Tech Sales – The shift from product selling, through solution selling, to customer needs selling
Being a great IT service provider is about more than designing, deploying and being first to market with innovative technologies.
Technology companies may be some of the biggest game changers on the planet, but they are not immune from changing buyer behaviours and rapidly evolving customer expectations from increasingly informed end users.
Nor are they immune from the constant challenge to remain relevant and differentiate their service in a market that takes no prisoners –there’s always a new start-up waiting to take market share from the bigger players.
Being a great IT service provider is about being first and foremost responsive to customer needs.
Overcoming a legacy frame of mind
Over the years technology companies have realised selling with a product focus, i.e. showing and talking about their product or service, its features, advantages and benefits is no longer sustainable, particularly for those selling hardware, where margins are small and competition is high.
Over the last few years we have seen a shift towards solution selling, whereby rather than just promoting a product or service and its features, the salesperson focuses on the customer’s problems and addresses the issue with appropriate offerings.
Seems great, but with big new players constantly disrupting the market, the time has come to change the mind set once again and start with the customer from the outset – customer needs selling!
Definition of customer needs selling
The best description I have seen is…
“Customer needs selling occurs when salespeople go through a discovery process to determine if customers have needs, wants, problems or objectives they want filled, satisfied or solved. Objective: Establish a need before initiating any selling activity”.
The discovery process
The more you know about your customer, the better you’ll be able to focus on catering to their needs.
Harnessing and analysing market and user data and insight into customer behaviours, their preferences and expectations, their individual pain points, and the market challenges and opportunities impacting their business, have profound benefits for IT service providers.
It can drive significant improvements in how they connect and engage with customers, deliver sales strategies, improve business development and guarantee long term customer success.
The implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies such as advanced analytics, machine learning and natural language processing mean that IT service providers now have the ability to cut through the copious amounts of raw data generated every day from millions of structured and unstructured sources to enhance the discovery process that drives customer needs selling – building a 360° view – identifying customer needs and expectations as well as their propensity to buy, the best time and way to engage with them and which product or services will resonate most (both initial sell and cross-sell/upsell opportunities).
How to make a success out of customer needs selling
The best IT service providers are those that take this advanced data-driven insight and plug it into every aspect of the technology sales process.
Gone are the days when an IT seller just picked up the phone to a senior IT buyer. The B2B decision making process today is far more complex to navigate, especially when it comes to business critical, and expensive IT purchases.
According to a Gartner study released in February 2019 75% of customers agree or strongly agree that their purchase involves people from a wide variety of roles, teams and locations.
Furthermore, according to Gartner each new stakeholder brings individual diverse concerns, priorities and opinions to the table, making the buying process extremely difficult as they struggle to come to consensus over the solution — or even the problem — that works for everyone.
This is why a establishing a customer needs based approach is so vital. With advanced sales enablement technology IT sellers can navigate their way through organisations, achieve a clearer picture of IT decision maker needs, expectations, sentiments and preferences, as well as harness the market challenges and influences surrounding the buying process, such as expansion news, management changes, legislative, regulatory, compliance and risk management changes and acquisitions.
All too often traditional IT service providers launch a new product or solution and rely on generic mass broadcast communications – spamming customers and prospects with untargeted, untimely and irrelevant messages detailing new features and hardware/software enhancements, rather than working harder to segment customers and target them at the right time, and in the attention grabbing ways that feed directly into their individual needs.
Instead customer needs driven providers are harnessing the power of AI systems to delve deep and pull out both the qualitative (descriptive buyer-level insights, attributes and sentiments) and quantitative (firmographic) data points that really help understand buyers – identifying individual customer needs as well as their persona’s, priorities and buying dynamics – for improved segmentation.
By actively segmenting customers and tracking them to stay on top of evolving developments in their world and their buying behaviours, IT sellers can accelerate revenue growth by focussing sales efforts in the right places, finely targeting content, and developing clear personalised engagement strategies.
Engagement – creating needs based contact
Personalisation is what truly matters and what will ultimately help IT seller move the needle. According to Hubspot, personalised calls-to-action can result in 202% more instances of engagement than generic CTAs will.
Likewise, Salesforce report in 2018 buyers paper that their top objectives for any contact with sellers are that they have a clear understanding need, and that they likewise had a clear view of how the seller’s solution would solve their problems.
IT Buyers demand personalisation in all their interactions with IT suppliers and service providers. If you’re not delivering, they’ll find businesses who will, and there are no shortage of those in what is one of the most competitive and fast-moving markets in the world.
Technology and automation can help support this effort for need based contact, uncovering smarter and deeper insights to synthesise a data driven understanding of customer wants, needs and preferences in order to personalise customer experiences and connect with them in more meaningful, value-driven ways.
Many IT service providers now have a team of customer success managers, whose role it is to create customer lifetime value.
They need to always have their finger on the pulse of what the customer is doing now, and where they need to go next. To do this they must possess a deep understanding of both the customer’s business and have an in-depth knowledge of their market.
As the glue that binds the customer to their company, customer success managers are often the front-line of customer communication. This requires them to be contextually aware, empathetic and personalised in their approach. They must be constantly looking for opportunities to connect in meaningful ways and primed to capitalise on any opportunity to innovate in terms of service and delivery of superior outcomes. To do this they need an intimate understanding of customer needs.
For the customer success manager, customer and market data and insight delivers a truly holistic 360° view of the customer ecosystem and how their service fits in to it, which in turn enables a deeper understanding of how best to continue to help the customer achieve success.
The ability to analyse and act on data and insight about customer needs is also increasingly important for IT service providers when it comes to their own business development. The sheer pace of change can mean they fall behind if they are not able to react quickly to emerging customer needs.
It’s vital to provide decision-makers with the needs-based intelligence and insight they need to make informed and insightful decisions, for instance which new technologies they should invest in and which are simply hype with little real substance.
Or where productivity improvements can be found, or which customer segments they should target. Decisions that can boost performance, steal a march on competitors and new entrants, attract investment, and avoid failures.
Customer needs selling is not just another buzzword
Artesian Solutions has seen its share of sales to technology companies increase by 255% year-on-year since 2017, why?
Because more and more technology companies are seeing the vast return on investment that can be achieved by leveraging millions of data points to create new relationships, establish credibility, address individual pain points and wider market challenges, and create new opportunities.
Artesian’s customers, including Oracle, Amazon Web Services, SAP, BT, Infinity Tracking and Canon, are driving significant improvements in how they connect with customers and meet challenging commercial goals.
Take BT for example, BT Local Businesses have generated 1,856 new opportunities in the last 7 months with a sales order value of £11.4 million directly attributable to the need-based insights delivered by Artesian.
In that time frame they collectively closed 937 of these opportunities resulting in £8.6 million of new revenue.
IT service providers are increasingly investing much of their valuable brain power into crafting long-term, powerful relationships from the start of the customer journey, thanks to a change of mind-set away from product or solution selling to a customer needs based approach – and Artesian is powering their journey.