Strategies for Understanding and Selling to Future Customer Needs

MSP Tips
IT disaster recovery planning in healthcare

By Miguel Lopez

There is a definite upside to cautious customers. They give your business the opportunity to be patient (or to procrastinate) when it comes to educating yourself about new technologies before selling and working with them on client engagements. You can watch from the sidelines while the early adopters stumble a bit as they implement the “latest and greatest” and be thankful you don’t have to learn every lesson under the harsh glare of a grumpy client.

But eventually your customers will want to – or may need to – get on board with new products, platforms and concepts, even if they don’t realize it right now. That’s where your job as a trusted advisor comes in. You need to lay the groundwork for both your firm and your customers to ensure things are as speedy and successful as possible when they are finally ready to make the jump.

Thinking Ahead

Your customers should not be drawing your technology roadmap. Their priorities center around running their own businesses, and their worries about “right now” do not provide an accurate forecast of what they will want or need in a few quarters or years in the future.

At the same time, you do not ever want to be in a situation where a customer is informing you about something that you should already know.

With the burden for planning ahead falling on your shoulders, it’s critical to be constantly learning and aware. Although this isn’t a full-time job, it needs to be a steady drumbeat of your daily and weekly routine to keep tabs on what’s happening today and what vendors and industry experts are hyping for the future.

Luckily, people love talking about this stuff, so you won’t suffer from a lack of source material – if anything there might be too much information out there to sort through.

In addition, technology changes quickly, but not instantaneously. Most vendors let you know way in advance about new features and time lines to help you plan. You may just need to be registered with them to get the information earlier.

We recommend taking a matrixed approach to keeping tabs on things:

  • Attain a baseline understanding of every relevant new technology and product – You don’t need to be anything close to an expert in it, but you should learn enough to understand what it could potentially mean to your client base.
  • Find a peer to knowledge share with – Select a company that fits the same profile as your customers that is in the early adopter fast lane that you can track as they gain experience with the new technologies you think will eventually be part of your offering. Share your wealth of industry knowledge with them, and use their experience to help guide your plans when the time comes.
  • Map out key dates – Whether it’s a new standard or regulation being enacted, or something being retired, if there is a pivotal date on the horizon make sure you’re aware of it.
  • Game plan for the inevitable – It’s useful to sketch out what an implementation would look like for your current clients ahead of time so you can anticipate how much lead time and resources would be required. This lets you give well-informed answers to initial inquiries about new technologies from curious clients… and lets you know when you’ll need to get proactive.

Laying the Groundwork

Beyond just staying informed, your role as a trusted IT advisor and partner extends to educating your clients. Where you can add real value is in distilling the ocean of data, opinions and vendor talking points down to highly relevant and specific bites of information.

Holding a regular technology update/road-mapping session is a great way to keep clients in the know and uncover what their concerns and interests are. It gives you an opportunity to let them know what’s coming down the road and what some of their peers might be dabbling in, even from other leading-edge markets.

Presenting this information in a non-sales environment takes the pressure off to make any decisions or commitments. It builds up your reputation as someone looking out for your client’s best interest, and – based on the questions and feedback you receive during these sessions – you can get a better understanding of what customers care about and can help identify future priorities and opportunities based on their upcoming needs and the strategic planning that’s driving them.

These can be external events where multiple customers are invited in a half day type session at a local hotel. While it is meant to be more around education it does provide the opportunity to expand your services within different customers.

These sessions should always end with action items for both sides (most likely a bit of homework and additional research) and scheduled follow-ups for the technology initiatives that are of interest or unavoidable. Collectively, this provides a firm timeline of when you should revisit things, so nothing falls through the cracks.

Forcing the Issue

After playing “good cop” and keeping your clients in the know, you would hope they’d use the knowledge you have imparted to do the right thing and adopt the technology they really need when they should. But sometimes clients need to be prodded to do the right thing or risk falling behind the competition and potentially jeopardizing their business by ignoring security, capability or capacity shortcomings.

So, here’s where you get to play “bad cop.” With a solid foundation of client education, which was based on your careful monitoring of the market and analysis of needs and opportunities, it might just come down to you pushing and prodding your clients to make a move they’re not ready to make yet.

This cajoling should come with an assortment of solid evidence, reasoning, and rationale for why this is something they must do, even if they don’t want to. Ultimately, it will always be the customer’s decision, but outlining the consequences of not updating, upgrading or migrating to a new technology can hopefully help you get them over the finish line.

IT isn’t fun or sexy for most of your customers – which is probably why they hired you in the first place – but whether they realize it or not, almost every business is completely reliant on IT to function at all. Some new technology may be optional, but others simply must be adopted eventually to keep the lights on and stop operations from grinding to a halt … or exposing a company to major security or compliance risks.

Help your clients avoid unpleasant surprises and be prepared for the future by being the expert they need when they don’t even realize it.


Posted by Doug Barney
Doug Barney was the founding editor of Redmond Magazine, Redmond Channel Partner, Redmond Developer News and Virtualization Review. Doug also served as Executive Editor of Network World, Editor in Chief of AmigaWorld, and Editor in Chief of Network Computing.
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