A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, there were two basic models for selling IT: Equipment vendors sold hardware or software. Services vendors sold maintenance contracts, professional services or connectivity. And IT practitioners didn’t sell at all – they delivered infrastructure, applications and support that their organisations (hopefully) found useful.
That’s all so pre-millennial. These days, it’s not about selling hardware, software, or services. And an IT provider that still thinks of itself as providing support – rather than business enablement – is outdated.
The new model for selling IT is what I like to call “enabling the customer experience”. In other words, it’s more than just providing hardware, software or services. It’s about wrapping them in an end-to-end customer experience that takes into account the broader context in which the hardware, software and services are being used.
A (non-IT) example: JetBlue. The core service the company sells is transportation – moving humans and their luggage from point A to point B. But the broader customer experience it provides is “comfort”.
Most kinds of travel are inherently uncomfortable: The traveller is subjected to noises, smells, vibrations, hunger, thirst and sleep-deprivation.
JetBlue can’t eliminate any of that – but it does mitigate the discomfort by providing familiar entertainment including individually-controlled cable TV and satellite radio, snacks, and (for a smallish extra fee) amenities like full-sized pillows, extra legroom and cocktails.
In other words, JetBlue seeks to make air travel pretty much like settling into your easy chair and watching some TV.
Another example: Users’ communities. Some smart vendors have been able to recognise that their products can generate passion among their customers – and they foster that passion. In the old days, this was through structured training and certification programs (Cisco and Novell leap to mind).
These days, it’s via social networking and community-building: Empowering users to support each other, collaborate on applications for products and services, and troubleshoot problems. Companies like National Instruments (a US test and measurement company) host “developer zones” where customers can engage with one another and share best practices.
So what does this all mean to you, if you’re an IT practitioner worried about hanging on to your job during a tough economy? Several things. First, start thinking of IT as a service you provide customers – not just hardware, software or support. Then try to define that service in terms of an experience – what do users really want from the service experience?
F i n a l l y, engage your customers. Do you have customers who’ve effectively deployed, say, server virtualisation, and want to share their experiences? Or what about someone who’s using that brand-spanking-new MPLS network for video distribution or interactive sales training?
The bottom line: It’s all about customer experience.