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Building trust the key to long-term success

Building trust the key to long-term success

As technology changes the way businesses operate, IT providers are being challenged to change with them. While their clients want — need — to innovate and be more competitive, IT companies have to adapt alongside them.

It’s a more complex world for IT companies now if they want to survive for the long term. Part of that complexity lies in the increasingly sophisticated solutions they must offer clients.

The greater complexity, and the crucial next step, lies in the development of their role as a trusted advisor to clients.

Simply having a sales strategy is no longer enough to propel an IT company. They must do more than sell. They have to adopt a consultative approach, take an advisory role, and widen the lens to a broader business-to-business conversation.

There are things we do not know, we don't know." Using this quote from Rumsfeld, CIOs too don't always know what they don't know. In the past, the IT company may have sold to the CIO, but it’s unrealistic to expect CIOs to remain on top of every IT development as it occurs. Nowadays, the conversation must be with the CIO and the CEO, so IT providers can understand the overall business objectives of the client.

It’s a shift from selling products to selling outcomes. While products are still critically important, IT companies need to provide much more for clients; they need to be strategic.

The temptation for traditional organisations geared to selling products is to stick with what is still working -- with a sales-focused approach; but it’s the companies wrapping a consultative approach around the products that will catch the wave early enough to be successful in the future.

There are other benefits to this approach.

How does a technology company know what to build if it doesn’t listen to what businesses are trying to achieve? Tech companies can’t simply produce what they think businesses need based solely on their narrow world view.

Without wider business to business discussions true innovation is stifled.

There are several steps that IT companies can take to achieve a more collaborative relationship with clients, and ultimately be regarded as a trusted advisor to their business.

In the first instance, to create the right conditions for success there must be an understanding, and a fundamental belief, at the highest level of the organisation that this approach will add value to the organisation over the long term.

Every business should review its systems and processes, its core competence and goals as a business, with a view to making changes that can help to build closer relationships.

Those relationships are built through conversations with customers and partners about what all parties are trying to achieve, and how all parties can contribute to that effort.

They must learn to understand clients’ business problems and devise more holistic solutions to them. This will often mean that they take a less technical approach to an IT solution, and instead seek new ways to isolate clients’ problems and remove them.

This can often be achieved by operating through the entire business chain in a more collaborative way — that includes the vendor, the distribution channels, the systems integrator and the customer. From that path comes a partnership strategy.

IT companies should work closely with their partners and channels to shift from a traditional sales focus to an advisory focus. They have to do that in a way that supports their channel partners without competing with them. That means having a business conversation rather than a product conversation through the partnership chain so everyone understands common goals.

And in what may appear to be paradoxical at first, IT providers could use a little honesty in their discussions with clients, and admit to being vulnerable. They should recognise that for a broad business to business conversation to be fruitful they must be honest enough to say, “We can’t solve all these problems but we want to understand the whole thing. We may even need to bring in our competitors for some of this solution”.

It’s very likely that clients will appreciate that honesty, and take IT providers at their word — a major step forward in becoming a trusted advisor, and valued supplier, to those clients.

Six steps to an advisory role:

  1. Senior management must cultivate an understanding, and a fundamental belief, that this is going to add value to the organisation over the long term.

  2. Work with partners and channel organisations to cultivate a close, collaborative atmosphere that assists everyone in the partnership.

  3. Review and change any systems or processes that inhibit the conversation with clients.

  4. Learn to analyse clients’ business needs and desires, with a view to providing a complete solution rather than just a product to fix a problem.

  5. Shift from a traditional sales focus to an advisory focus.

  6. Be honest in discussions with clients, and admit to being vulnerable.

  • Dan Meek is a managing consultant at LIW global leadership consultancy.
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