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01 Nov 09

Understanding your customers’ needs, and offering the benefit of your own experience, will turn you from a supplier into a trusted, valued partner.

At a recent meeting with a Ministry I was told that they had a strict policy of not allowing access to business users, as  (and I paraphrase here) when suppliers talk to the users, we (the IT team) end up doing a lot more work. You would  think in these hard times that innovation and partnership should be key to achieving public sector breakthrough  performance. The organisation referred to is one where access by motivated, innovative suppliers would yield great  business results. They are missing a trick. I will now tell you what they are missing out on, and how we, as suppliers,  can reach into the organisations.

In order to communicate the value you offer to clients and prospects, you need to have access to the end users and end user managers. This is paramount to understanding what they do and how you  can help them do it better.

It does not matter if you provide storage solutions, call centre software or desktop PCs. If  you do not know what the individuals are doing in their day to day end business, two things will happen. One: If what you have provided is not exactly matched to what they do (or the way they think, even their ethics) they will badmouth  the supplier. Two: You cannot suggest alternatives and options for improving their day-today lives. To avoid these can  mean extending beyond any imposed IT team boundaries.

Firstly, who are you? You are all ISVs/VARs; domain  experts with great products and stories to tell. You develop products and services to meet client need (short term) or  market demand (medium term), or create market (long term). In doing any of these activities there are ideas and  outcomes that can be used and re-used. These are the stories that clients and prospects need to hear about continually  in  order to know what they could achieve. As ISVs and VARs you innovate and create, working long hours, always  seeking to advance your causes. It is this fi re and enthusiasm that prospects and clients need to be able to harness; this  is how you need to be perceived, and this is what folk such as the Ministry above need to exploit, not shy away  from.

You need to improve your alignment with client businesses. You need to use your experience and expertise to  actually and truly add value, and not just say you are. It is also in your interests to understand the goals of the wider business, and build them into your business. Why? Because from the get-go you are selling something and they are  trying to save the world (for example). These are not necessarily aligned. If you want to win business or be retained, then you need to establish that alignment. If your client considers sustainability and recycling important, then it must be important to you. It must be really important; not just icing on the cake. If you have a similar goal you will act like your  customer, you will develop an understanding of their business, and you will talk the same language.

If you are blocked  from direct access you can start an indirect engagement activity, such as a seminar or talk series that reflects your  understanding of the client’s business. Another alternative is charity activities; people will always come along for these.

The end result will be a supplier better suited to the client, and a client that is truly leveraging a supplier who is in tune with their business and delivering goods and services that meet needs, and are looking to meet unforeseen future needs.  What is more valuable, though, is that the supplier will be looking at the client business and advising and promoting better uses and advances for future gains for free. The Ministry I mentioned at the beginning has access to some of the best suppliers and domain experts in New Zealand; they should seek to exploit that as much as possible,  and we should  seek to offer up our expertise for free to help our clients see our value.

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