I’m continuing this series of blogs here by looking at the techniques that software vendors can use to create the “illusion” of differentiation in markets where technical standards have led to little material product difference.
Perhaps the most obvious differentiator between organisations that have “broadly” similar technology, and an area that particularly hurts smaller or less well established software vendors, is the vendor’s approach to selling.
Which audience strata do you aim at and what do you say to them?
At its most crude this can be the difference between Vendor A talking to a technical audience about the features of Product A whilst Vendor B is talking to line of business managers within the same company about how their product will provide some business benefit or other. Two similar offerings, with similar capabilities being “sold” in very different ways to very different parts of the same organisations.
The benefit of selling at a business level is enormous. Decisions get made at that level, budgets get signed off at that level and enterprise-wide relationships get built at that level. However, the difficulty with this approach, especially for smaller or less well connected vendors, is that gaining access to senior management outside of the IT domain of their prospects’ organisations is very difficult.
It takes years of building credibility and demonstrating proof of delivering benefits (reducing risk, Increasing profit, saving time,removing cost, etc.) to buy a ticket to the business-benefits ball. Unless you’ve paid your business benefit taxes, have documented how you’ve helped deliver benefits and have an army of references willing to stand up on your behalf you’re likely to not be taken seriously.
In addition, in my experience, the skills that a sales exec needs to credibly describe the features of a technical proposition are usually mutually exclusive from the ones they need to engage a senior C-level exec in a discussion about the business issues that keep them awake at night.
So where to start if you’re a technology-focused vendor looking to sell differently?
Well it’s a journey and will involve dramatically changing the way your organisation thinks, behaves and looks. Many of your staff will have to undergo a dramatic transformation and many won’t make it (especially the sales team). Then you need to look at developing marketing messages for IT Business and the Business audiences. You’ll do this by talking less about specific product capabilities and instead aligning yourself with where the prospect wants to be AFTER they’ve done business with you.
What are their pains, what are they looking to achieve, how can you help them do this and what proof can you provide that you’ve done it before?
The marketing materials and programs that support such a business audience-focused sales approach are very different too. And whilst this has a significant impact on the structure of the marketing organisation, perhaps the biggest challenge is that just because you’re now selling to a business audience doesn’t mean that you stop marketing to the technical audience. We still have to convince these guys that we’re able to do the job. So now you’re waging a marketing battle on two fronts and this means significantly greater investment.
But before embarking on this approach you should ask yourself whether you’re committed to the journey. I’ve worked for, and with many organisations that have seen “selling to the business” as the holy grail, the panacea to address their competitive losses and their inability to control the sale. But embark on this journey without fully committing to the changes it WILL have on your organisation and it will lead to a bloody disaster. I speak from bitter experience.
Well that’s about it for the “selling differently” approach to differentiation in a homogenised market. The benefits of selling at the business level while your competitors are talking to “minions” in the technical side of the business are enormous, but as I’ve mentioned about it’s not an easy journey.
I’ll cover some more differentiation techniques in coming blog posts.