by Rolf Jester | February 17, 2014 | 1 Comment
Many IT service providers are looking at capturing incremental revenue by using pro-active selling rather than waiting for clients to issue RFPs. That requires research on the target account, and one tool for that is an analysis of the client’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats — a SWOT.
I mentioned SWOT analyses in the last post, and I know from working with many IT service providers that they are a valuable tool for self-assessment — a necessary one I think. But here we’ll consider it as a framework for thinking about your prospect.
Why a SWOT?
Well the “S”, the strengths, will tell you the key things that the client has to build on as it seeks to thrive and compete, to grow its business. A focus on strengths is useful to keep the vision firmly on those things that actually have the most chance of success. That’s what we should all do as individuals in thinking about our own careers, and as businesses too. Applying it to your clients means you put your effort where it will pay off most for the client. Creating customer value is a necessary precursor to capturing value for yourself.
Weaknesses can matter too, and you may be able to offer solutions for some. But they will tend not to get the same degree of attention or investment. It’s good to understand them, however. Threats are similar in a way. These are external factors that cause risk to the future of the business. They can create the “fear, uncertainty and doubt” (FUD) beloved of some marketers, and thus may help you get attention. But in the end they are not a way to create new value, which is what you need to create growth for the client and you.
The “O”, the opportunities are in my experience of doing SWOTs the hardest. That’s because there are usually so many external factors that the business could potentially exploit. The hardest thing is to narrow them down to the best ones, the ones where the company can actually differentiate itself and lead in a segment of the market. For the same reason they are, together with strengths, the most important for this kind of analysis. The Eldorado you are looking for is a clear opportunity that plays into a powerful strength. When you’re doing the SWOT on a target account, this is where the ideas for pro-active proposals should be focused.
Much of the value for you will come from the actual process of doing the work of the SWOT. So, once the desk research has been done, the team doing the actual analysis should be the account team, the people who engage with the client, develop ideas and solutions and sell them. Years as a marketer, sales person and manager have taught me the value of hands-on activity when it relates directly to the business and to clients. Ideas usually can’t be forced, but they do tend to pop up when you’re immersed in the subject but doing something else.
For methods and tools like SWOT, I have found this book useful: Fleisher and Bensoussan, “Strategic and Competitive Analysis” 
These blog posts will continue to explore the business of IT Services, especially strategy, marketing and sales.
Category: Uncategorized Tags: Account marketing, Selling IT Services
by Rolf Jester | December 13, 2013 | Comments Off
I’ve been known to say that if I hear that question again I’ll scream. But screaming has done no good, and the question keeps coming.
Research about size, growth and spending intentions of vertical markets alone won’t help you answer this question. The biggest, the fastest growing verticals may not always be the best ones … for you.
The best vertical market for you is the one in which you have strengths, where you have permission to play, where you have something competitive to offer that buyers value. Sometimes a relatively small vertical is the right one for you, especially if you can dominate your category in it. You can add adjacent segments, or take solutions from one vertical to another in order to grow beyond that. I’ve published advice on that in “Marketing Essentials: Nine Ways to Grow Your Business” (http://www.gartner.com/document/1604614).
So the simple — but not easy — advice is to do an analysis of your own strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats: a SWOT. We publish some of those at Gartner (there are plenty on gartner.com) and do lots more for clients, with a standard methodology. It’s not easy to do objectively, but even your own analysis, as honest as you can make it, is better than none.
It’s actually the “S” — the strength — that’s the significant bit, along with the opportunities. Identifying the opportunities fully may indeed require some research input. But unless you, or your advisors, are starting from a good, comprehensive view of real and relevant strengths, you won’t get far. Strengths to think about should include:
- market access: areas where your brand works to allow you to talk to the right buyers at the right level;
- references: customer cases whose stories (if properly told) will resonate with the right buyers;
- knowledge of the customers’ business: you can’t fake this;
- value to offer that the right buyers will perceive as value;
- an ability to articulate all that in enough depth and compellingly.
Even if you have no real vertical market approach now, or a weak one, if it makes sense for you to go that way, you may find that there are some latent strengths on which you can build.
Start working on those, and then think about a vertical market strategy. My colleagues who research industry markets have developed this: “Toolkit: Assessing Your Industry Vertical Go-to-Market Strategy position” (http://www.gartner.com/document/2562420).
