Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The New Deal

The industry continues to be stressed and challenged. In this environment – a bird in the hand is truly worth many in the bush. From a marketing context, while we remain segment and campaign aligned – the trick is to leverage our competencies to improve deal win probability. If good campaigns are run – the pipeline should be healthy. But pipelines need to convert and the time has now come to bring the marketing engine to the party to make this happen.
Lets take a look at what a Category Manager can do to improve deal winnability. We have begun calling this the “Win Theme Custodian” role.
1. Bid Qualification : Large RFPs land up on our desks for many reasons – not all of them with a view that we are the party who can deliver. Does more the merrier work in large deals ? Not really. A large deal pursuit is not only a significant cost – it also saps organizational energy with high quality professionals dedicating themselves to winning a deal. When a deal comes in, it is important to do some secondary and primary research – including speaking to relevant analysts and influencers to gauge if it is the “real deal” with a fair win chance. Marketing needs to bring market intelligence into play in a bid – no bid decision.
2. Bid Discovery : The better the situation analysis of the clients industry, environment and business performance – the better the chance of hitting the right win theme. This is the stage where the CM should create a bid primer for all involved. The Bid primer should marry primary and secondary research to detail the clients industry, environment, competitive reality and business model. It should create deeper understanding through P&L and balance sheet analysis, news and earnings announcements and investor briefings. The situation analysis should lead to a deep understanding of the client hot buttons, sourcing problem statements and criteria for final provider selection. I cannot downplay the importance of this stage – in a large enough deal, it makes sense to bring in an Analyst / Advisor to help in this activity. The input is now ready to design the win theme.
3. Bid Solution : At this stage, it is critical that a solution team for the deal is in place. The CM and the solutioning team need to go into a brain storm involving the sitanal and study all documents relevant to the deal. All solution components should be put on the table in a holding framework so that there is an overall solution hypothesis and not a jumble of discrete pieces. The CM needs to marry the solution and the hot buttons into a high value win theme for the deal.
4. Bid Response : This is the stage at which output starts going back to the client – in the form of an RFP response etc. This is really the time the custodial part of the role kicks in. Every single output going to the customer – including the exec summary and relevant solution documents; need to be run through the WTC to ensure synergy with the win theme.
5. Bid Engagement : Post response, there are typically some facets of engagement. These may include client visits, bid defence etc. What is interesting at this stage is it offers interaction and an experience for the buyers. The WTC role becomes crucial in thinking through experience “wows” and keeping every element of the experience aligned and value adding to the win theme.
6. Bid Closure : There may be certain things which can be tactically / opportunistically done when the buyer team goes into a huddle to close the decision. At this time the WTC should be on call to provide appropriate responses. More importantly – there must be a communication plan put in place for either eventuality of a win or a loss. Both are opportunities to expand the relationships which would have been formed during the bid lifecycle.Focus on deal conversion is good stuff. It is actually reminiscent of the retailer who focuses more on conversion rather than footfall. This is good strategy – especially in a downturn. If the business engine is a healthy convertor – investment can easily be made at any appropriate time to increase footfall. That my friends, seems to be the new deal.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Mind the Gap : The time for solutions is here

I just finished attending the ITSMA (that’s the IT Services Marketing Association) annual conference in Boston. This was actually the first such event I have attended – in marketing we create and attend a lot of events relevant for the business; we largely tend to ignore those important for us. This was important. Representatives from most leading companies in the industry came together to share learnings and best practices – and the theme that held all of them together was the slowdown and its impact generically on industry and on us as marketers within IT services. However, what fascinates me is a clear thread that seemed to emerge as a response to the current situation – we need solutions like never before. Capabilities, services and labor will cut ice no more.
An interesting CEO study from IBM brought home one important point – customers are facing challenging times; no question. But what CEO’s seem most exercised about is that the gap between existing capability and current challenges is widening at an alarming rate. As a consequence, business model innovation is taking CEO centre stage – but where’s the capability ? With the increasing emphasis on outsourcing vendors being asked to take partner status – clearly the opportunity is ripe for us to use the slowdown to turn inward and build the kind of solutions which will enable gap bridging. However, how to build a quality solution in IT services is clearly a problem to which different firms have different answers – I am now going to attempt to cobble together stuff I heard from various organizations, plus a bit of marketing muse opinion into a possible approach.
