Sometimes the customer needs you for ongoing services. Sometimes they need something created. And sometimes they need help solving a problem.
When customers are procuring services, they face a lot of intangibles. When companies sell services, their capabilities may only be limited by their ability to hire people to do the work. This creates an environment in which the contractors tend to pursue anything they can and all look the same to the customer. It doesn’t help that most service contractors routinely claim to be “the most experienced” as their primary positioning.
In this environment, positioning is even more important. To win, you need the customer to perceive your company as the best alternative for what they need when considered in the context of the competitive environment. And yet all the companies look the same and hire from the essentially the same labor pools.
Sometimes the customer needs you for ongoing services. Sometimes they need something created. And sometimes they need help solving a problem. In each case, the way you should position your company to win is very different.
Operations, Maintenance, Support, and Other Ongoing Services. The key issues for most customers who need ongoing services are coverage and efficiency. They need you there in the right places, at the right times, with the right qualifications. But they are almost always concerned with cost. And they need you to be responsive when issues come up and flexible as their needs change over time.
They need to be confident that day in and day out you will be compliant with any rules, directives, policies, or procedures that are applicable to their environment. There will be a reason why they don’t just hire their own staff to do the ongoing work, and your positioning should demonstrate awareness of that, because it may represent a goal they are trying to fulfill.
Since the customer lacks tangible specifications, they will usually focus on staff qualifications and experience in order to have something specific to evaluate. Experience needs to be related to customers concerns. For this customer, it might translate into efficiency or risk mitigation. Similarly, with quality, because there is no specific deliverable, it may really be about risk mitigation.
Deliverables. When the customer needs something created, they are highly goal-driven. But their goals are more tangible than they are for customers with ongoing support needs. Whether they are asking for a vendor to create a building, a ship, or a report it’s still tangible. They want it delivered on schedule within budget and meeting all specifications.
For this customer issues are more specific. For example quality and risk mitigation are usually about cost, schedule, or specifications. When the customer has a tangible deliverable in mind, the relevance of experience to what the customer wants delivered becomes more important.
Since this is a goal driven customer, positioning against fulfilling the goal will be as important as (if not more important than) positioning against your ability to deliver. This customer usually has two key issues: what will you create and can they trust you to deliver it as promised? It is very important to make your offering a tangible vision they can trust.
Solutions. Customers with problems to solve or challenges to overcome are curiously often the most risk averse. If they can’t solve it themselves, how can they know that you’ll be able to (let alone do it on schedule and within budget)? They have to trust you a lot in order to select you.
Customers who are procuring solutions are highly goal driven and results focused. Their goal or the reason they need the problem solved may be as important to them as your approach. They want a solution that makes them better off and helps them achieve their goals.
Customers who are procuring solutions tend to be less concerned about the components and more concerned with the results. They may need a wider variety of skills and expertise. They may or may not realize that.
Solution vendors will often have far more expertise than the customer. This is important to remember, because the customer will be conducting the evaluation. Sometimes customers bring in consulting experts to help them perform the evaluation. The customer knows the result they are looking for, just not how to best achieve it. You may need to subtly help them understand how to make their decision.
A customer’s service needs can often be framed as problems to solve. This works to the advantage of companies with strong expertise in many areas or when customers are results focused or lack subject matter expertise. It can also be a pricing strategy.
In most services bids you can position as a provider of:
- Ongoing services or support;
- Deliverables; or
Sometimes this will be obvious based on what the customer is asking for, but sometimes it won’t be. If you are careful and don’t present a mixed message, you may be able to position as more than one.
For example, for a customer procuring training services you might position as a support services provider or as a performance solutions provider. It really depends on the nature of the customer’s needs and goals. However, the way you decide to position can have a major impact on whether the customer selects you.
The different expectations, concerns, and motivations of customers in each of these areas creates an opportunity to present your offering in a way that will make it sound like a better match for their needs, even if it’s essentially the same as what the other vendors are offering.