These blog posts will continue to discuss the business of IT Services, especially selling and marketing.
Category: Uncategorized Tags: industries, marketing, segmentation, verticals
by Rolf Jester | June 2, 2013 | 1 Comment
Today, I’m introducing a guest blogger, my colleague Derry Finkeldey, who specializes in vertical industry go-to-market strategies. Here is her post.
If your conversations are anything like the ones I have, you’ve been hearing a lot lately about “the growth of the business buying center for IT”, and you may be wondering whether this is an opportunity worth further investigation. This month we ran a quick poll of 99 of our clients, and found that 97% of them have at least one person in the organization outside of IT that controls 10% or more of their company’s IT spending. Now, to put that into some kind of perspective, in your average tier one financial institution, 10% of IT spending amounts to around $100 million. Hardly rats and mice.
Furthermore, 60% of those respondents named only one person outside of IT with a chunk of 10% or more, but that leaves a decent 40% who have 20% or more of their IT spending controlled by significant buyers outside the IT department. So, who are these people, I hear you clamour?
There’s a lot of focus these days being given to the office of the CMO/ Marketing – but what about product development? The other consideration is that some of these roles, especially those outside of finance and purchasing, will often be the market for a solution, rather than signing off on periodic PC purchases or desk-top software upgrades, so they’re good people to know and to know what’s making them tick.
This is what we’re planning to dig further into this year. There’s some great existing research by Laura McLellan and other folks on the marketing buying center (Key Findings From U.S. Digital Marketing Spending Survey, 2013 and High-Tech Tuesday Webinar: Profile of Marketing as a Technology Buyer), and we have another in depth survey of buyers in the business by vertical industry in field as we speak. Watch this space.
These posts will continue to discuss the business of IT Services.
Category: Uncategorized Tags: Buying Centers, IT Spending, marketing
by Rolf Jester | May 22, 2013 | 1 Comment
Having looked at the most useless sales pitch slide of all — the “common differentiators” — in a previous post http://blogs.gartner.com/rolf-jester/?p=39, let’s continue with #2. The regularity with which these ineffective slides appear is alarming. It’s as though their creators all went to the same school of bad sales presentations.
Probably the second most frequent one is The Ubiquitous Partner Logo slide. It lurks in almost all sales presentations. You’ve seen them. And you’ve heard the words: “These are our partners. No-one can do it all alone.” It’s true of course, but a cliché. The slide consists of logos of well-known technology companies, typically from six or so to about ten.
The weird thing is that, across so many IT providers in our industry, the identified “partners” are often the same ones, or at least a set selected from the same dozen or so famous IT brands. Is there a repository somewhere on the web where people copy this ubiquitous set of partner logos? Right next to the “common differentiators” template, no doubt.
More importantly, the presenter typically makes no attempt to explain what “partner” means in this context. It’s one of the much abused term in our industry and can mean many things, or sometimes nothing. “Partners” can play various roles. Some are resellers, and they may add value in various ways, or not. Some are service providers delivering specialized services important to the total solution. Some may be providers of add-on products. In many cases they are nothing more than suppliers to the company that is presenting. Big deal.
What buyers need is an explanation of why the partners matter. What exactly does this partner do, together with you, to deliver me a good outcome? Why should I care? What’s the value that is created?
If a sales presenter can answer those questions, then there might be value in such a slide. But it would have to be customized for the specific audience. Clearly the same partners aren’t relevant to all customers. Sales pitch slides that don’t help to tell your story in a way that’s relevant to the specific audience are useless. Each step of the presentation should be aimed at moving your audience towards your specific purpose.
Your stories about sales presentations are of interest if you’d like to share them.
These blog posts will continue to discuss the business of IT Services, especially selling and marketing.
Category: Uncategorized Tags: marketing, Sales, Selling IT Services
by Rolf Jester | May 15, 2013 | 1 Comment
On May 14th the Australian Commonwealth government brought down its national budget for the year ending June 2014. So the IT pundits in Australia are busy pontificating about the impact of the national budget on the IT industry. Fair enough. That’s their job. It happens in all countries, states and provinces.
But as we listen to the pundits’ comments, and those of the IT industry groups and lobbyists, let’s bear in mind a few facts that are applicable worldwide. (My turn to pontificate!)
