Let's face it, you're in a tough market. Margins are dropping faster than eggs from the top of the Centrepoint Tower, competition is popping up quicker than weeds during spring, your customers are more demanding than a toddler - and `e' is changing everything.
For months, the media (and this author) has emphasised the need to extend your value-add into services. Great. But to even be considered a serious solution provider, you need to do even more. You need to redefine your value-add at each link in the value chain.
The value chain contains a link for each step of the process involved in bringing a solution through to its complete lifecycle. These steps are:
Service and support
Previously by default, and now out of survival necessity, you have to engage in some level of activity at each of these steps.
Here are some suggestions about how you can redefine your value-add.
Solution inception phase
This initial phase is where you lay the groundwork for eliminating technology glitches and incompatibilities before they arise. Moreover, it's where you really drill down to match the solution to the customer's business objectives. Your value-add at this step is to serve as a consultant - a trusted adviser - to your customers.
They may have a particular bias against a particular ERP solution, or be yearning for an e-commerce site to sell their products to retailers.
But are their feelings about ERP providers based on incorrect information? Will an extranet featuring a CRM application better serve their needs? You must show that you understand their business goals, objectives and challenges; demonstrate your market space knowledge; and become a valuable asset in your customers' decision-making processes.
Here, your role is to create awareness of, and interest in, your proposed solution. But it can't be a `one-size-fits-all' marketing message.
Your value-add lies in tailoring your communications to address the specific `points of pain' felt by each level within the customer company to which you sell. Senior managers are most concerned with cost reductions, top-line revenue growth, and increased market share.
And when selling to IT management, your emphasis should be on the specifics of the product features and associated business benefits.
By understanding what motivates each influencer in the company, you'll be able to communicate the value of your solution in terms most relevant to each individual.
Sales engagement phase
There are a variety of opportunities for value-add at this phase. First and foremost, you can take the lead in ensuring that the roles and responsibilities assumed by you and the manufacturers of the solution are clearly defined.
This up-front role definition decreases the likelihood of increased time-to-benefit for the customer and increased time-to-commitment for your engagement. By taking the lead in communicating these roles and responsibilities to the customer, you're viewed as an organised, savvy and trustworthy partner.
Other ways to add value at this step are by offering additional services, such as equipment leasing. Your customer may not want to make the capital investment in some of the boxes or infrastructure required for the solution. So, hook up with an equipment leasing company and offer this as an option to your customer.
This is the phase at which the customer is most wary about the bottom-line reality of the solution. Will the implementation be on schedule? Will it go over budget? Does the solution-delivery team have the necessary implementation expertise? Your value-add here lies in developing `teaming agreements' that detail the `who, what, when and how' implementation responsibilities of each partner.
Carefully determine what expertise exists within your company and the technology manufacturers' organisations, what additional expertise is required, and communicate your decisions to your customer. It'll put his mind at rest, and he'll view you as a partner he can trust to get the job done the right way.
Service and support phase
The technical service and support link in the value chain is often the most harrying for all parties. With millions of dollars at stake, the customer's operations in a catastrophic state and liability facing each member of the solution-delivery team, a clear plan of action must be immediately executable should a problem arise.
Add value by defining the technical service and support roles of each company involved in the solution, and drill the associated policies, processes and procedures into the minds of all members of the partnership, especially the customer.
This positions you as a partner who understands and cares about the customer's ultimate satisfaction with the solution.
Carol Johnson is principal consultant for channels and alliance practice Pelorus International. Reach them at: www.pelorusintl.com.au