Technology companies across all sectors are developing and growing their solutions at a faster rate than ever. The proliferation of data is changing the way that we can make decisions and the connectivity and processing power available is making this data available to more and more people. However, getting technology adopted is still a struggle that most companies face.
This blog looks at some of the specific challenges that technology companies are faced with when promoting their solutions. It also indicates some of the ways companies and individuals can achieve the success they seek.
LEADING FROM THE FRONT
Almost all new technology is born from the ideas of just a few people and sometimes only one person. They have the idea, develop the first versions, gain some interest and develop a company from there.
As with all new technologies, the first sales are to early adopters, who will choose to buy based on the technology rather than the value. To achieve a sustainable business, sales need to be made to the early majority who buy based on the value that the technology can deliver. With many companies, the initial founders stay as the face of the company and continue to make the majority of sales calls. However, they struggle to understand why the early majority are not showing the same interest as the early adopters.
Undoubtedly, the founders are the best qualified to talk about the technology and are passionate about its use. However, they frequently fail to understand that not everyone shares the same enthusiasm nor has the same problems that led to the development of the technology in the first place. Added to this, the founders have seldom been involved in a complete sales process and fail to understand need to follow such a process. “We made presentations to companies and had really good discussions with them but they never went any further than that” is something that has been said more than once by CEO’s of new technology firms.
There are very few people like Steve Jobs who can both found, develop and promote their ideas into a massive success. For most technology companies, using skilled sales people with a good understanding of the product is critical to success.
TALKING THE TALK
Thirty years ago, most people had little idea about technology and what it could do for them such that people with just a little knowledge could demonstrate and promote new products. As both the customer’s knowledge has improved and the technology has got more complex, a little knowledge is no longer sufficient. People promoting technology must understand what it does and what problems it solves to successful sell it.
Their customers are getting more and more knowledgeable about the solutions and people selling it must be able to demonstrate that they have more knowledge than the customer. Gone are the days when great sales people could move from industry to industry and continue to be successful.
NOTHING IS UNIQUE
Most technology has only a small part of it that makes it unique. The differences between a Dell and an HP laptop are not really that significant; there are much more differences between a laptop and a tablet, regardless of the developer. A critical element of the technology sales process is to understand the needs of the customer and to translate the key features and functions of the technology that help to solve those problems. Further, recognising the unique elements of your solution that are important to the customer and that the competition cannot provide will be essential for success. This further demonstrates the need to both understand the technology and how the customer will use it to be successful.
We all believe we are different but our clients often find it hard to see the difference. Many established companies will define their uniqueness in how they behave, in how they treat their customers and in their customer support. However, we often look the same to the client. We may say we are client focussed and relationship driven. Do we think our competitors are positioning themselves as self-centred product-pushers? If everyone is claiming a specific attribute then we are not unique for having it.
A SOLUTION LOOKING FOR A PROBLEM
Lots of technology has been developed without a specific problem in mind. There is an element of we can build it so we will build it. This is possibly more so with technology related to “big data”. At a recent technology exhibition, a number of companies failed to articulate any reason as to why a customer might buy their technology. They simply repeated what their product could do.
The Internet of Things is generating massive volumes of structured and unstructured data. The capturing and processing of this data in real time is constantly improving. However, the understanding of the data and what value it offers still offers a very real challenge. There is a growing need for analytical tools that can explore and visualise the data which will be satisfied with further technology. However, the knowledge of the value that it provides is still relatively unknown. A recent survey by Upstream Intelligence in the UK oil industry found that while 29% of respondents thought that digital, data and analytics were the most important investment their company could make just now, 71% of respondents had not yet seen a change in production as a result of using such techniques.
29% of respondents thought that digital, data and analytics were the most important investment their company could make just now
71% of respondents had not yet seen a change in production as a result
of using such techniques
It is possible that some technology is being adopted because everyone else is doing it rather than for the benefits it is bringing.
In any decision to buy new technology, we must recognise the different participants in the buying process. The budget holder, or economic buyer, will be looking for the value that the solution will bring and will measure a return on the investment. The principal technologist, or technical buyer, will need to be assured that the solution performs as expected and that the algorithms are accurate. The person who will actually use the technology, the end user, will care far more about the usability and how it improves their overall working day. Failing to recognise these very different but equally valid perspectives will lead to failure.
It is critical to promote the right benefits to each individual and definitely not to leave any out of the decision making process.
CHANGE IS CHANGING
Technology companies are at the vanguard of change across the world, introducing new systems and processes every day, sometimes well ahead of any perceived demand. This leads them to have to function in a world that demands significant changes in business development.
We must grow business in a volatile, uncertain, complex ambiguous (VUCA) environment. We cannot sell as if the world will return to normal someday soon. Companies must achieve growth in relatively flat economies and in areas where spending is seen as a cost rather than an investment. If the company plans to grow more than 1.5% (WEO estimate for UK growth 2017-18) then something different needs to be done. We must change in response to changes in the buying behaviours of clients. These changes include increased numbers involved in decision making (on average 6.2 people in a 100-500 employee business are involved in significant purchasing decisions (source CEB)); increased formality and the presence of procurement and digitisation of decision making. We cannot afford to be analogue sellers in a digital buying world.
Finally, business development needs to change with the selling enablement tools now available. The judicious use of the right tools ensures competitive parity or even advantage.
WHAT’S TO BE DONE?
These challenges and opportunities are real, significant and difficult to address; but the prizes from addressing them successfully are great. Based on what we see companies working on effectively and based on strong but transferrable approaches used in other sectors, we highlight the following areas to concentrate on.
- FOCUS ON THE RIGHT CUSTOMERS: Not all companies are ready to adopt new technology immediately. Understand where your technology fits in the technology adoption lifecycle and focus on the right customers. Early adopters will want to see new things, the early majority will want to see proof that others are using the technology and that they are seeing the benefit of it. Companies and/or individuals can be early adopters or the early majority so profiling both is important to do.
- BE CLEAR WHY YOU EXIST: Technology is usually developed to solve problems and to speed up processes. The original developers understand this clearly because they generally lived and breathed the problems. Transferring this to the people who follow will help them to promote the technology further. The best promotion of any technology comes from presenting the problem and then the beauty of the solution.
- USE WHAT YOU’VE GOT: Many of the companies we work with already have good tools and approaches in place. They do not always need to develop something brand new but to make better and more consistent use of the resources already available. Only use the new when you need to, but then use it boldly.
- INNOVATIVE DELIVERY: Deliver development using innovative approaches that make the most of peoples’ time. The use of approaches such as gamification, blended learning, bite-size modules, simulations, experiential learning and live case-based events can make a huge difference in optimising time and ROI. This is particularly relevant to technology companies where soft skills development can sometimes be considered less important.
- CONSOLIDATE AND MEASURE: Plan ways to ensure any changes become part of business as usual. Measure the change and wherever possible document impact and return on investment
We trust that this blog will have stimulated your thinking – confirming some points and challenging you to rethink in others.