A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was a customer who needed to take their business to the next level. They knew they needed to drive business efficiencies, bring down operational costs and increase margins while innovating their way into the next cycle of business growth. Sound familiar? It’s the story of practically every business today, small, medium or large.
In that same galaxy there was a reseller, who wanted to sell stuff to the customer but the only thing he knew how to sell was boxes: laptops, PCs, servers, storage. The reseller really wanted to help and in fact was quite frustrated at not being able to give the customer what he needed. I am sure that this also sounds familiar and it’s echoed across South Africa each and every day as resellers and channel players battle with the changes that tough economic conditions, increased competition, decreased margins and a wiser customer have wrought.
A very real crisis
The channel faces a very real crisis as customers push to make changes to their businesses, which in general, the channel is not ready to provide. Customers are no longer interested in partners that just sell them stuff, they are focused on finding partners that take an interest in their business challenges and, more importantly, have a skill and mind-set that focus on the solution.
The starting point, which should be at the very beginning of every conversation, is “What is the customer’s business challenge?”. What are they trying to achieve? How are they trying to grow their business and reduce their costs and, linked to that, what solution can we put together that will bring them what they need?
Once the challenge has been articulated, the process of working backwards to establish the solution makes a lot more sense than trying to wedge a readymade solution into the customer’s business.
Part of starting at the very beginning would be understanding who I am dealing with at the customer. Is it the IT department, and if so are they intimately involved in the business’s issues or just providing IT for the business? Is it the CEO and his team who understand the next steps they need to take as a business but lack the understanding of which tools to use to help them achieve success? Is it finance or HR?
Each of the components of the business have their own needs which can be quite distinct from each other. If we understand how to satisfy the needs of HR, does that mean that we can automatically help the business process aspects of the organisation?
That’s all fine and well, I hear you say, but how do I go on this journey with the customer? Part of the answer is that the fundamental nature of the reseller-customer relationship needs to change. A “new partnership” needs to be born, one that has the customer’s best interests at its heart and that is honest and open in the true sense of partnership.
A dearth of skills
Yes, a customer wants to work with experts but they also understand that right now there is a dearth of skills. Many customers are prepared to partner with the end-goal of improving their business. This journey of the new partnership begins with asking questions, being curious and casting aside assumptions about what technology is needed. Instead there is an embracing of the fact that each conversation starts with questions and not with the belief that a particular piece of tin or software will solve the problems.
The future is about more than just asking questions, though. It is about understanding the buzzwords that are scattered across everything that we read: innovation; digital transformation; big data; cloud-based solutions, and how these apply to your customer.
In the end, this all boils down to answering the question of “What do customers need to succeed with their businesses, and what can we do for them that helps them get there?”
Anton Herbst is the head of Tarsus Technology Group Strategy.