that helped "IT align with the business" - or more appropriately, helped your sales team align all the stakeholders in the process.  The tool can be very effective if you have access to everyone involved to build out the pain points, language and logic flow. But how to do that, especially if this is a new market for you or your sales people?

The danger of selling technical products to IT people is believing that your solution only improves their little corner of the world.  Yes, you're going to lower their total cost of ownership, enhance their customer experience, maximize scalability or whatever MABUSHI you think sounds impressive.  But what about the users who depend on those systems?  Have you talked to them?  Do you understand how their world is affected?  Do you understand their influence on the decision?  What role do those users play in the company and what happens if they can't do their jobs?

If you don't know the answer to these questions, your sales people are vulnerable to a competitor who does know or, worse, to a price war that sets their sales strategy forever after.

The next time you are talking to your IT persona, be sure to include these types of questions if you want to be able to build that complete picture:
  • How do you know you have a problem with x?
  • When you have the problem, how does that impact your operations? 
  • Does that impact your performance metrics?  How?  (You DID ask them about their metrics already, didn't you?)
  • Who else is impacted when you have this problem?  Who calls you when things go pear-shaped?  How does it affect their jobs?
This last set of questions is your ticket to go talk to stakeholders outside IT.  You will discover who else is in the buying chain, how much visibility the problem has internally (and potential budget contributors), and how the problem is affecting THEIR operations and their performance metrics.

You ask those business or operations users the same set of questions, especially about who else is impacted by the problem.  Keep going until you've explored the furthest reaches of the value chain.  Then and only then can you build a tool that helps you and your sales team understand the complete picture, with all the requisite stakeholders, language, metrics and pain points.

It can be a complex picture but an old English rhyme puts it all in perspective:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

 You may be talking to the IT equivalent of a farrier but you need to understand their significance to the battle and the kingdom to build better sales tools and be more competitive.

Next Up: Self-Selection and Getting to No

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