How to Sell Services to Individual Vertical Industry Segments

You Need to Understand Their Unique Needs and Requirements – and Be Organized to Meet Them!

A.  Introduction

All vertical industry segments continue to undergo significant change, and along with this change comes evolving needs and requirements for field service and customer support. In addition, the competitive landscape of the global services community is in a phase of constant acquisition, merger, partnership, consolidation and realignment, and no two experts can agree on where it will end, and what it will ultimately look like.

Still, Field Service Management (FSM) solution users expect, and demand, consistently high levels of service and support so that they can deal more effectively with their own growing economic costs, shifting customer demographics, advancements in new technologies and changing patterns of growth. There are, however, some easy guidelines for getting started on the path to being better prepared to support these highly demanding and, oftentimes, heavily regulated industry segments.

The best place to start is to first gain a strong working knowledge of the unique needs for each of the individual vertical industry segments you are targeting, typically comprised of manufacturers/OEMs, third-party maintainers and independent service organizations, professional services organizations, in-house services organizations, consumers and others; who in turn, support their respective systems, equipment and devices – either on-premise, in the Cloud – or both!.

B.  Understanding the Unique Needs & Requirements of Individual Industry Segments

Knowing the specific services business of your customers and all of their general terminology, “buzz words”, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and acronyms is not only an admirable goal, but a “given” just to participate in a segment-specific sector (i.e., terms like Manufacturer/OEM, TPM/ISO, MTTR, FTFR, etc.). However, each individual market segment also has its own unique set of terms and acronyms, as well as its own structure and organization, patterns of purchasing and decision-making, and means for evaluating the needs and requirements of service

This is the level of understanding that is ultimately required in order to succeed in building a solution that meets the needs of any individual specific industry segment – keeping firmly in mind that the same acronyms (e.g., ATM) may mean something entirely different in different industry segments  (e.g., the communications and banking segments, etc.). Also, you will need to keep in mind that some segments (e.g., medical devices, aerospace, government, etc.) may be much more demanding than others.

While there are many guidelines that can be used to facilitate an understanding of the specific needs and requirements of individual segments, there are essentially six (6) which provide a sound foundation. They are:

  1. “If you don’t speak their language, they won’t think you understand their business”

All of the FSM solution provider’s sales, services and marketing personnel that have any contact, either direct or indirect, with customers and prospects must be familiar with the terminology, technology and “buzz words” of the targeted segment. They will be required to communicate articulately with company management and personnel at each prospect organization, typically coming from a variety of related fields, sometimes with vendors supporting their segment, and are now serving in the roles of department heads or purchasing managers, equipment operators and/or technicians, etc. They already speak the language, and, as a result, the entire FSM solution provider sales team will need to be trained to understand and speak to key customer issues in their own words, names and examples.

Every industry segment has its own vocabulary and terminology – and, as an example, the medical device segment is no exception! In fact, with as diverse a composition of medical systems, equipment, instrumen-tation and devices that populate this segment, as well as the many departments or groups that get involved in the solution acquisition decision-making process, simply learning the acronyms themselves can be almost overbearing. Medical systems, equipment and instrumentation that can be found in a medical center’s imaging department can include x-ray, ultrasound, MRI, CT scanner (i.e., don’t call them cat-scanners!), nuclear medicine, PETT, and many others. There are also blood gas chemistry analyzers, patient monitoring systems, surgical suite systems and a full range of accompanying consumables and reagents, in addition to parts.

Further, although their Hospital Information System (HIS) may look similar to you as many other types of data centers or repositories – they will also have their own set of “buzz words”, acronyms and terminology, as well. Although most segment-specific medical services organizations may already understand these names, acronyms and terminologies, the more general IT services organizations will need to ramp up to learn them in order to be perceived as credible for supporting a medical systems and equipment installed base.

  1. “If you know who to sell to, you can shorten the overall sales cycle”

Knowing who to sell to within the prospect (and customer) organization is critical to the success of the overall sales effort. The fewer referrals you get within the organization before you reach the right decision-maker, the less likely you will be in getting “brushed off” along the way.

