Solution Providers – How Do You Win Over Cynical Buyers and Analysts?

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[This piece was originally published on 8/10/12 by Thomas Kase.]

This is the first piece in a series aimed to help you, the solution provider, make your time with analysts and buyers more productive.

Life as a solution provider isn't easy. Not only do you have to be well prepared, know your client's needs, and your own solution and capabilities. You also must be ready to deal with the unpredictability of internet connections and other technical blowups waiting to happen during demos. Then there are the vagaries of some buyers and their spur of the moment ideas to create "gotcha!" moments to either fail you or to create bargaining leverage. Yes, I wasn't always an analyst: I have spent a good number of years on the solution provider side, so I feel your pain when your demo doesn't go as planned.

Many of us at Spend Matters have provider and/or buyer backgrounds. This gives us an edge in penetrating the marketing fog to cut to the core of what is being shown. It also gives us a sense of compassion when we engage with vendors – so when you're working with us, you can let your guard down. We're not in business to trip you up; after all, we've also been caught by Murphy and his Law. Without further ado, here are a few suggestions from those who, if we haven't seen it all, have at least seen enough:

No Magical Mystery Tours – that might work in music, but don't keep us away from the meat! An anecdote from the days when I briefly worked with a master fundraiser (with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps charlatan would be more accurate?) Anyway, he was scarily effective at convincing investors across the country to pour money into his venture. I still remember how he summed up his view of how the initial website should inspire people with "promises of future things to come" – a brilliant triple fluffery phrase that holds up to scrutiny like spun sugar to a downpour in Atlanta. It certainly didn't stop him from raising a lot of money though. That dog don't hunt no more, so don't go down this path – not with analysts, nor with buyers. Fewer PowerPoint decks (please), more of the actual solution, and be prepared to quickly switch from Intro 101 to postgrad material depending on where the discussion is going.

Save the snow for Christmas – (disclaimer: as an analyst, as well as someone who has crafted sales and marketing documents throughout my working life, I have probably seen more than my fair share of PR bluster, so go ahead and call me a cynic if you like.) However, here's the catch. All the buyers and executives out there have been exposed to at least as much hyperbole as I have, so why do solution providers use so much of it?

"We are the world's leading global provider of award-winning, best-in-class solutions for multi-national organizations..."

Ouch! I doubt there's even a single junior buyer out there that would say, "WOAH, these guys sound amazing!" based on this lead-in. If companies at least said a leading as opposed to the leading provider, my jadedness wouldn't engage as strongly. Does the above sound like your pitch? Trust me, take a gander at any software firm's site and you'll see combinations of these words. Is there an evil PR firm out there that has managed to seed all software companies with the exact same pitch!? Why are companies wasting precious space (and reader time) conveying platitudes? Why not dive into what truly is unique? This is what analysts and savvy buyers want to know. If you have been in business for 5-10 years, and you have a solid double-digit Fortune 500 clientele, I assume you have the basics taken care of. So let's move on to differentiators.

Interruptions are opportunities – during company briefings and especially technology demos, I often interrupt presenters (my apologies to all, in advance and after the fact) ideally because what is being presented is so fascinating and novel that I just have to talk about it in my own words to make sure I have understood. Or, conversely, I have to tell the presenter to cut to the chase and go beyond trivial basics and focus on differentiators. Sadly, the latter is more common than the former. Even firms that I know have great features still manage to bury these in humdrum presentations built around a vague or ill thought-through use case. So, learn to tell the difference, and use it to your advantage. By the way, unless you're pitching to a large audience, I would be concerned as a presenter if there were no interruptions. It's a sign of disinterest.

The great pitch – so what makes for a great pitch, you ask? This is bound to get personal, and this is my favorite: a solid use case. This drives great solution development as much as it provides an outstanding foundation for a compelling presentation. It tells me a lot about you as a company, not just how you run your sales and demo process. Please don't gild the lily – i.e. don't throw in side features that are mutually exclusive to what is in your main presentation, or otherwise painfully detached from the context at hand. Once you've seen more than a few demos, it is far better to be shown a tight solution to a specific business issue, than three half-baked approaches to addressing an imaginary problem. (Yes, I contradict myself a little here if you read the passage about interruptions, but that's life). Keep it tight. This shows that you have successfully delivered for someone else. Even if the exact details aren't geared specifically to my needs, it shows that you are competent at what matters, execution. Ultimately this leaves the viewer wanting to see more (and that's all you can ask for in a first demo).

Until the next time – shoot me some ideas around what you would like me to cover in the next piece. Perhaps there's something you're curious about, but haven't gotten around to asking.

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- Thomas Kase

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