Ask_Alex

Ask Alex Part 2: Creating a Customer-Centric Organization

Alex Jauch is a Group Product Manager for VMware Cloud on AWS. In this six-part series, he answers your burning questions about enterprise public cloud.

In part two, he’ll answer the question: “How do I make my internal customers happy?”

As we have discussed in past blog posts, it is the business model transition from traditional IT to the cloud that is the most difficult part of our journey to the cloud. If we are to become true service providers to our internal customers, we must understand our customers in a way that we have never understood them before. In the end, it is the customer-centric IT organization that will thrive in the cloud era.

Our first question is; who are our customers?

For many IT infrastructure programs, the target customer is the business unit IT administrator. However, the ultimate power of the pocketbook may not reside there. Just like toys are marketed to parents as much as to children, the actual consumer of the cloud infrastructure will most likely not be the business unit IT folks, but rather their end customer within the business. This implies that we have a very indirect value proposition, which is always tricky to pull off. Intel has done a great job of this over the years with their “Intel inside” program. Others haven’t done so well. You didn’t think you’d be planning marketing campaigns when you became an IT person? Well, think again.

SUGGESTION: Your customer is anyone in the company directly involved in making money for the company. Full stop.

Once you understand who exactly you’re selling TO, you need to understand WHAT it is you are trying to sell them. Understanding what you’re selling can be trickier than it seems. This is the difference between wholesale and retail. In the wholesale business, you sell to professionals. In the IT world, when I sell a SAN, or a Private Cloud to a well-run IT shop, we really focus on the bits and bytes. How does it work and how much will it cost. On the other hand, if you are selling to a business leader or an end user, these things are less important. Consumer electronics firms like Apple understand this. Apple products do not focus on the HOW but rather the WHAT. Steve Jobs was famous for saying that Apple products are “magical” and for being very short on details. This can frustrate a professional engineer but is exactly right for a consumer audience.

The reality is that retail customers don’t buy features or products. They buy solutions. If I have a business pain, how do I make that go away? For cloud, the selling proposition usually goes like this: “If you deploy our cloud solution, you will be able to help your internal customers deploy applications and solutions faster at a lower cost point than traditional solutions.” Sound familiar? However, the goal of the IT organization is not to sell their internal private cloud product to other IT people. Usually the key audience is internal business users or perhaps business unit IT leadership. Those folks must sign off on the budget you are hoping to capture. Even if you are not doing charge-back you need to act as if you are. In the end, budget will need to be procured. Nothing simplifies the budget process like other departments screaming for your services, I can assure you.

SUGGESTION: You are selling business agility, safety and reduced cost. Something like this: “We enable your business.”

And the next question: What are the typical objections that your customers will have?

Whenever you are selling something, you need to provide value. However, you need to accept that you have competitors. Your customers can go elsewhere. You need to understand that and understand why and how those competitive decisions are made. In the old days, you could simply declare something to be non-standard and the business couldn’t do it. We were the gatekeepers and that was that. I think that era is pretty much over. If a business unit wants to do something bad enough, they’re going to do it. Only a very strong CIO will prevent that. Personally, I don’t subscribe to that type of IT policy. You should be able to win internally 99% of the time without resorting to heavy handed tactics like that.

You have home field advantage; you should understand their business far better than any outside agency. You have their best interests at heart with no question about motives or long term goals. You don’t have to make a profit. In the consulting business, we referred to this position as a “trusted advisor” state. We always sought to become the customer’s “trusted advisor.” It is the same in IT. Your goal is to be the trusted advisor, helping them achieve their business goals. To do this, you must understand what they like about your service, but probably more importantly, understand what they dislike. I am always interested in customer feedback, but I spend even more time on feedback from someone who DIDN’T choose my solution. What didn’t they like about it? What did they like about my competitor? What can I realistically do differently?

Here’s a quick test you can take in the privacy of your office or cube. Take a look at the list below and see which statements most closely describe your organization: the ones on the left or the ones on the right.

If you have more than four check marks on the left, you may want to consider your organizational focus prior to starting any cloud initiative. It will be difficult to deliver a customer centric initiative like cloud without a customer centric IT organization to back it up.

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