"We're working closely with our third-party vendors to come up with solutions."
What may seem like a fairly innocuous customer quote is actually critical for technology partners to understand these days: Your customers have serious needs, and they need solutions. Not more software. Not more jargon. Not more complexity. Not more FUD.
That quote, actually, comes from a member who responded to our annual SAP customer study, and it's illustrative of the dire need for help that many companies are experiencing as well as the implicit faith that they have for partners who possess domain expertise.
Technology challenges-both big and small-loom over nearly all business decisions today. Improving customer experience, operations, manufacturing, supply chain, talent management, and on and on. IT is at the heart of everything.
As I've learned over my career, very few companies can do IT alone. A great partner can be a lifeline. A trusted one-a lifesaver.
We've poured over the recent ASUG customer study I mentioned, and pulled out a list of four things that customers need from their partners. To be clear: These are not complicated. However, they require a shift in how partners engage with customers.
1. Don't pitch us a technology solution. Sell us on a business transformation.
We've been watching the "rise of IT buying committees" over the past couple of years, and the prevalence has only increased. Since 2019, in fact, use of buying committees has more than doubled, according to our research.
Our results this year revealed that nearly half of the respondents' companies use a committee approach: C-levels, IT staff, and line-of-business staff are now presiding over the purchase of new technology.
Which means that selling a technology solution in search of a business problem to a diverse team of business representatives is the worst approach for partners to take in 2021.
2. We already own enough software and don't need any more.
Most IT departments usually experience a day of reckoning at some point: A software inventory audit reveals a sprawl of applications and licenses that makes everyone's head spin.
Compounding the problem is that adding more software to the portfolio without a rock-solid plan usually creates more integration and upgrade challenges down the road. Our annual member study this year found the top technology challenges were: integration issues (incompatibility among products and data management headaches); and upgrades (stress on teams to keep up with upgrades and disruption to operations and systems).
When it came to 2021 innovation efforts, as reported by our study's respondents, "adding new technologies or tools" plummeted 15% year over year. In other words: We don't need any more tools!
This verbatim quote from a respondent perfectly sums up the situation facing many companies today:
We have so many new systems and so few people [to manage them].
3. Don't let us shoot ourselves in the foot with poor change management.
Everyone talks a pretty good game about change management, training and user acceptance. But the dirty, not-so-little secret is that that line item is usually the first to go when budgets get tight.
Partners have a real opportunity to gain customers for life if they make change management a priority. In a world of personalization, training on new software and processes is rarely specific to the customer.
Here's the reality, as expressed by one of our 2021 study respondents:
We don't spend sufficient time on training folks to use the new tools, so when an issue occurs, the users lose confidence and no longer want to use the tool and revert back to their old manual ways.
As to those generic training videos and material:
We need hands-on training of users on the capabilities and advantages of the new applications in a way that mirrors how our company will use it (not a canned demo).
4. Ditch the IT mumbo-jumbo and buzzwords du jour.
Lastly, partners should pledge to cut out the confusion by limiting the use of buzzwordy jargon.
Are the partner and customer in agreement on what "private cloud" means? What about "hybrid"? What about "out of the box integration"? When a partner says AI, machine learning, IoT or RPA, the customer should have complete understanding of what that partner is talking about. If not, do not proceed forward.
Because it's not possible to do business transformation when everything is getting lost in translation.
Next steps for software customers
If any (or all) of the four topics I outlined above are your reality, then perhaps it's time for a "resetting of expectations" with your partner. Or maybe a time for a big change.
You shouldn't be afraid to push your vendors and partners on any of these transgressions. As we all know, time and money are limited for most companies. And if your "trusted partner" is offended or unwilling to sit down at the table and recalibrate the relationship, then maybe they're not so trustworthy after all.