Friday, July 9, 2010

Stuck in time

Knowing that one of our sales people was about to become a Dad for the first time, I stepped into a sales situation with one of our prospects in the public sector. (Congratulations, by the way, to Kevin and Wendy who had a little boy of 8lb 2oz this week!)

What a depressing experience!

Some years ago I worked for IBM, a huge computer company. Back in those days we were selling big-ticket systems to an IT department that had a vested interest in buying from us: they could guard their headcount, justify yet more staff and budget, and enhance their personal marketability by training on our systems. And we were selling 100k+ systems with training, support and annual maintenance charges as well as implementation services. So we could afford to put someone on site, free of charge, for several days as part of the sales process.

If we didn't win the business, we'd apportion the cost of sale across rising annual maintenance figures spread across our customer base.

The world has changed. IBM has a very different approach to the market now. And so do we.

We sell the expertise of our people, and our time. We offer "Data Quality as a Service" so that our clients get what they need in an agile, timely fashion without having to buy or lease software and invest in training, support and annual maintenance.

But this means that we can't give away our insights at the start of an engagement before a contract is signed. And our approach won't work if they are trying to buy in the old way.

We faced a prospect that was putting effort into an investigation that currently lacks senior management sponsorship, budget and business case. I had to take a commercial decision to limit our cost of sale. When it became certain that they were choosing to buy in the old paradigm; we chose not to reveal our insights into their data, because we are never going to sell them a software solution that would let us recover the costs of that expert evaluation.

We are "tools agnostic" and prefer that our clients choose which hammer to use and let us help them decide which nails to hit, in which order and with what force; and how not to hit thumbs while doing it! We have several consultants assisting a client to make best use of the software tool provided by the vendor we are competing with; and we are equally comfortable with Business Objects, Informatica and others ...

We are tools agnostic precisely because all IT projects are not about the technology tools, but the people and the processes to support the business.

What have we learned? We confirmed a decision not to sell to IT, unless we're confident that they know how to buy in the new commercial environment.