How to loose a customer in 7 seconds

I was in the market for a new “cloud” provider for a project I’m working on internally. I put a bit of diligence into the search, since it’s a service that might also be relevant for several of my clients.

One particular provider seemed to keep appearing in my search, so I aimed my web browser in their direction, looking forward to finding out more about their service. Rather than marketing copy, I was greeted by one of those annoying “you’re using a web browser we don’t like” screens. Usually, these are a minor annoyance and an be bypassed, however this one was static, and I could not click past it. Rather than some esoteric technology, I use the latest version of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. While IE’s market share has eroded a bit in recent years, it’s still the most common browser on the web. While it might not be as sophisticated as some connoisseurs demand, rejecting IE from your marketing site would be like rejecting everyone who drove a car from your gas station, allowing only motorcycles.

I’m not sure if the marketing and technical geniuses behind this company actually thought someone in a position to buy their product would take an hour out of their day to select, download, and install a new browser and totally change their computing habits due to their demand, but in my case, I’ll gladly take my business elsewhere.

The Utility Aspect of IT

There will always be a utility aspect of IT, and in the corporate world, it’s a utility from the consumer’s perspective. No matter what accounting or organizational gyrations you go through, basic services like email, network connectivity, phones, etc., are going to be treated like electricity, water, or sewage: No one cares how complicated it is (when was the last time you thanked the power company for splitting atoms), and everyone wants it as cheaply as possible.

The mistake I see is trying to treat the utility and strategic aspects of IT as one and the same. The other mistake is trying to advance IT as a strategic partner, when you’re not running the utility side of the house flawlessly and cost-effectively.

Why IT Security Never Sells

If you can come up with a way to make IT security “sexy” than you’ll likely make a mint. To me security is equivalent to insurance:

  • You buy it to prevent “bad stuff” that might happen
  • You usually only look at it annually (or even less frequently) or after something bad happens and you discover you are inadequately covered
  • The sales and purchase process is universally detested; no one likes to talk about all the “bad stuff,” and feels like they’re getting hoodwinked into buying more than they need during the sales process.

Rather than trying to come up with more dire scenarios, or bigger scarier numbers, I would personally turn my pitch into something like “Hey, we both know you need this, we both know it’s a painful process, we’ll help you make it fast, relatively painless, and work with you to understand the right level of protection as your ‘security advocate’ of sorts.”

That would assume you’re not in bed with all the vendors and getting a larger profit the more of their stuff you sell. I don’t think insurance/security are ever going to be perceived as high value products (unless the client just went through a disaster), but if you can present yourself as acting in the client’s best interest then you could have a more compelling value statement than the vendors that just want to scare you into buying more stuff.

Selecting a hosted CRM system

Most of these packages should give you a trial period of some sort. I would recommend managing a single customer’s relationship history in each of the systems and see which you and your sales force like most.

Do remember that any CRM system brings some formality to the sales process, and that may be meet with resistance by your reps if they are used to doing everything on the proverbial “back of napkin.” There will always be a balance between whether the system is more management or sales friendly. If there are lots of nice management reports, there are also more data entry requirements on sales that will likely frustrate them. Striking the balance that is right for your company, or changing comp plans to support use of the system are key here.

The Delights of Mobile Technology

We’ve all heard someone moaning about the horrors of the “connected lifestyle:” Blackberries, laptops, nearly ubiquitous phone connectivity, etc. What many people fail to realize is that they are the master of these devices, rather than the other way around. A mobile email device can be a stern taskmaster causing its user to peck away at email into the wee hours of the night, or it can be used to stay in touch while taking an afternoon out of the office after a hard stint at work.

I’m actually sending this missive from a beautiful wooded campsite deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where my laptop can just barely grab onto a slow cellular connection. I’ve responded to several client inquiries, checked voicemail and now am contemplating an as-yet unlit campfire as the sun sets. Mobile technology allowed me to keep in touch on my terms, which today happen to be tearing down empty dirt roads on my motorcycle and pitching a tent miles from another human being. The off button is there for a reason, and rather than letting these technologies chain you down, use them to liberate yourself.