In my last blog entry, I talked about how critical it is to communicate your ROI to customers. But how can you improve upon your ROI? Well, one way is to eliminate — or at least shrink — the evaluation process.
You know the issue: Your customer is kicking off a particular project and at some step in that project they want to compare the solutions that make the shortlist by doing an evaluation. The idea is a commonsense one, but given today’s reality, evaluations are a real challenge. Their staff is thinner than ever, your staff is possibly thinner (at the very least, it’s more deployed than before), and the number of product options are greater. Embarking on an evaluation process in this scenario means a seemingly endless process and the possibility that you’ll miss the ideal solution when it becomes clear that no one has the time or resources to devote to the process.
How can you help? First, know your landscape. Make it your business to know as much as possible about the solutions in the space, both the ones you offer and those you don’t. Don’t rely on your suppliers to do this; do it yourself. Your suppliers are only going to give you their take on the situation. If possible, bring those solutions in for your own evaluation on a regular basis or at least meet with the vendors.
This process not only helps to ensure that you’re properly educated on other offerings in the space, it also provides you with options in case your normal “go to” solution begins to lag behind. Listening to how other vendors solve problems in your space will also give you ideas on how to better represent your solution both from a sales perspective and a technical perspective. I’ve been in engineering classes where Vendor B’s workaround for a problem saved me hours in getting my primary vendor’s solution working. Sometimes it just takes a different point of view.
Once you’ve invested the time in learning the landscape, you can go to your customer or prospect with that knowledge and at some level share your findings with them. You essentially have to evaluate products all the time to make sure you’re selling and installing the best ones, so your decision criteria is often very similar to your customer’s. Let them leverage your time investment while you show your value by shrinking, and in some cases eliminating, the evaluation process.
But, it’s critical that you be prepared, and the more formal preparation, the better. A document that details your ongoing examination of the solutions in a particular space makes you look more professional. As a proof point, include a list of your customers that are using some of the solutions — or customers that you know are using other solutions.
While this approach won’t always eliminate an evaluation, oftentimes it will. The worst-case scenario is that it positions you as a professional who can be counted on as a trusted advisor.
George Crump is president and founder of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one of the nation’s largest storage integrators.