However, in order to be in a position where you can effectively differentiate between the decision-influencers and the decision-makers, you will first need to understand the segment’s (and each prospect’s) organizational structure, hierarchy and roles. This will require an enlightened understanding of the various titles, responsibilities and roles of key segment decision-makers in general, as well as the specific names relating to each within the prospect organization.

Who are these decision makers? What are their pain points? What gets them “excited” about service? What is a typical structure at companies in their industry segment?

Every services organization has its own characteristic structure, organizational hierarchy and roles. That is why it is so critical that the FSM solution sales team understands exactly how each of its targeted prospects  is structured and organized – especially with regard to who the principal FSM solution acquisition decision-makers (and decision-makers) are.

For example, at some organizations, all IT and software solution acquisitions are screened, managed, negotiated and overseen by a senior IT program team and/or committee. It is often the case where this would represent the starting point of entry for the solution vendor sales team; however, in other cases, it might commence at the CFO’s, or CIO’s, office, Finance and/or Purchasing Department. Again, it all depends on each organization’s unique structure and hierarchy of decision-makers.

The mode of acquisition will also likely have an impact on who within the prospect organization will constitute the ultimate decision-making entity. For example, under a perpetual license scenario (i.e., typically involving a large, up-front, capital expenditure), the decision-making team is likely to include Finance and Purchasing, Department Heads, as well as Service Operations.

However, under a subscription pricing model (i.e., where there is no large, up-front, capital outlay required), regular monthly (or quarterly) usage-related payments are typically substantially lower and, accordingly, the ultimate acquisition decision may not need to involve all of these departments. Since Cloud-based FSM solutions are typically sold via subscription model, the purchase decision-making process will likely be less involved.

  1. “If you know who is involved in making the decision, you can ensure that they have everything they need from you”

The decision-making process, and ultimately the entire solution sales cycle, can be both expedited and facilitated if the solution sales and marketing team has a prior understanding of who is involved in the decision-making process, how many individuals get involved, who “calls the shots”, how long the process takes, what they need to know, and when they need it. Any incomplete information provided will simply extend the overall length of the process, and any extraneous information will create “noise“. In some cases, information given to the “wrong” individual may be worse than not providing it at all.

This is an area where a more complete understanding of the specific individual(s) you will be selling to will be helpful to ensure that you fully understand all of the needs, requirements, constraints (i.e., both IT and budgetary), preferences and “pain points” that will come into play. It will generally be this individual (or group of individuals) who will convey to you the business’ main acquisition and usage considerations that may include anything from implementation timeframe and training; to initial cost vs. Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), Return-on-Investment (ROI), and other financial aspects, etc.

  1. “If you understand their cost constraints, you can package your solution more attractively”

All prospects are likely to inform you of their various cost constraints right from the outset. However, all solution sales personnel should be trained to distinguish “real” from “perceived” costs as a result of the initial prospect meeting and needs assessment. They should be able to establish prospect thresholds for cost vs. value and build into the equation the best timing for spreading out the total program costs.

Sometimes total cost is the principal determinant; sometimes regularly scheduled cash expenditures are more important. In either case, the most appropriately “packaged” and priced solution must be developed for each prospect and customer, and your solution sales personnel must be equipped to do this.

Some potential examples of cost constraints may include departmental limits imposed on monthly expenditures (e.g., where the Department or Services Manager may only be able to approve up to a certain amount of expenses per month, etc.). Under a subscription pricing model, this constraint may disappear entirely; however, in a perpetual licensing scenario, the approval for the solution acquisition may need to be escalated to the attention of the CIO and CFO, etc. Of course, sales of Cloud-based FSM solutions will likely avoid this level of complexity.

  1. “If you know how your customers support their users, you can better understand their solution needs”

This requires a full understanding of how the users’ systems and equipment are being supported, in addition to what specific types, and how many units, of equipment comprise the overall base (again, either on-premise, Cloud-based, or both). For example, a laptop, tablet or mobile device used in a hospital setting, or on the factory floor, etc. may have substantially different service requirements than one used in a retail or hospitality environment.

Equipment used in three-shift cycles in life-critical medical applications requires very different service than the same equipment used in a nine-to-five office shift. The impact of downtime, both scheduled and unscheduled, on process throughput (and revenue stream) is also an important consideration, and should be evaluated primarily on the basis of each type of equipment’s application. These are important considerations that you will need to learn from each prospect.

