For Cloud, The Customer is Seldom Right

I keep hearing lately, that the customer is in control of the technology sales conversation today. Former First Lady Nancy Reagan, who recently passed, was well known for her “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign. I want to hijack her slogan for Cloud Sellers.

I call B.S. on that.

I also hear that, due to internet searching, etc, the customer comes to you 90% educated, at times even knowing more than the sellers of the services… shame on you. Whatever your customer’s business is, it’s probably not cloud technology. If a customer can eclipse your knowledge of cloud services with a few hours of internet searching, then it’s time for you to find another calling. With the total hours I have spent reading, training, certifying and using Dynamics CRM Online, for years, I could not imagine letting a customer, who watched a video the night before, take the lead in a CRM conversation.

Ya Know what ya Know… ya Know

The first thing that a Seller of Cloud Services must possess is Knowledge. If you don’t actually know the solutions you are selling, inside and out, you may find yourself letting the customer take the lead, while you are relegated to note-taking. The myriad of cloud capabilities today is no place for an order-taker. “But Steve, new capabilities are coming out too fast for us to absorb, and sometimes a customer knows more about new features than we do“. Waa, waa… who told you that cloud was a push-button business? One thing that the cloud brought to established partners was a new, and much higher, learning requirement. Coming from a pre-cloud world, where things progressed at a steady, predictable pace, today’s partner suddenly finds themselves in a perpetually recurring state of incompetency. I am not sitting on a high-horse somewhere saying that this challenge is easily solved. It is all me and my team can do to keep up with Dynamics CRM Online, and that is just one cloud service.

A Recipe for Guaranteed Failure

The second thing that a Seller of Cloud Services must have to succeed, is a backbone. Your business will not be built on the number of deployments you have transacted… it will be built on the number of Successful deployments you complete. You have to be able to look past the sale and see a successful outcome, if you can’t see it, you need to be prepared to walk away from that sale. Let some other partner ride it to the seabed. I’m not saying that if the customer asks for something stupid, that you just just run out the door as fast as you can. In fact, I suggest you not leave until the customer kicks you out the door, as a result of your disagreeing with their self-assessment, then if they still insist on something stupid, run out the door. The preferable outcome is that you were instead able to steer them towards a path to success. Steering customers results from having a superior knowledge of the products, and an unwillingness to simply agree on every issue. We have all been there, you tried to make your point 10 times only to have the customer insist it go another way. The temptation is to say, “whatever you want“, and take the sale anyway, when you already know that this will end badly.

Focus on the Right Goal

A buttload of signed contracts are meaningless, unless every single one of them leads to a successful deployment of your services. You will spend more time on one poorly sold deal than you will on ten that were sold “right”. And guess what? For that 10x time, that came out of your pocket, you will end up with an unhappy customer, who will likely switch to another partner, and bad-mouth you to anyone who will listen. It will most likely be a partner with knowledge and a backbone, who redirects the customer back to the path you should have had them on. With some customers, the best place to be is next in line. Whatever your initial efforts with a customer are, if you don’t end up with the customer actively using the cloud services at the end of the path, it was all for naught. Cloud has shifted the goal to well beyond where the old goal used to be. The old goal has been around for so long, it is burned into the brain of many partners. The partners who succeed in the new cloud world will be thinking “Active Use”, right from “Hello, Mr. Customer, Nice to meet you…“.

 

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