"What we've got here is a failure to communicate" -- Donn Pearce, Cool Hand Luke
I get to see both sides.
I meet with dozens of enterprise IT organizations that can clearly benefit from what IT service providers can provide.
And I also get to meet with IT service providers who are genuinely puzzled as to why it's so hard to get enterprise IT organizations to consume their offerings.
When we're discussing this challenge with EMC's IT service provider partners, sometimes you'll hear the frustration bubble over: "IT shops just don't get what we're doing!"
Rule #26 of Chuck's Big Book Of Business is clear on this one: never blame the customer for problems of your own creation.
Too many times, I see the very strong offerings from our IT service provider partners get lost in translation.
They're not clear on what makes them different. Very often, they don't seem to understand where the enterprise IT mindset is coming from. They fall into the trap of vague generalities, and completely miss targeting the deeper needs underlying all the surface chatter.
And with that, I'd like to offer some unsolicited and unofficial advice for EMC's IT service provider partners everywhere.
Understand What You Really Bring To The Table
Using an external IT service provider is nothing more than a decision to decide to consume an IT service externally vs. trying to do it yourself. Once you step out of the IT domain, it's an incredibly familiar model and often thought of as a best practice.
In your personal life, you probably engage external services quite frequently: doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc. The same is true in the corporate world: using external services is the norm in finance, legal, HR, marketing, manufacturing, customer service, etc. There's nothing magical or special going on here.
Boil it all down, and an IT service provider is really bringing two things: expertise (largely in the form of people) and ease of consumption (simply use the service vs. trying to do it all yourself).
Huh -- the work of smart people in an easy-to-consume package? Sign me up!!
Conversely, the fact that you -- as a service provider -- have big data centers loaded up with advanced technology is nice, but hardly compelling.
Lots of enterprise IT shops have the same. The fact that you've got some great smart people and associated intellectual property is *far* more compelling from your customer's perspective.
A different perspective to consider?
Smart IT people are in very short supply these days. It shows up everywhere, including the #1 identified challenge of recent CIO survey data.
I'd suggest you'd think about new ways to make the most of smart folks you've got as part of your marketing message -- put them front-and-center, if you will: pictures, bios, have them write blog posts, etc.
Feature them (and their capabilities) and you'll be doing much better than your peers.
But there's more that can be done here. Dig deeper, and you'll find that so many enterprise IT organization are struggling with process.
And whatever process they do have is likely built on the traditional, physical IT world vs. the newer world of dynamic services, cloud, etc.
Do you think your processes are good? Feature them!! Larger IT organizations struggle for years to get decent processes in place, and you -- as an IT service provider -- are usually far better than what they're doing today.
Take any candidate IT process, and you'll generally find a far higher level of proficiency within the IT service provider community than the average enterprise IT shop. The comparison -- based on my experience -- is night and day.
Add to that any unique domain expertise you've invested in: specific technologies, applications, use cases, etc. -- and you'll have a far more compelling value proposition.
If I've not yet convinced you, take a look at how consulting firms sell themselves: they emphasize their people, their process and specific domain expertise. It's an interesting model to emulate.
Understand The Scenarios Where You're Really Interesting To Them
Worse yet, they might not want to share their real motivations -- or perhaps even fully understand them.
Such is life in the world of enterprise IT.
Here are some common scenarios I see all the time in enterprise IT settings that inevitably drive business towards IT service providers:
- The business wants a new app, but doesn't want the internal IT team to touch it. The IT team realizes their only option is to broker in an external IT service provider that's acceptable to both the IT team and the business team. These can be very confusing situations, because it's not always clear who's deciding and why.
- The business needs to have IT presence in a different part of the world, but would rather rent than build in a remote geography. This one is very common indeed, especially in fast-growing regional companies that are starting to go global.
- IT is going through a rationalization process, and would rather invest in unique differentiation that matters to the business vs. simply taking care of the basics. You'd think this is a common one, but it turns out to be rather rare for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with business logic.
- IT going through a rationalization process, and they want to compare their internal service delivery against what's available externally. They're kicking tires and checking out the competition. This is very common, but difficult to turn into a real opportunity.
- IT leadership ends in a tight to deliver "cloud" to the business, decides that brokering external services makes sense -- maybe not forever, but certainly as a way to get started. I'm starting to see more and more of this.
- IT leadership is faced with a "Stockholm Syndrome" where the IT staff have organized resistance to whatever needs to be done: bring in a new technology, application, etc. The only choice here is to go outside, or fire a bunch of people. Maybe both.
- A specific application or use case where there's insufficient expertise inside of IT: SAP, Microsoft, Oracle, VDI, etc. and no appetite to invest the time and money to acquire it. Historically, this would have taken the form of a consultant or contractor, but acquiring that same expertise in the form of an externally delivered IT service can be far more attractive.
- The need for business continuity or disaster recovery of some form, which usually creates strong interest in an external service provider in a geographically remote location. The darker version you'll occasionally encounter is the inevitable result of a completely failed security audit, which causes leadership to start looking outside for a safe place to run IT.