- The IT industry is not special. It’s an important industry, but no more so than any other. It employs a good number of people, as do other industries. It adds value, as do all viable industries. When well deployed and used, its products and services can help make its users more productive and effective; so can good HR consultants, well targeted financial services, the right plant & equipment, cost-effective transportation, the education sector and good public policy makers … and one could go on and on.
- Any special treatment for the IT industry, tax concessions or handouts, are going to be paid for by other taxpayers in the end, and many of those are themselves in the IT industry, or would spend money on IT.
- Seeking government “incentives” for investing in IT or in IT companies should be unnecessary if it’s such a great industry. (And if it’s not, why invest?)
- If an industry needs to be “promoted”, something must be wrong. Why can’t its sales and marketing people do that?
- In those countries where the government funds much of the education, a focus on specific IT vocational or technical skills is short-sighted. Those are already out of date by the end of the course. IT providers, like all business people, should be looking for the economy in which they operate to be providing a pool of educated people. Those are people with an education that prepares them for the rapidly changing and challenging business environment, people who can think and learn, and continue to do so when the world changes, as it will.
- It isn’t just specific IT spending initiatives in the budget that we should look for to see what the government itself will spend on IT. Every government activity, every existing and new program requires IT to make it work. Nothing much happens without IT. Therefore, commenting on the supposedly good news or disappointing news about IT initiatives misses the point.
These blog posts will continue to discuss the business of IT Services.
Category: Uncategorized Tags: IT Industry, National Budget
by Rolf Jester | May 1, 2013 | Comments Off
A fictional tale. The year is 2023.
Celia Young is COO of Tranzco, a midsized distribution company. She’s also, like all of us, a consumer, has a family, a personal life. At work she’s responsible for operations, the critical processes that enable sales, supply, delivery and the backoffice functions that support the business.
In this world of 2023, she’s an ordinary middle-of-the road user of the Information Services that pervade life in most of the world. Her uncle sometimes still reminisces about a time when people talked of “tech-savvy” people, about “digital natives” versus “digital immigrants”. None of that matters anymore in Celia’s world. Information Services are ubiquitous and taken for granted. No special skills are needed to use them. Young and old have taken to them naturally and intuitively. It just seemed to happen unobtrusively over the past decade. The consumer appliances and the services they provide access to just kept getting better, easier for real people to get value or fun out of.
There are still, of course, people who love the details of technology – designers, useability engineers, even people who build the actual devices, infrastructure and services. It’s still an important industry. But using these tools for everyday life or business is more important for most people.
Celia, like all her family and friends, effortlessly uses all the information and service resources around her, at home, on the road, on public transport, while shopping, out and about, and at work. The information she needs in her private and work life is simply “out there” and the devices to access it are everywhere. The tools (once called “apps”) she needs are either in those devices or accessed through those, she doesn’t really know or need to know. She invokes the services and functions she needs: the rest just happens. Information, applications, tools, communication services – they are all “just there” at her fingertips or by a gesture and word to a device that recognizes her face and voice. This is what she, and her family takes for granted.
It’s no different at work. For her personal tasks at work, she uses much the same sort of tools, devices and means as at home. Many of them are exactly the same. They’re in every room of the office building, at every workplace, office, meeting-room. Of course this was already beginning to happen in the previous decade, but it’s ubiquitous now, pervasive, taken for granted, an unobtrusive part of the fabric of everyday life.
Today, in Celia’s world in 2023, the business services behind the scenes are also like the ones she uses as a consumer. She has an info-com provider, her simple gateway to all the communications links, information tools, resources and capabilities she needs. In the old days these were called telephone service providers and “IT providers”.
Some of those same info-coms, and others, provide the services that Celia’s company needs. Like every business, Tranzco uses information and process services at various levels. To support the staff in their daily work, it uses communications and collaboration services from its main info-com provider. So all the video, voice and text communications and collaborations are served by that provider. The workers access those services from desks, other locations around the office, while on the move, wherever they are. So do customers and partners. The office facilities company that manages the building provides the in-house infrastructure, cabling, servers, wireless servers and infrastructure software, – the plant and equipment – to make this communication possible. They, like all companies in the property and facilities business undoubtedly use an information services subcontractor for that. That’s a normal part of office infrastructure.
