It happens all the time. An enterprise buyer wants something. The service provider does not offer that “something”. What ensues varies by company, but generally involves a dance between sales, engineering, product and operations to find a way to make “something” happen. People running with their hair on fire, as timelines are tight, the deal must be won at all costs and no one dares risk worsening the company’s precarious standing with the prospect by going back and having an honest conversation with them. You know, THE conversation about what business problem they’re trying to resolve, why they believe their specific request (as captured by sales) is the right solution and exploring alternative (dare we say, superior) solutions – heaven forbid they walk away from the table. Besides, a really smart sales engineer, who is well versed in the art of the possible, has vetted the solution and says it will work.
Eventually, the deal closes and everybody wins… right? The company earns more revenue, the customer gets what they asked for and sales makes their number. Win-win-win! This practice is so ubiquitous across the industry, it seems everybody has their own name for it: “ICB” (Individual Case Basis), “One-Off”, “Exception”, “Non-Standard Offer”, “Tailored Service”, “Bespoke Offer” and, my favorite euphemism, “Special”. Everyone’s doing it, so therefore, it must be the right thing to do; ten thousand telecom workers can’t be wrong… or can they?
The reason service providers have products comes down to scalability: division of labor, repeatable processes, standardization, economies of learning and scale (motherhood and apple pie). These industrial revolution innovations originated in manufacturing but are just as applicable to communications services. Customers on a non-standard product are susceptible to negative events. Outages and impairments are harder to troubleshoot and restore, adding minutes (or hours) to repair. Standard network maintenance and service upgrades may inadvertently cause an outage for these “special” customers. In short, non-standard implementations are the kryptonite of standard operating procedures.
So, what’s a service provider with a challenging sales target to do? It seems to me we should take a page from the old maxim for whenever your clothes catch fire: Stop, Drop and Roll!
- Stop and have a conversation about the Prospect’s business challenges – and how they are expecting their solution to work. When a client says they want something, they’re generally not prescribing a specific solution. Instead, they are providing a concrete example to get the conversation going. After all, they don’t know your products and solutions, so you need to act as a trusted advisor to help them weigh the pros and cons of each option. It may well be that a standard product will better meet their needs.
- Drop the number of requests considered. Set a high bar for deviating from your standard products. Nonrecurring charges and minimum deal size guardrails are helpful. Let’s face it, some large, complex deals may warrant the higher expense and hidden costs derived from customizing your product. Even if the deal meets the financial entrance criteria to be considered, make sure you’ve exhausted standard solutions before going down this path.
- Roll out “scalable customization”. We’ve come a long way from the days when, to quote Henry Ford, “any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” Develop the necessary systems and processes for non-standard configurations. A rigorous approval process and having clearly documented and readily accessible memory of “as built” configurations are critical, as are appropriate systems guardrails to ensure customer service, maintenance and repair organizations can account for this variability and deliver a positive customer experience long after the folks involved in the deal have moved-on.
Of course, saying “no” may be the right answer. If a prospect truly must have something you don’t offer and they are either too small or the financials don’t support it, resist the urge to win at all costs. Signing a marginally profitable customer and dooming them to a negative customer experience is bad for you and them. It’s a lose-lose-lose. At Ronin Technology Advisors we understand the importance of having transactional and scalable products. You could say we are product people. We’ve helped service providers of all sizes build and launch scalable products, helping contain “specials” to high-value use cases. Give us a call and let’s see how we can help you. firstname.lastname@example.org or 303.678.1844.
by JP González. VP Strategic Marketing