Note what's missing here: for example, the inevitable cost discussion. Even though it's true that (a) IT organizations care about reducing costs, and (b) IT service providers can provide better services for less money, it doesn't seem to be that much of a motivation to seriously consider external services.
Unless they're out of money, that is :)
Ditto for the inevitable "scale" argument: outside of a handful of web-based applications, most enterprise IT operates at manageable (and somewhat predictable) scale.
Put away those cloud marketing slides :)
Making It Easier To Establish Trust
Anyone involved knows that IT is pretty serious topic -- you don't just hand this stuff over to just anyone, do you?
One of the key challenges that every IT service provider seems to struggle with is to do better at is establishing that all-important trust bond with prospective customers, and to do so at a reasonable cost.
But it's not easy -- enterprise IT organizations have come to expect a high-touch model: great sales reps, great pre-sales people, etc. -- not to mention a "getting-to-know-you" courtship that can last many months.
But all of that can be impossibly expensive when you consider that most IT service provider business models are built on the assumption of declining unit costs as scale increases. And a high-touch, in-person business model doesn't help with that, does it?
The good news is that -- in today's online social world -- it's possible to do a great job at high-touch without the associated high costs.
The two guiding principles behind establishing trust are simple: transparency and engagement.
Transparency is relatively easy to understand: we tend to trust things (or, perhaps, fear things less) when we can plainly see how they work.
Take that "transparency" idea into the IT service provider world, and you inevitably end up investing in "opening up" what's usually kept behind the curtain: openly sharing details behind your internal processes and standards, opening up your support forums so everyone can see what's going on, freely admitting areas where you've come up short and vowing to do better, publishing availability and performance stats, showing clearly what technologies you use and how you use them, your support relationships with vendors, configuration details, etc. etc.
In this world, there's really no such thing as "internal documentation" -- it's all created for outside consumption. The norm appears to be quite the opposite: hide as much of that stuff as possible, for as long as possible.
Take it from someone who's seen both sides here at EMC: an "open" (e.g. transparent) communications model is far more engendering of trust than a closed one. And it's a heck of a lot cheaper and more effective than the alternatives.
The second, somewhat more nuanced concept is "engagement". We, as human beings, are more likely to trust people we've interacted with consistently over a period of time vs. someone we've just met.
This translates into investing in meaningful conversations between your prospective customers and the cool, smart people that power your IT service provider organization.
Yes, I'm talking blogging, twitter, hanging out in relevant industry forums online, doing webexes, publishing profiles of your people with pictures, and so on.
Sustained and consistent online social engagement is not a set of behaviors that comes easily to everyone -- but it can be taught, and it most certainly can be encouraged by leadership. And, once again, it's far cheaper and more effective than the alternatives.
Not Everyone Is Your Customer
There are probably thousands of IT service providers out there today, each offering various flavors of IT services. And, of course, there are potentially millions of potential consumers of those services.
Conventional wisdom is that you should try to appeal to as many of these potential customers as possible.
But we know that's not true in our personal lives -- not everyone drives the same car, listens to the same music, etc.
Not to mention that, as an IT service provider, you can end up doing a lot of customization work trying to please everyone, which will inevitably wreak havoc on your business model.
I would argue the opposite: figure out who *really* wants what you do, and tailor your messages to them and them alone. You'll clearly stand out that way, and -- if done well -- something very interesting happens: your customers will find you vs. you having to find them.
One of the most effective ways to do this is through good storytelling: e.g. here was a customer with a very specific set of concerns, here's what we did for them, and here's what happened as a result. To be clear, "good storytelling" is not the same as shiny customer references, or breathless prose around generic offerings -- it's a simple recounting of what happened and why.
And, done right, the people who read that sort of material will think "gee, that sounds like my situation" and most likely reach out to you.
You Shouldn't Outsource Marketing Strategy
Most IT service providers seem to use the services of an outside agency to do marketing stuff: web site, collaterals, videos, whatever. Nothing wrong with that.
But I can't tell you how many times I've formed one rather generic impression of an IT service provider by viewing their external materials, and then ended up with a *completely different* perspective after spending time with them. Obviously, their good story isn't getting out the way it should!
It's not enough to blame the marketing agency -- if you don't provide any specific guidance, they'll simply fall back to generic playbooks and approaches vs. creating the differentiation, trust and engagement you're really looking for.
Going deeper, marketing these days is more than creating good-looking collateral. In my mind, it's a deep strategic examination of who you really are -- and how to best reach people who really care about what you do.
And it's not something to be outsourced to an agency -- unless they happen to specialize in formulating marketing strategy for IT service providers ....
The Opportunity Is Great
So many of the enterprise IT shops I meet with are under amazing pressure to do more with less. They need speed and agility. They need expertise they don't have. They need a consumption model that works the way they do.
All signs point to the blindingly obvious: more and more IT will be consumed via external services with each and every passing year.
This megatrend has not been lost on the IT service provider community. There are thousands of external IT services available today, and dozens of new ones coming to market every week. It's clear to me that the segment is attracting more than its fair share of expertise and capital. As it should.
We might debate who will ultimately thrive in this vibrant sector of the IT industry, but it likely won't happen to anyone who hasn't learned how to communicate effectively with their target audience.
Might you have a failure to communicate?