A full understanding of the ways in which the prospect organization, in turn, supports its customers will also place you at an advantage with respect to showing them that you “get” their business model – and can build a solution that directly meets their – and their customers’ – needs, requirements, preferences  and expectations for service.

  1. “If you understand how your customers are growing, your solution should grow along with them in meeting their evolving needs”

If you are aware of your customer’s plans for growth (i.e., organic, via merger and/or acquisition, etc.), you will be better able to “tailor” your solution specifically to that customer’s needs. By understanding your customers’ plans for growth, along with their anticipated timetables for change, you will be better prepared to gauge the expected impact of those changes on their services model, and suggest an appropriately scalable solution that takes the anticipated growth (or downsizing) into consideration. If you can anticipate these changing needs (and convey your understanding to your prospect), you will find yourself in a much better position to propose a solution that meets their expectations.

As many individual industry services segment are typically characterized by high levels of market growth; technology adoption; and prospects for merger, acquisition and consolidation, you must let your prospects know that you understand their evolving needs for functionality, features and scale, and are able to convey that the solution will scale along with their evolving needs.

As a result, a strong part of the overall sales message should always focus on the scalability aspects of the solution that is, that it can keep up with the expanding needs of the organization – and its customers – over time.

C.  Summary and Conclusions

In summary, the most successful solution providers in 2017 and beyond will be those that:

  • Understand the unique language, terminology and “buzz words” that characterize the segment;
  • Understand both the current and evolving needs of the segment, in general; and for each of their individual customers and prospects, in particular;
  • Are organized and structured to address the unique needs of the segment (i.e., through a segment-specific sales approach, supported by segment-specific sales, marketing and promotional collateral;
  • Are prepared to grow along with, or ahead of, the overall growth of the prospect;
  • Are prepared to “partner” with their customers in order to ensure that all of their services goals and objectives are being met.

The most successful FSM solution providers will be those that can work as partners with their customers – and that partnership must be developed from the initial dealings with the prospect, and carried out through all successive interactions during the course of the entire sales cycle.

The main key to success, however, will be the ability to show your prospects that you truly understand their needs and requirements (i.e., you “get” it), and that you can offer an FSM solution that supports all of their goals, objectives, customer satisfaction and retention, and financial targets.

[To download a complimentary printed version of the full Analysts Take paper (i.e., including the six (6) guidelines for organizing to meet customers’ services needs, requirements, preferences and expectations), please click on the following link: @@@ How to Sell Services to Individual Industry Segments (Draft-17-06-23-01.]

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Leveraging Customer Survey Data Directly into Practical, Tactical Applications

Most business talks about conducting Customer Surveys, but not every one actually conducts them. What is even worse is that too many companies do not really know how to fully leverage their customer survey results into practical, tactical applications. In the first case, it’s mainly an opportunity loss; however, in the second case, it’s a waste of both time and money! However, it’s not that difficult to develop practical, tactical applications from the results of your customer survey initiatives.

Every business, regardless of its type, size or market focus, can benefit from the results of a survey-based research program designed to identify, assess and evaluate its performance in meeting customer needs, requirements, preferences and expectations for the products or services that it sells. These surveys can usually provide valuable data and insight reflecting:

  • Overall market demand, or need, for the company’s products and services;
  • The specific product and service components, both “basic” and “value-added“, that are desired, or preferred, by potential customers;
  • The identification of areas where existing products, services and/or customer service can be improved; and
  • The need for implementing required changes and/or improvements to the organization’s existing service delivery model.

However, in conducting any survey research program, an organization must first ensure that it has established and identified both the appropriate research objectives as well as the proper methodology for carrying out the program. Common research objectives include collecting customer/market data that can be used in the:

  • Identification and assessment of customer needs, requirements, preferences and expectations with respect to the company’s products and services;
  • Identification of the specific features, characteristics and attributes that define the desired products, services and customer support that will meet the market’s overall needs;
  • Identification of customer/market perceptions and opinions with respect to the quality and availability of the products and services they are receiving from their present suppliers (including your organization); and
  • Development of suggested, or recommended, improvements to the existing products and services in order to maximize both new sales and existing customer satisfaction.

