In-person conferences are back in full swing, providing IT professionals like yourself with the chance to find new business and network with others in their field. It also gives you an invaluable opportunity to improve your business by asking yourself one simple question. When you look around at your peers, ask yourself, ‘What really makes me different from the other people in this room?’ Be honest.
I bet most of you thought about either your people, or your oh-so-special-to-you unique process. And you’d be right.
Most IT professionals ( from DBAs to System Integrators) have a slide in their sales presentation where they talk about their methodology. I know that when I conduct a product marketing exercise, I can immediately understand so much simply by saying, ‘Tell me about the processes you implement to help your customers win.’
Your answer will tell me exactly what I need to know about where you are in your service delivery maturity, how it matches what your leads see, and how good you are at communicating with your customers. But what if what you think you’re offering and what your clients think they’re getting are miles apart? What if you’re struggling to answer that first question about what makes you different from other Microsoft Partners?
Learn how to bridge that gap and ensure you’re creating a unique space for yourself in the market.
Step One: Codifying What Makes You Different
As you network, make a point of asking people who do similar work how they go about it. And listen to the words they use. You’ll be surprised how many of them can’t articulate their process at all.
The purpose of this first expression of your process is codifying how you work. With it, you can say, ‘We have solved similar types of problems enough times that we’ve seen some patterns.’ This pattern recognition is critical throughout your sales engagements. First, you find patterns in the business problems you want to solve. For example, you see repeated cost control issues with large projects or duplicated sales resourcing on key accounts. These are problems technology implementation services can solve. But your pattern recognition extends to your execution as well. When you’re executing, you do something a few times, start to iterate, and find efficient ways to complete projects with happy customers. Codifying the problems you can solve and the repeatable processes of how you work is a good first step.
Step Two: Building Proprietary Processes
The next level of process building happens when you’ve refined your codified process to the point where it’s proprietary to you. Your process typically starts out by following a model of four steps. For example, it’s Discover, Diagnose, Deliver, and Delight. (I’m only half kidding with all the D’s). You now have a way of understanding the problem, determining a strategy, applying that strategy, and then applying ongoing support if necessary. So, once you codify it, write it down, and start to follow it. You’ll also realize you can improve it. At some point in this improvement process you’ll iterate enough, and you’ll develop something unique to you. Now you have the next level which is a proprietary process.
When you develop a proprietary process, you can explain it in conversations without applying it to a client’s specific businesses. You begin to communicate it visually. You put it on your website. You develop social proof by building case studies around it. This demonstrates that not only do you have this process as part of your marketing, but it’s tied to delivery, understood by your entire organization, and you can deliver the same experience across all your accounts no matter the business problem.
Many IT professionals get here when they start implementing a managed service. Monitoring and maintaining a server environment or business application forces you to develop systems and processes that are repeatable. Then you can back into productizing your implementation and modernization services.
Let me tell you—most companies never get here. Most rely on senior technical consultants to execute over and over without building a process for the organization. You can grow to 20-30 people that way. I worked for an organization like this that grew to 80 people with $30 million in revenue.
It’s possible, but it’s also risky. The quality of delivery varies widely depending on the talent you get on projects, and you can’t hire junior talent. It’s an expensive game of managing customer churn and overpaying for top talent.
Step Three: Developing IP
The highest expression of process development is to codify that thing that is unique to you and transform it into Intellectual Property (IP).
Intellectual Property is protectable. It’s like your trademark: you can copyright it; you can patent it. But most importantly, it stands alone. You first develop it for your own use, and as you grow your processes, you discover that it has real value that you could license to your competitors. Maybe you put it in a separate entity to create a separate valuation and maybe you license it out to your buyer.
Most IP almost always involves a diagnostic phase where you automate the process of quantifying how you get the basic information needed to understand the client’s situation so you can prescribe a solution. Because your point of view on this is somewhat unique, you’re collecting data that others in your space are not, and then you get better and better at making decisions with that data. You start to roll up data from numerous clients because you can benchmark them against each other. Now we’re getting into IP territory.
I’ve only had one client do this successfully, and I have another right now with a lot of potential to get there. I’m rounding out 15 years in product marketing in the IT services space. It’s difficult, and it may not be completely worthwhile in every case. A process that turns into IP can become a distraction from your core business of delivering services. Most companies grow quite large before they take on building a SaaS product or platform from their proprietary process.