21 October 2016

What customers really want… vendor imperatives for the Application Economy

A blog by Paul Donoghue-Parker, Extra Technology’s Senior Account Manager.

What are the top-of-mind concerns for customer organisations when dealing with technology vendors and suppliers? At Extra Technology, we pride ourselves on building and maintaining close relationships with our customers. Here’s what we’re hearing from them.

  1. Listen carefully to our needs, and tailor your proposals to include only what’s relevant

    Nobody likes to feel their requests are falling on deaf ears.

    In my career in sales before Extra Technology, I’ve seen deals lost from winning positions and relationships soured because the vendor pushed their own agenda, rather than present what the customer wanted. Customers are happy for us to make recommendations along the way and try to extol the benefits of the latest software upgrade or feature function but don’t want to listen to the latest unmodified pitch if doesn’t hit the brief.

    If we fail to listen to what the customer actually wants, then we are failing the customer and should expect to lose them.

  2. Keep it simple

    Customers hate confusion as much as anyone. Keeping a proposal simple makes it easier for the customer to understand and helps ensure that they fully appreciate exactly what they are committing to. I’ve found that when preparing proposals, which often include software licensing, the simpler you can keep it the better.

    As vendors, we have to remember that it’s not just senior IT management that needs to understand the licensing model, but also vendor management/procurement. A simple licensing model - clearly detailing what is being purchased and how much it will cost - avoids confusion and potential unexpected costs down the road. Many organisations have had nasty surprises in the form of cost time-bombs from technology vendors, and are understandably wary of repetition.

    An example from the Workload Automation space; CA Technologies base their WA maintenance renewal costs on the number of server and agent licenses – simple, transparent and predictable – while competitors base theirs on numbers of jobs, which results in low initial costs, but rapidly spiralling future renewals with resultant budget issues.

  3. Time is precious

    Senior management in customer organisations are often time-poor, so it’s the duty of vendors and suppliers to make the optimal use of this scant resource, keeping meetings to a minimum and strictly to the point, and ensuring they’re planned in advance.

    Agreeing on an agenda prior to the meeting should be a given. That way everyone knows what to expect and it also ensures the meeting stays on topic. In addition, it helps keep the vendor’s mind focused on discussing what is really important and of interest to the customer, and makes sure the right people are in the room. Senior managers hate being involved if the meeting is not aimed at them and they add no real value.

  4. No surprises, please

    Nobody likes surprises, especially if it ends up costing a customer money. Customers have a right to expect vendors and suppliers to have a minimum professional level of organisation, as a key prerequisite to maintaining a healthy and productive relationship.

    Thus, when software renewals are due, a customer should have a right to expect 2-3 months’ notice to allow them time to confirm the current usage level (thus ensuring the entire estate is captured) and to avoid any awkward budgeting conversations. Plus – as detailed above – simplicity and predictability in assessing the base for renewal costs.

    Tales from the bleeding edge include vendors announcing the need to renew with a week of the current agreement left – clearly bad practice - which either forces the customer’s hand, leaving a bad taste in their mouth or runs the risk of exposing the customer to unsupported software. Not a happy place for the customer or the vendor and not a foundation for a harmonious future relationship.

  5. Keep in touch

    Customers appreciate vendors and suppliers who stay in touch on a regular basis, even if there is no current project running. If there is an ongoing project, regular calls/meetings with the key stakeholders are expected and appreciated, but these naturally progress from weekly to every other week to eventually ten-minute calls can be enough to ensure everyone is brought up to speed and on track.

    A pet customer hate is vendors moving meetings frequently unless requested by the customer, or absolutely necessary. Moving meetings can confuse and complicate people’s diaries, and as observed above, senior managers are often time-poor.

    Worse still, it sometimes gives the customer the impression that their meeting wasn’t important enough or has been superseded. Vendors would do well to remember a famous finding from a J&J survey in the 2000s into reasons for customers changing vendors or suppliers - reason number one was a perceived attitude of indifference.

    Finally, customers expect and appreciate the vendor taking minutes and circulating them at the end of the meeting. These are seen as essential - not just for documenting the meeting, but also for ensuring everyone has understood and agrees what has been discussed.

Paul Donoghue-Parker

Paul Donoghue-Parker is Extra Technology's Senior Account Manager and leads the Sales Team.

Paul has extensive senior management experience, ensuring customer satisfaction for multi-million-pound accounts. Paul manages Extra Technology key accounts including global financial services companies, large manufacturing companies and some of the UK's biggest retailers.

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