Other providers take care of the essential backoffice functions that every business needs. An example is the HR function provided by an HR specialist firm, delivering access to the online information and services needed by Tranzco executives, HR specialists, line managers and staff. The HR firm delivers against stringent service levels, security and privacy rules, and it sources its infrastructure services behind the scenes to achieve that.
These are actually all functions for which Celia Young, as COO, is responsible. She has a small but capable sourcing team who manage the whole sourcing strategy and lifecycle as well as relations with the providers.
But some business functions are central to Tranzco’s competitive positioning. Its chosen strategy is to compete on the operational excellence of its global distribution network. Its competitors have different strategies – some compete on deep understanding of their customers’ industries and specific needs, some on price. But as a result of Tranzco’s strategic choices, COO Celia has the responsibility for ensuring that the company is always at the leading edge of distribution best practice. That means that those processes have to be sourced internally, maybe with occasional external specialist help. It means constant development and refinement of the business processes that are central to that operation, including of course the information and information services (“applications”) that are the embodiment of those processes. Thus a key part of Celia’s operation is a pro-active team of information and business-process specialists who work with all parts of the company and constantly seek to gain competitive advantage for Tranzco through the excellence of its operation. But they do this only for the key competitive processes. The rest are provided by best-in-class external providers.
For the central processes that are controlled in-house, Tranzco needs information infrastructure – secure communications and reliable, secure processing services. Based on its sourcing strategy, it has chosen to use another info-com provider for this, so as to maintain some competitive tension, and because this provider could demonstrably offer the very high levels of availability and security that Tranzco needs. Celia and her team of information specialists are convinced that the security delivered by a provider who is specialized in that is always going to be far greater than she could conceivably achieve by trying to hire her own security team. Her information services manager could never afford to maintain a sufficient team of constantly up-to-date experts with enough capacity to cover absences, allow for staff turnover, peaks of demand and security crises. She figures that a specialist provider can always do a better job as long as you demand it of them, pay them appropriately and manage the service level outcomes. That’s her decision, though some of her competitors may have made a different set of sourcing choices.
The info-com providers and the business services providers deliver access to resources that are “out there” in the same way as the personal resources that Celia and others use. Her uncle said that a decade ago people talked about these functions as being “in the cloud” but that term became passé quite quickly. In fact Tranzco , Celia and her staff know exactly “where” those services are: they aren’t in some vague nebulous nowhere, but managed by well-known and trustworthy providers with whom Tranzco has a solid relationship. These are providers who provide those services for a living, for thousands of customers. They can afford not just the best infrastructure and facilities, but the best processes and above all, the best people to manage them, and enough to cover all eventualities. (Of course in 2023 almost no-one cares anymore where the bits are physically recorded.)
There was a time, Celia knows from her uncle, when all of this applied only to telephone services. But although that might have been only a bit over a decade ago in calendar years, when she talks to her older relative it seems like another era.
Category: Uncategorized Tags: Future, IT Services, Outsourcing
by Rolf Jester | April 23, 2013 | 1 Comment
In too many IT provider companies, especially smaller and emerging providers, the marketing professionals are relegated to marketing communications, possibly demand generation programs and some aspects of branding. That’s what becomes clear from Gartner’s interactions with them. It also emerged from research we did some years ago into marketing roles within IT providers. CEOs indicated that they wanted marketing to be tactical and centered on demand generation. Their views differed significantly from the marketers we interviewed in the same survey.
But, as Gartner Fellow Jennifer Beck has said, “if you’re not marketing-led, you’re dead.”
Positioning yourself and the marketing function effectively in your company is clearly not a one-step process. But one thing that will help is to demonstrate your relevance and the relevance of the marketing function by taking the lead on a strategic marketing plan.
We’ve found that no matter how small your IT company is, or how new, there are some irreducible marketing elements for which you must plan.
A written marketing plan is a cornerstone of any effective marketing function. For marketing practitioners in IT providers, it can be instrumental in:
- Articulating a vision and a practical plan that exhibits leadership to the whole organization. It gets you engaged in the strategy process.
- Communicating the organization’s marketing direction to all who will have a role in executing it — which is the whole organization.
- Setting and communicating priorities, especially when the marketing budget is small.
