Vice President of Business Development & Customer Success – Retired
More about Pete Eggimann
Netformx CEO, Ittai Bareket, recently shared in Intercomms magazine his thoughts on how “IT solution providers were finding success selling subscriptions with a full customer lifecycle approach”. He mentioned the customer engagement journey and I wanted to take a few moments to throw in my 2 cents.
I find that with the increase in competition, today’s IT solution providers are focusing increasingly on the customer experience to differentiate themselves and keep their customers coming back. The approach is not new; top sales professionals have long valued treating sales as building an ongoing relationship with their customers.
Instead of closed-ended sales, IT solution providers are re-examining the sales cycle to derive value from customer-engagement. But, how do you create and maintain the kind of customer relationships that lead to higher renewal rates and increased sales to new titles?
Part of the solution is built into product delivery, such as a subscription-based sales model. Another is service. Technology sales is a good fit for relationship-based selling because IT customers need trusted advisors throughout the customer engagement journey.
Create a steady stream of revenue while addressing customer pain points
Many products and solutions have become “as-a-service.” From platforms and communications to contact center and network infrastructure, it seems a new service model-based solution comes out every season. They provide tremendous benefits to customers. Using the scalability of the cloud, a small business can compete with larger ones. Instead of making large capital investments up-front for an on-premises storage solution, for example, cloud storage enables the business to pay as they grow.
Subscription-based services provide regular income to sellers and benefits to customers, but solution providers must ensure a continued customer relationship and address many pain points, because the market is full of options for IT services. If a value-added reseller (VAR) mishandles a concern or otherwise disrupts the relationship, customers can and will move to another provider.
Make your customers happy and be their trusted advisor
Successful IT sales always hinge on identifying customer needs and pain points and solving them. In B2B, IT solutions are highly customizable, so a lot of handholding occurs at the onset of a relationship. It doesn’t end there, though, as complex new technologies become available and existing technologies reach their end of life, businesses look toward a trusted advisor to make decisions. The difference between VARs that build successful relationships and those always chasing customers is their ability to create and nurture a sincere business relationship and to be that trusted advisor.
But it is neither profitable nor beneficial to the customer if a sales rep makes unnecessary status calls and visits. You need balance. If you are not available to answer questions, another IT solution provider will take over.
Tools for partnering in a customer journey
One helpful tool for solving customer needs in an efficient manner that builds on relationships is through the LAER model, short for Land, Adopt, Expand and Renew. It helps IT solution providers stay engaged with their customers throughout the customer’s journey. Relationship-building is at the heart of the model.
The “Land” component of LAER may be the easiest to understand and hardest to achieve. Sales relationships begin with all the steps and processes required to close a sale. Prospecting, qualifying leads and customizing a competitive and implementable solution fall within this step.
Once you have customers, you must keep them happy. “Adopt” means ensuring that your customers are using your solution and in the right way. Low adoption rates of new software and technologies can kill a sales relationship fast. It’s up to you to determine whether your solution is adding value to their business. If not, you have an opportunity to advise them. Otherwise, if the solution is a bad fit, there’s little chance the customer will renew.
When you have a close relationship with customers, you know when they need additional products or services to meet their business objectives. Through “Expand,” VARs can steer more of a customer’s IT budget to their products and services. But, because you know what your customer needs, you only propose relevant solutions that add value to their business.
Each of the previous steps culminate in the “Renew” stage, persuading customers to keep the relationship going.
The continued advisory role
As a customer’s trusted advisor, the solutions provider should go beyond the sales pitch by providing value at every turn. Tell customers what they need and don’t need. Be their contact for all things technical, and you’ll find them looking to you first rather than a competitor. Price matters, but businesses know there is an inherent value in trust.
Managing the customer relationship and being a trusted advisor involve staying on top of deals and contract renewals and managing your overall sales process. Do you know when customer contracts are coming up for renewal? When their products are nearing end-of-life or end-of-support? Do you need to streamline deal management?
At Netformx, we take customer engagement and customer success seriously – let us know how we are doing, listening and responding with tools that support your IT sales process.