The analysis of the findings from this type of market research program can be extremely useful in providing an organization with both a strategic and tactical “roadmap” to:

  1. Modify and enhance its existing product or service lines to address the highest levels of market needs and requirements;
  2. Develop new products and/or services to reflect the most important “value-added” requirements of the market;
  3. Identify and cultivate new target markets based on identified patterns of market decision-making and purchase behavior, product preferences, user characteristics and customer/market perceptions; and
  4. Strengthen the company’s overall product awareness and image, sales and marketing, advertising and promotion, and PR activities through recommended refinements and enhancements based on the study findings.

In this way, the use of customer surveys can be much more valuable than simply for measuring “how well are we doing?”. They can – and should – also be used to identify new business development opportunities in new or emerging markets as well as cross-selling, or up-selling, opportunities within the organization’s existing customer base.

A general method of approach for carrying out a survey-based research program of this nature can generally be accomplished in terms of the following seven tasks:

Task 1 – Initial Liaison and Coordination

  • The first task typically involves the creation of a designated internal project management team to establish team members and key points of contact, identify any existing data resources and work with any outside consultants. Under this task, the project team would coordinate and develop the overall research plan and schedule, checkpoints and milestones, and means for monitoring the ongoing progress of the program.

Task 2 – Internal Management Interviews

  • Task 2 would involve more detailed interviews with designated company customer-facing management and staff with respect to gaining an internal overview of the organization’s goals and objectives; its strengths and weaknesses; perceived service delivery performance, reputation and image; desired market and planning targets; existing problem areas; and opportunities for gaining a more competitive market position through the refinement, improvement and/or expansion of its existing business lines. From these discussions, the project team would gain a full understanding of the internal company perceptions and expectations which could serve as a benchmark from which external (i.e., customers, market prospects) perceptions and expectations can ultimately be identified, compared and evaluated.

Task 3 – Qualitative Interviews with Customers/Prospects

  • As part of this task, a limited number of qualitative, in-depth interviews would be conducted within the existing and/or prospective organization’s customer base. The principal purpose of these interviews would be to determine the potential range of needs and requirements, preferences, perceptions and opinions that the market may have with regard to the company’s existing product and service lines, and to identify the primary issues to be quantified in the large-scale survey of customers/prospects to be conducted as part of Task 4.

Task 4 – Customer/Market Survey

  • Based on the results of the first three tasks, the project team would then develop an overall survey design for a customer/market survey to extend the original qualitative interview phase (Task 3) to a statistically valid quantitative customer/market base. The survey could be conducted electronically and would target the universe of present and prospective customers representing a desired, or targeted, market base. Sufficient responses would be collected from all targeted respondent segments to ensure a statistically valid survey sample. The subsequent analysis of the survey data would then be used to develop specific study findings and strategic implications that would be of direct value in refining, modifying, augmenting and/or expanding the organization’s existing product/service lines.

Task 5 – Strategic Analysis and Findings

  • The fifth task would involve a comprehensive analysis of the full survey results on both an aggregate, and individual vertical and/or horizontal market segmentation basis. This would also take into account the results of the first four tasks and would involve the development of specific study findings and strategic recommendations for action with respect to defining the optimal product/service line features, characteristics and attributes to offer to the marketplace.

Task 6 – Executive Report and Presentation

  • The sixth task would involve the preparation and presentation of the overall study conclusions to company management in terms of a comprehensive report and executive briefing. The report and briefing would focus on the key findings of the overall survey analysis, the strategic market implications resulting from the analysis, and specific recommendations for improving existing levels of customer satisfaction and market penetration.

Task 7- Development of Practical Tactical Applications

  • The final task would take the specific findings from the survey analysis, and translate them directly into practical, tactical applications for improving and expanding existing customer relationships; identifying and cultivating new market opportunities; and rolling out targeted sales and marketing activities using a tactical “roadmap” based in part on the survey results.

The only effective market research programs are those that are well-planned, well thought out, and well executed. By following these steps, your organization will be much better prepared to take full advantage of the practical, tactical applications made available through the execution of a targeted market research program.