- Providing the basis for the development of other plans, such as a sales plan, marketing communications plan, or channels plan.
- Gaining agreement from the board and senior executives on how to focus resources toward opportunities.
- Demonstrating that you have performed planning work thoroughly to avoid risk and misuse of resources — that is, keeping the vital marketing budget intact!
Many clients who are IT providers have asked me for guidance and an outline for a marketing plan that recognizes the realities of the IT market. So I provided a template for that plan, and recently revised it: Marketing Essentials: Marketing Plan Template for IT Services Providers.
It has proved itself over many years especially for emerging IT providers and smaller firms, and those in emerging markets.
The key, however, is that the plan you create must not just be a document, but a day-to-day guide to action, discussion, argument even. If people in your company are pulling out the marketing plan and arguing about it, then it’s serving its purpose. If you create it in the format of detailed slides, then you can carry it around on your tablet and use it to support your discussions with senior executives, colleagues, staff and others.
Sell It As You Develop It
As with any corporate initiative, the market plan should ideally record decisions that have already been discussed reasonably widely. It should have had both input and buy-in from stakeholders of all kinds — decision makers, people whose cooperation you’ll need and people who will need to execute the plan. In this sense, it is just like a sales proposal to a customer: proposals that come as a surprise have little chance of being accepted, or need a lot of uphill effort to sell them.
One telecoms marketer I know carries the key slides of his current plan with him on his tablet and will use them constantly to support his discussions with senior executives, colleagues, staff, analysts and even customers.
If you have sold the plan as you go, when you finally present it formally, the stakeholders will already be your contributors and collaborators. They will see their contributions in the plan. Heads will be nodding in agreement, not nodding off to sleep. The presentation will become a formal sealing of the agreement to proceed.
Bottom line: an effective marketing plan can be one of the tools that helps get you a seat at the strategy planning table.
Especially if you are an emerging IT provider, or one with limited experienced marketing staff, I’d appreciate feedback.
These blog posts will continue to discuss the business of IT Services.
Category: Uncategorized Tags: IT Services, marketing
by Rolf Jester | April 10, 2013 | 2 Comments
An interesting article by Charles Fishman in the Atlantic magazine, in December discussed what it called The Insourcing Boom, an apparent return in the US to on-shore manufacturing. The article is about manufacturing, not services, let alone IT services. But if the trend that Fishman discusses is real, could it be that there’s a shift in attitudes about offshoring generally? He points out, probably rightly, that there’s an element of fashion in business practices. Will this affect IT Services too?
I’ll leave that question for now, and see what actual future research shows. But if there is a change in attitudes, then that should affect how IT service providers sell their offerings.
Fishman’s article highlights a number of negatives associated with offshore outsourcing, and although he is discussing manufacturing, some of those same issues have long been pointed out by my colleagues with respect to using offshore IT services. They include hidden costs, loss of intellectual property, loss of agility, slowness to market, and loss of feedback from the offshored production process to the designers back home. It seems that some companies have even eliminated the cost advantage from offshore labor arbitrage, and are producing some items more cheaply in the US than in China.
Offshore services are now more usefully called global delivery because they have become part of a sophisticated mechanism for delivering services from multiple locations. But providers of services that include elements of that approach should start to think about how they would deal with any change in business buying behaviour, if that were to happen.
Broadly, the changes needed would fall into two categories. Firstly, the labor arbitrage advantage should cease to be the benefit that is primarily stressed. Secondly, and more positively, service providers have to look more closely at the real and lasting business needs of clients, well beyond the immediate project and its costs. The business values pointed out in the Atlantic article — agility, speed to market, IP retention and feedback from production to analysis and design — are potentially real requirements. They may get overlooked in the highly formalized procurement processes that treat services as a commodity. Smart services sellers will be using their deeper relationships with clients to understand the underlying needs, and proposing solutions that meet those, which may mean a greater element of on-shore and on-site service delivery. My observation is that the smarter of the India-based providers, for example, are doing that already.
But staying in touch with the changing perceptions and buying behaviours of clients is the key. I’m sure that my colleagues and I will be researching this.
These blog posts will continue to look at the business of IT Services.
