Customers don’t have a *frakking* clue

Tags: consultancy, it, microsoft, sfb, skype-for-business

Part 1: The origin story

The origin story

As a consultant in the IT industry it is expected to have a thorough understanding of all IT related products in one’s portfolio. When considering what these solutions are intended to provide, we all know the problems our customers face. Right? Wrong. Often enough I’ve heard colleagues in IT mention customers don’t have a clue and vice versa. What everyone should consider is that we’re both wrong unless we listen to each other! Most often customers find me through channels related to the solutions we offer, but the very first question I ask all customers is, ‘Why do you want this product?’ The problem they describe is usually a business related concept and through the years I’ve come to understand business concepts and problems. Recently when I came to work for my new employer, Silverside, I was asked to set up a new on premise server deployment of Skype for Business. Naturally my first question was, ‘Why? What’s the problem?’ At which my new colleague grinned, ‘Funny you should ask, we’d like to implement the business scenario Smarter Meetings .’ It might seem counter intuitive to question a customer asking to buy the product you’re selling. What I’ve discovered is a process of defining solutions without including the product. Do we still sell those same products? Yes, we do. Does this change the products themselves? No, it doesn’t. Does this help me sell more of my products and services? Not at first.

The concept

By being honest both to our customers and to ourselves we are able to find the best solution for our customers. In turn our customers value our opinion even more and are more likely to return to us for future services. Seeking a partnership like this can be challenging at first, as steering a customer away from our services does not directly support our business. In the long run however I’ve built more lasting and rewarding partnerships in this manner than any other. Back to our concrete example of Smarter Meetings. My current project involves getting all our colleagues to stop and think about the way we communicate together. Am I implementing Skype for Business as a part of it? Yes, I might be. The first question when announcing to implement Skype for Business however boiled down to this, ‘A new product is not going to change the way we do things, why change a winning team?’ When we announced that we’re implementing a smarter way of having our meetings, the first question was one of pure interest, ‘How would we do that?’ This isn’t a new way of thinking necessarily, yet forcing both ourselves and our customers to work toward a common goal and wanting to find a solution together is. Key points to keep in mind in this trend are, - Nothing is sacred, be open to new ideas. This includes you, the consultant! - Find common goals, truly want to achieve them. - Agree on how to get there. - Offer your product if it fits, but don’t be afraid to offer alternatives if it doesn’t.

Skype for Business

So why are we using Skype for Business to promote the concept of Smarter Meetings at Silverside? As a company we used to be addicted to phones, emails and paper notes. We traveled the world, literally spending 8 hours a day flying or driving to common locations simply to meet face to face. Now we’ve set out to change that mindset by tackling the following concepts: - By far the behavior most in need of change is our use of phones. Pointing out monthly phone bills racking up to €500, - a month was a real eye opener for some of our colleagues. - Most of us are familiar with the use of paper, drawing out what you’re trying to say is sometimes just that much more comfortable. Most assume there is no digital equivalent, but have you ever used a whiteboard in a Skype meeting? - In person meetings provide more feedback about the other person in the room, body language, micro expressions, etc. However, we’ve committed to using a Microsoft Surface Hub together with high definition cameras to ensure we have a virtual presence with which we can interact in a natural way using touch. But what are we really using Skype for Business for? To jog our customers (and colleagues) out of a rusty paradigm where the best solution is to keep working as we have been for years. Stop. Think about the way you’re doing things today. Is there another way of doing these things that might be better and/or cheaper? Don’t hesitate and choose to find this path together with your customers.

Conclusion

IT consultants should truly listen to the customer and try to find the actual problem. We’re literally getting paid for it so: - Take 5 minutes to listen silently, nod every so often, take notes. - Summarize what you’ve just heard explicitly and ask for confirmation. - Be patient and give the customer the idea they’re money is being well spent. The morale of this story is most IT consultants think they know better than their customers, while customers think consultants aren’t really listening to what they’re saying. A lot of brilliant IT techies could become brilliant consultant if they want to. This is the first in a series where I’ll be shedding some light on the non-technical aspects of IT consultancy, the part of our industry that can usually do with a virtual prod in the rear towards the future. Stay tuned for more stories from @BearTheHammer

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