The basic premise of mass production is that many people can be satisfied with the same solution. Producing one solution exactly the same way many times over lowers its cost and thereby widens its appeal. This principle has been applied to everything from toasters to light bulbs to cars, and can also be applied to small and medium-sized business customers when it comes to simplified IT solutions. Having simplified IT solutions packages makes sales and delivery easy, since customers order from a catalogue with a list of standard configurations and delivery is automated with templates.
Many great solutions can be built for customers. Typically, each solution is custom-crafted for a customer and tailored to their individual needs. This is a time-consuming process and requires highly skilled technical people to deliver the customer's outcomes. Then the custom solution is handed over to the support teams as a unique solution with a unique set of support processes. Selling, implementing and supporting 20 unique customers can take 20 times as much effort as they do with one customer. The key to scaling to larger numbers of customers is having consistency; through consistency and simplified IT, we can ensure that supporting 20 customers is only five times as hard as supporting one customer, and then we have a scalable solution.
Creating a simplified IT solution template to solve common customer problems
What problems do you find yourself solving for customers most often? Most IT solutions companies can probably name five core technologies that every customer wants, plus ten others that most customers want. What happens if you build those technologies into an IT solution that suits the majority of customers? Can you spend some resources on making that solution easy to build and support? If you're going to sell that same solution to a large proportion of your customers, then the investment will reap increasing return over time. Minimizing the time and effort required to deploy the solution to each customer means that the solution is more profitable to deploy or can be deployed at a more competitive price. The challenge here is putting the engineering effort into a repeatable process that satisfies the majority of customer needs; the engineering is an up-front cost and will take some time to return value.
Simplifying the IT sales cycles using a uniform approach
How about the sales process? If you're going to sell the same packaged IT solutions many times, you can invest in a strong and clear message about the value and applicability of the solution and reuse that same message for every sale. IT solutions providers need the services they deliver to look more like a product in order for the sales team to win business. Having a consistent simplified IT service to deliver, particularly with a service catalogue that articulates the value of the services and the differences among the offerings, enables more sales. The biggest challenge is getting the customer to buy the solution with as little variation as possible; this is where careful analysis of the common problems and their solutions will pay off.
Common solutions catalogue creates simplified IT support
Customer support is clearly going to be simpler if we have thoroughly engineered our solution and consistently applied it to a number of customers. Knowing what is installed and how it works makes the support engineer more productive. Only having to document exceptions makes troubleshooting go more quickly. A monthly fixed-price support contract with a simplified IT product configuration means that a lower cost of support translates into a more profitable customer.
Fixed-configuration selling and delivery is definitely different from the conventional made-to-order approach to IT. There will be a transition period and it will take serious commitment up front to make the transition happen. The payoff will come over months and years of profitable support and customers who are happy with the solution they bought.
About the author: Alastair Cooke is a freelance trainer, consultant and blogger specializing in server and desktop virtualization. Known in Australia and New Zealand for the APAC Virtualization Podcast and for regional community events, Cooke was awarded VMware's vExpert status for his 2010 efforts. Follow him on Twitter @DemitasseNZ.