Steve Prentice of Gartner recently shared some fascinating perspectives* on the use of technology to drive business innovation. He projected a growth in digital devices and traffic that is truly staggering, but he also issued a warning, and suggested 5 questions that anyone involved in selling technology-based products or services ought to be asking...
Just pushing technology is a failing strategy. We all need to develop a keen awareness of how technology might help to transform lives and businesses. In his conclusion, Steve quoted Genevieve Bell, Intel Research Fellow who observed that “technology succeeds when it meets a need people care about”.
So here are Steve’s 5 questions - and my interpretation of what they mean for those of us with a focus on selling technology-based products or services in a B2B environment:
1: Who Are My Customers?
It seems an obvious question, doesn’t it? But the definition of a “customer” really ought to embrace everyone who, directly or indirectly, plays a role in stimulating the consumption of the products or services we provide.
This can certainly involve all the key stakeholders in the organisations that consume our offerings. But it can also include all of the other players in the ecosystem - partners, influencers and our own colleagues. It’s a concept I like to refer to as the BuyerSphere - a subject I’ve written about elsewhere.
2: What is Their Attitude to Technology?
Technology companies often fall into the trap of promoting the features, advantages and benefits of their offerings at the expense of truly understanding the purpose to which their products or services are to be put.
Promoting technology can work in certain early-adopter environments - but the bulk of the market are pragmatic. They care less about the technology than they do the challenges they are trying to address. Once we’re beyond the early adopter stage, it is usually more effective to assume that our prospects are ambivalent about our technology - and that they are much more concerned with their desired outcomes.
3: What Do They Need?
Which leads neatly to Steve’s third question - what do they need, not “what do I do”? Mainstream customers - which are where the volume and profit tends to lie - are way more interested in achieving valuable outcomes than they are the detail of the means used to achieve them.
To reach them, we have to translate technology into business benefits achieved, and show them how we can help them achieve these outcomes whilst helping to eliminate the risk of change.
4: What Do I Mean to Them?
If your organisation is involved in lengthy, high-value sales environments, having a transactional relationship with your customers is highly risky. If they see you as just one of a series of similar offerings, you will inevitably get beaten down on price.
Claiming to be “better” than your competitors doesn’t really work either as a long term strategy. It’s hard to prove, and subject to constant jockeying for position as new products or services are released. If you can’t establish a position as a trusted adviser, you’ll always be vulnerable.
5: How Can I Become Indispensable?
Which leads neatly to Steve’s fifth and last question (he actually said "How can Technology help make me indispensable, and how do I make money?"). The answer lies in proving how you are distinctively and tangibly different from all the other options open to them before you claim to be better - and smarter about helping them take their business forward than any of your competitors.
Stand Out From the Crowd
How well does your organisation answer Steve’s 5 questions? You might like to download a copy of our business model framework - It could offer you the chance to capture your organisation’s key focus and establish your most compelling differentiators.
*Presentation at Oracle Customer Showcase - London, 5th May 2011