During the last five years I have guided software implementations at various smaller and bigger, national and international customers. Being the one responsible for the success of the implementation, I have often asked myself the following questions:
What makes some of my implementations more successful than others?
Why are some of my customers easier to satisfy than others?
There is no doubt that a lot can go wrong during the implementation process. A key project team member can get sick and his absence may cause a delay. A third party can make it hard to meet a deadline. The project might start in a busy period when the planning is already full and there is not much flexibility to make quick progress.
However, these challenges do not necessarily need to negatively influence the success of the implementation or the customer satisfaction. There is another explanation I could find throughout the years that I believe is much stronger than the ones mentioned above:
the mindset of the customer influences the success of the implementation.
The more positive the mindset of the customer towards the product and the supplier, the bigger the chance that the implementation will be successful and the customer will be satisfied at the end.
Customers who understand that IT software could have some limitations are easier to satisfy than customers who have expectations that are hard to meet. As a project manager I am able to build a strong relationship with these customers as they trust that I will be open and honest in case anything does not go according to the plan. Even if we have come across some challenges during the implementation process, we have always managed to solve any issues together and to bring the project to a successful end.
On the other hand, I have also had customers who have questioned our relationship since day one. For these customers every single challenge during the implementation process has become a self-fulfilling prophecy of their initial expectation that our company or product is not good enough for them. Customers like these often care mainly about the costs and any extra effort from our side to strengthen the relationship has gone unnoticed.
Let me illustrate this with an example: I have had customers who used to do everything manually and at a certain point decided to switch to a software system. It would have been amazing if the software could magically do their job, so that they wouldn’t have to make a single effort after the implementation. However, the reality is that the software can support your work process but it cannot replace your role in it. For some this might feel like a tough realization.
Attract customers who fit your strategy
While reading Simon Sinek’s bestseller “Start With The Why”, I came across an interesting explanation which in a way supports my personal observation – the position of your customers on the diffusion of innovation curve might influence their fitness to your strategy.
Diffusion of innovation
Image by Jurgen Appelo, Flickr, downloaded 10/2016, https://flic.kr/p/8VBTUM
Some customers might not believe in what you believe in and might be focused only on the costs. It is very difficult, and in many cases even impossible, to satisfy a customer like this. In this instance, no matter how hard you work, you are never good enough for them. If your company’s target is the late majority or the laggards, then you should better focus mainly on the price, so that you can attract the right audience.
However, if you are providing a cutting edge technology or a premium product or service, you might want to think twice before you sign a contract with a laggard.
Why would a company end up attracting the wrong customers?
I believe that either the company’s strategy is not clear to the ones responsible for attracting the customers, or the company’s vision is not clear to the outside world. Or potentially both.
If you think about premium brands such as Apple, BMW or Louis Vuitton, I bet that they don’t attract customers who would go to the store to challenge the quality or haggle the price. These companies have managed to build a strong enough reputation. Most of us know what to expect from them in terms of quality and price.
Whether we agree with the quality and price they have set up for their products is a whole different story. What I am trying to illustrate is that the message these companies are sending to the outside world is clear and it attracts a group of people who identify themselves with these brands.
However, not every company has managed to develop strong corporate identity and some still struggle with their positioning. This results in unclear internal and external communication, which in turn results in sales and customers closing “the wrong” deals.
What I mean by the word “wrong” is that the company has attracted a customer who doesn’t fit its strategy but the same goes for the customer – he/she feels betrayed by having to pay a high price for a product that doesn’t necessarily meet their initial expectations.
I understand that the statement above might come across as a bit black-and-white. Of course, no matter how clear our strategy and how dedicated our efforts to attract the right customers are, we might still close a deal that doesn’t perfectly fit our strategy. Unfortunately, life is not perfect, neither are we.
What I am trying to stress with this article is that the more often we engage in contractual relationship with the right partner, the bigger the chance that both parties will optimally benefit from the deal.
Call to action
On a final note I have the following message for both companies and buyers:
You have a responsibility to be clear in your communication about WHY you are doing whatever you’re doing and how your products and/or services add value to your potential customers.
The more realistic picture you could paint of what the customers will come across during the collaboration, the bigger the chance that the customers will make a well-informed decision.
Before making any buying decision it is important to figure out what is important for you when making a choice on a supplier. Figure out for yourself what is your WHY for choosing a certain supplier and what your expectations are about the product or service in terms of quality, price, ease of use, required time investment.
After all, you are entering a short or long term collaboration with a supplier that you should feel confident about.