Category: Uncategorized Tags: IT Services, Offshore, Outsourcing
by Rolf Jester | March 27, 2013 | 7 Comments
#1 of many …
Over the years as an analyst and marketer I have seen too many bad sales pitches from IT vendors. I’ve found a number of common slide types that appear again and again. They actually serve no useful purpose. If you’ve read my research and the recent blog posts you’ll have seen that I aim to help IT marketers and sales people; so, I’m in favour of good sales pitches. But I hate waste of time and effort; bad selling makes me wince.
Mea culpa: I talk from experience, having also committed many of the “sins” of sales presentations.
The most outstanding useless slide is the one I call the “common differentiators”. (Thanks to my colleague Jacqueline Heng for that name.) They are commonly used by numerous vendors, do not create differentiation, are vague and often not particularly relevant to the buyers. Here are the most common ones.
- Global presence
- End-to-end offering
- Solution provider
- Focused on business value-add
- Trusted partner for our clients
… and … most importantly, of course …
We could analyse each point at length, but it’s not really worthwhile. They are typically mostly meaningless and irrelevant. They are so common to all sales pitches that they have become white noise washing over the audience. Not only do people ignore them, they actually switch off and miss the unique gems of business value you are undoubtedly about to share with them.
These non-differentiators are rarely substantiated with credible evidence. An attempt to do so would likely just show up their emptiness anyway. Even more rarely are they related to the client’s actual need. They do not help your sales efforts. Yet I see them still, time and again.
There’s a lot of good material out there on sales presentations. For the IT industry, I published Marketing Essentials: Creating Effective IT Sales Presentations a few years ago.
I propose to highlight more useless sales pitch slides I’ve come across in future posts as I continue to research good selling of IT.
Category: Uncategorized Tags: sales pitch, Selling IT Services
by Rolf Jester | March 21, 2013 | 1 Comment
In marketing and selling of IT services, showing is better than telling.
If you’re selling IT services or software solutions to senior executives, then Thought Leadership Marketing (TLM) could be important in your marketing mix. It’s about showing what you can do for the client, rather than just telling.
For example, I talked recently to a Testing services company that claims a differentiated approach to software testing. For that company, TLM would be a way of providing its target buyers with valuable guidance and advice free of charge, while building awareness of its brand.
I’ve been researching the practice of Thought Leadership Marketing in the IT industry, and just published a revised version of the guide to how IT services and software providers can use it: Marketing Essentials: Targeting Senior IT Buyers With Thought Leadership Marketing
TLM is a marketing tool that IT professional service firms tend to use almost instinctively, but it can work for many other kinds of IT providers, especially services and software companies. It is the practice of giving some useful information or advice so as to create awareness of the value that you can deliver. It can favourably position you in the perception of senior executives, create differentiation and stimulate demand for your products or services. It has started to become an established marketing discipline.
Emerging IT providers – that’s the smaller ones who will one day be bigger – have asked for a cut-back version of my rather comprehensive guide. Here it is: Getting started with Thought Leadership Marketing.
- Know your positioning, audience and purpose. This is essential: don’t do anything before you have this clear.
- Decide whether TLM can reinforce that positioning and create awareness. The answer is likely to be positive if you are targeting CEOs or senior executives; if your value proposition is aimed at specific narrow vertical markets; if the value you deliver, and the way you communicate it are dependent on your deep knowledge of your client’s business; if you have genuine expertise to offer; and if it is possible to demonstrate the value of your offering through small doses of valuable advice – i.e. showing rather than telling.
- Decide your stance in the market and the position you are seeking to reinforce. I’ve seen plenty of expensive and glossy “though leadership” that is totally wasted because it doesn’t support the provider’s actual value proposition.
- Set goals and decide on resourcing – people and money. Our research has found that some companies waste money or don’t spend enough.
- Manage it as a marketing program, even though the thought leadership content will of course come from your subject matter experts. This is possibly the main thing that too many companies fail to do. They have thought leadership all right, but they don’t manage it as a marketing program.
- Track results: it’s a marketing program after all, and has to contribute to growth.
There’s a lot more to running a full TLM program in an IT provider. Picking the right content, the right stance, the right communications channels and the right follow-up mechanisms are just a few. That’s what the published full research note is about. But these points are what you need to get started.
These blog posts will continue to offer thoughts and advice on the business of IT Services, based on my research and that of my colleagues.
Category: Uncategorized Tags: IT Services, marketing