I’m an Alabama football fan and, fortunately for me, we are winning a lot right now. In the past eight years, we’ve won the national title four times and narrowly lost the most recent one. One of the hallmarks of this period of success is the old football cliché that Alabama “played to their strengths.” This is true. In years that we had dominant wide receivers, we threw the ball. In the years we had Heisman trophy-winning running backs, we ran the ball. The coaching staff identified the team’s greatest strengths and implemented them to unmitigated success.
This classic coaching strategy of playing to your strengths is easily applied to your Service Provider business. You have served your customers in many unique and interesting ways that differentiate you from your competitors, but have you ever taken a step back and thought strategically about the solutions that you’re uniquely equipped to deliver? What about solutions you’ve implemented that creatively solved even a very specific customer problem?
Most managed service providers grow their business doing a bunch of “one-off” type of projects. They typically implement a specific solution for one customer and then an entirely different one for another, quite possibly similar, customer. Maybe you delivered a disaster recovery solution for one financial services customer and then a technically different one to another financial services customer. Would either of those solutions have served the other as well? Do you have other customers that could benefit from one of those solutions, maybe with a small amount of customization? Have you ever socialized a success story internally to let everyone know about it? It’s very possible you have a handful of financial services customers that could benefit from one of these disaster recovery solutions, you just need to spread the word internally and build a sales plan around the offering.
At my last job, we sought points of differentiation. We looked for differentiated solutions (did we creatively solve a problem through technology?) and differentiated value (did we creatively drive a business outcome?). Either way, once the point of differentiation was identified, we knew that we had set ourselves apart from the competition and we could build on that solution. From there, we looked to “productize” – taking a unique solution and turning it into a product – for other customers.
To productize our offering, we started by considering things like:
- Did the customer come to you with a truly unique business problem, or was it actually similar to problems that other customers have?
- Was there a regulatory or compliance change that impacted the business that your solution addressed? If so, that same regulatory or compliance change likely impacts others in their industry as well.
- Is there a macro level change in their industry that is driving consumption?
- Was your solution particularly creative in addressing their business problem?
- Was your internal team excited about the solution because it was “cool” or “cutting edge” – and likely differentiated?
When you consider these types of questions, it is important to engage all of your team members, probably in small focus groups, so you can get a broad look into the solutions you have provided. Consider speaking with anybody in your organization that has regular engagement with your customers and all the functional areas: presales, sales, engineering, customer care, et al.
Ask them questions like the ones above and simply record their answers. Odds are good that themes will emerge that you had never considered before. Maybe you have a concentration of expertise in healthcare around electronic medical records or a concentration in community banking. You may learn that you have a disaster recovery/business continuity solution that you have sold across your portfolio, or that you have a unique hybrid solution with one of the public cloud providers.
Once you have engaged the team and discovered what your differentiated solutions are – defined as ones that are better and different than what your competition does – you can begin to build internal success stories around them and look to productize them. While productization is largely an operational exercise, success stories are a way to inform your team of the unique solutions you have done for customers. If you have done a great job with community banks, you need to create a success story on that, socialize it broadly internally, and then build a sales plan to take that solution to every community bank, both customers and prospects. The deeper you go in a specific market, the more differentiated you become, creating an even larger gap between you and your competition. This creates more revenue opportunities, higher profits, and more enterprise value.
So, while you may not be the coach of a college football team, that path to success and yours are largely similar. For your business to grow profitably, you must know your strengths and then you must focus on them. Next week we’ll look at how to take your successes and make them reproducible and predictable. Quite frankly, that’s the hard part!