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Why customers, not technology, are the most disruptive change in IT

Posted on Nov 30, 2015

The most disruptive thing in the technology market today is not technology, it’s the customer. In this changing environment, smart providers are following the customer, joining them on their journey — not imposing an outdated sales process onto them.

Now, I get a lot of assent to these concepts. The tech providers I speak with on a daily basis confirm they do sense that buyers are coming to them later in the buying journey, better informed having been around the block a few times with advisors, analyst, peers and others before ever engaging with a provider sales person.

However, I hear fewer stories about significant change in the sales process.

So, when I heard Scott Osborne, CEO of Total Synergy, announce at Microsoft’s Australian Partner conference earlier this year that he’d reoriented his team from four sellers and one marketer to four marketers and one seller and ramped up his sales growth, he had me (and everyone else there) hanging off his lip. I had to hear more, so Scott kindly agreed to meet up with me, with his Corporate Communications Manager, Jamie Millar.

Total Synergy provides practice management software for a select target market: architects and engineers. Scott described how he and his team were experiencing exactly the changes we’d described in the buying cycle. They were finding that prospects were engaging with them late — leaving the folks at Total Synergy with the feeling that they were there just to be price shopped against. After attending a conference presentation on the changing buyer journey, Scott realised it wasn’t just them experiencing this — it was everybody.

“There is a lot of work done by a buyer well before they engage with sales reps”, Scott remembers, “It was hard to believe, because at that time we had a big sales force and they were plugging away”. At about the same time, they also realised that traditional “push” sales behaviours were not in line with their customers’ expectations, and were not building the trusted brand they were working to develop in their highly specialised market segment. Rather than amplifying old behaviours, Scott made the decision to, as he put it, “fix the funnel” and adapt to the new buyer journey.

To realize this change, Total Synergy had to take a detailed look at the buying journey of their customers. In their market, improving the customer experience they realised they would need to provide content that would render them “find-able” and relevant during the earlier previously ‘invisible’ part of their buyers’ journeys. Scott was keen to stress that while this has resulted in an organizational change in their mix of sales and marketing people, this is a reflection of the real change: a shift from investing in selling to investing in their brand (trust) and in the customer experience.

Scott and Jamie offered some words to the wise, for those looking to make changes:

  • You need to bring your staff along this journey, too. It’s a full scale cultural change.
  • Don’t contribute to the noise. Particularly when seeking to engage with content, Scott and Jamie firmly advocate for quality content over quantity.
  • Don’t cut corners. From a financial perspective, Total Synergy’s sales and marketing costs are still the same, but are driving much improved outcomes.

So down the track, what are these improved outcomes? Scott cited to me better client retention, higher levels of engagement and usage of their product in their client firms.  Most significantly, however, they are winning new business, faster – having reduced the sales cycle down from around 140 days on average to around 45.

Scott believes it has enabled Total Synergy to differentiate from its competitors who are still doing sales and marketing the old way.

This is not simply a story of marketing being more valuable than sales — I like the extreme flip because to me it’s a vivid illustration of the flip that needs to occur in our concept of sales and marketing. In future posts I will scrutinise what is actually happening in the buying process and how Total Synergy (and other providers) are using their new approach to change the way they engage with existing customers.

Derry Finkeldey is a research director at Gartner. She recently spoke on “The Future of IT Sales: The customer now leads the sales process” at the Gartner Asia Pacific Symposium, Gold Coast, Australia.