1. Identify the Lighthouse : there are a million problems out there – which one do we try and solve ? While there seems to be lots of sources, the overall consensus appears to be Customers. This is a services business and we will not end up with a tangible product to show. We will however, if done properly, end up with a customer who can be referenced. It makes a lot of sense to go to key customers and collaborate – join hands to find key problem areas. Agree on a specific high impact area and agree on a co-investment model. I do not mean co-invest only in monetary terms – it could be basis an agreement on Go to Market responsibilities etc etc. The Lighthouse stage is the one when the solution plan and budgeting needs to be done – simply because we need the customer to agree and contribute to it.
2. Identify Partners : With the lighthouse in the pocket – it is important to play out a partner stage. You can decide not to invoke this – but take a look at it. Typically a services solution will require IP – I believe services firms should focus on IP in the service delivery space. Product related IP is ideally sourced from partners (on a best of breed basis). The plan in stage one should now be rolled out to identified partners and they need to be integrated into the plan. This is give to get – they should put skin in the game as well.
3. Constitute the team : Without the prior two stages this would be impossible. A homogenous team needs to be constituted which should have marketing and solutioning skills – ideally this group should include members from the lighthouse customers and the partners as well. A social networking platform should be put in place – accessible only to this team on which the development should happen. The team needs to clearly articulate timelines, responsibilities, gates and a mutually acceptable interaction schedule. Each interaction should definitely be gated with a positive outcome.
4. Deploy : With the solution getting built out, it needs to go into implementation in the lighthouse. Extraordinary care needs to be taken at this stage – because the customer participation till this point is probably on the IT side. The guys who will now engage in it will typically be from the business side. As a consequence the launch, rollout and management of the solution in the client side needs to be thought through from a benefits based buy in, adequate planning and change management and post go live support. Remember – this is the ultimate proof of concept. Only if it is wildly successful will the next part of the program really happen.
5. Evangelise : Once deploy passes it’s planned gates, that’s when the solution should emerge from the Product Development (PD) box and get into the Business Development (BD) box. The first part of the BD process has to be pre-position. Even before the sales guys hear about it, which definitely means before the customer hears about it ; something needs to be done to set up the market in a way that it will believe it when it comes out. Significant engagement with analysts to bounce hypotheses etc is one good way of doing this. The core team needs to deliver a set of people who will act as the evangelists and start engaging with influencers, customers (through Advisory councils and such like) , consultants and anybody else who can have the dual impact of sharpening the solution as well as impacting pre-position in the market as a whole.
6. Commercialise : The good thing about a well done evangelise stage is that the E-Team will have built an extremely good understanding of the value the solution can offer. This is the time the finance team needs to be brought in and work needs to commence on finding one or many (context specific) commercial models with which the solution can be taken to the market. In many services solutions – the key source of competitive advantage can get built here. The point to remember at this stage is – if the solution is new, a number of assumptions and hypotheses will go into commercializing it. The team needs a commercial director at this stage whose role will be to construct the deals that come along – as well as to monitor impact and outcome to build a learning curve into the solution commercials.
7. Sales Excellence : Solutions selling is not easy. This is the stage which can derail the solution completely – if the sales team is unable to articulate it, find the right customers or negotiate the deal. This is the time to go back to step 1 – unearth the sales team responsible for the lighthouse and build them into the process of making the solution palatable to the rest of sales. Key components that need to be built in are Collateral, Training, Reference Management , Playbooks, qualification processes, sales analytics (therefore systems and data), incentives and very high quality pre sales support. There is absolutely no point generating a marketing campaign around a new solution without going through this stage.
8. Collaborative Improvement : The original networking platform which began with the core group now needs to expand to the larger universe of people who are now engaged (including all sales). This platform will now require dedicated management so that enough discussion and sharing starts on it for capturing areas for improvement.
9. Marketing Campaign : Finally we are ready to spend some big bucks on a high impact campaign. I have written extensively about how campaigns need to be put together so I will not repeat this. However, segmentation and targeting will become of enormous importance in the solutions world. If the partner stage was invoked it makes sense to bring the partners into the campaign as well.
10. Centre of Excellence : Having done all of the above – chances are the business has started moving. It is now time to make the provision of the solution effortless and sustainable. Setting up a COE which will now drive this solution and its derivatives can ensure both continuous improvement as well as legs to run for a long time.
The big question – who is going to do all this. My opinion – marketing is the only unit which can cut across as many silos as the 10 steps require; and has to drive and program manage this whole effort. As a consequence, it is clearly time to get a robust New Service Introduction team into the marketing force. If we mind the gap well enough – the gap itself becomes opportunity.