Selling Technology Services: 10 Rules Vital to Success September 02, 2011, by Peter Mirus in Information Technology, Marketing

Here are 10 important rules for success in selling technology services, based on my experience, third-party research, and industry case studies.

1. Services old to you might be new to a client.
Many a company has developed new service offerings as a path to growth when its current customer base isn’t fully aware existing services. A recent client of mine had extremely strong customer relationships (a fact supported by customer research). However, the same customer research revealed that 80% of customers admitted to ignorance of the full range of services offered. This is representative of a huge missed opportunity.

2. Offer services that are in demand.
Try to avoid speculative investments in new service development. Determine whether the services you propose to offer are in demand, and if the audience views the new services as being consistent with your brand. If you are a systems engineering firm, and 40% of your customers want you to offer Cyber Security services, go there. Pioneering a new service concept can be lucrative, but may present additional audience education challenges/expense beyond the norm. Know what you are getting into.

3. Understand how the customer wants to be approached.
Current customers prefer a one-on-one briefing when being offered new services. Tech companies with poor pitch skills tend to fire paper (real or digital) at the customer from a remote location. Develop your pitch, and make sure you get in front of the customer. Prospective customers want to be marketed to through relationships/networking and being able to find valuable and relevant web content.

4. Know the criteria with which you are being evaluated.
Focus on understanding client needs, technical qualifications, past performance, relationships, and reputation (in that order). Bring enough to the table in each of those areas, and you’ll have an easier time signing customers to new services. This is why hiring carefully for intelligence, capability, experience, and relationships is extremely important to technology services firms focused on generating growth and building value.

5. Understand and anticipate customer concerns.
Right now, many customers are focused on current or foreseen shrinking budgets. It’s a reality that needs to be addressed proactively. Flexibly restructuring agreements can be a key aspect in client retention, and can earn a future ear for the discussion of new services. Examples of additional concerns: infrastructure consolidation, availability/scalability of resources, successful project completion, long-term planning, relocation, solution durability, measurable success, project management, communication throughout the project, etc.

6. Be aware: the customer’s challenge can be addressed in more than one way.
A problem can have many possible solutions. You may only be aware of the part of the competitive field that provides the same solution as you—an inaccurate reflection of the competitive field as a whole. On average, your list of known competitors will overlap by only 25% a customer-provided list of your competitors. So you need to shape the discussion to favor your solution. The way to accomplish this is by learning to engage in regular discussions with customers at the level of business priorities and key challenges. Also, learn their “problem language” and use it for refining your brand messaging and marketing copy.

7. Be an advocate for your customers.
There are two ways in which you must be a customer advocate. First, the account executive needs to be the voice of the customer inside your business. This is a key to making sure that services are properly aligned to address customer needs; that customer priorities, values, needs, and concerns are not underrepresented. Second, promote and showcase your clients whenever possible. This keeps the relationship alive and mutually beneficial beyond the day-to-day provision of services.

8. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but parts of it were.
Solve one problem, and likely you’ll be asked to solve another. Solving a simple problem right away creates a foothold for building your empire. There are always better, more ideal solutions to client problems. Some symptoms really can’t be addressed without curing the disease, but others can. What can you solve right now that will help the customer feel understood and supported? Otherwise, you run the risk of being perceived as a knowledgeable company that pitches great solutions but fails to be attentive to on-the-ground concerns and immediate needs.

9. Your brand is important.
Many technology services firms know how to build good systems, but don’t understand how to build a good brand. A brand is more than a logo: part of building a brand is the crafting and deployment of clear, consistent, value-focused messaging. Getting this right need not be expensive, and is critical to success. If you fail to be clear, consistent, and value-focused, you introduce unnecessary obstacles to building the relationships that will determine your success.

10. Provide marketing training to non-marketing staff.
The most successful (high value, high growth) technology services firms make marketing a priority throughout the company. Employees need to understand the brand, appreciate the role of marketing in building a prosperous firm, and understand how to participate in the marketing process as necessary.

Bonus Point: Do no more than is necessary to attract and retain profitable customer relationships.
Marketing has numerous processes and best practices. There are particular ways to market technology services that will, by and large, lead the way to success. However, your firm’s makeup, its current state of development, and the preferences of your current/potential customers factor heavily into your marketing decisions. When thinking about what is the “best way” in marketing, balance it against the real needs and buying behaviors of particular prospects. This helps to concretize what to do, what not to do, and what can or should be put off until another time.