The oft-quoted business adage “people buy from people” might be a cliché, but that doesn’t make it less true. This is particularly the case with small businesses—and even more so in a service-based industry like ours.
In recent years, the commoditization of IT services has led to a significant increase in customer churn. In hindsight, this isn’t too surprising. We’re all effectively selling the same product in the same way (as dictated by our vendors). Additionally, our suppliers are standardizing their product offerings and—in some cases—devising direct business models that allow customers to circumvent middle-tier service providers completely. So it’s much easier now—and less risky—for a customer to move to a different supplier than it ever was before.
You Are the Differentiator
To retain customers, we’re told we should differentiate ourselves from our competitors. As managed services providers (MSPs) and retained consultancies, this could mean a multitude of things—from offering a wide range of services from multiple vendors to custom offerings in the form of automation, or from concentrating on servicing one or two industries to competing on price. These are all worthy considerations—but for smaller businesses, our widely accepted unique selling point (USP) is our people.
To solve our customers’ problems, we need tech—but we also need to be approachable, flexible, straightforward, patient, consistent, and efficient. These are not really characteristics of a company, they are personality traits. Even so, your company often adopts the character of your staff. As a business owner, one of my softer roles involves defining the principles on which the company operates but I still recognize everybody plays a part in creating the culture. All employees represent the business and are responsible for making it stand out.
Sell Solutions, Not Commoditized Services
I deliberately chose the title of this blog because changing the emphasis reveals multiple meanings. Consider “your customers don’t buy what your company sells.” In 16 years of running my own business, I’ve never sold a commoditized service. I’ve sold lots of solutions to problems, but I’ve never called a client and said, “Would you like to buy SolarWinds® Remote Monitoring and Management today?” Instead, I’ve asked them if they’d like to know about potential issues in advance of them causing disruption to their businesses. We are all problem solvers. Perhaps we should amend the adage to “people prefer to deal with people.”
Consider “your clients don’t buy what your company sells.” In my experience, my clients buy from me or from one of my people. A long-standing client and friend told me over coffee many years ago that he didn’t believe any of my customers bought services from Dynacom—they bought services from me as an individual. This can cause issues around scalability, but it doesn’t have to. If your company culture is consistent, customers will soon find a natural balance.
Finally, consider “your customers don’t buy what your company sells.” I may be cynical and naturally suspicious, but I don’t think I’m alone in my dislike of being sold to. In an ideal world, we’d just be in the right place at the right time, in the right conversation about a tricky issue or requirement that we or our potential new client has. Wouldn’t that be a lovely way to gain new business?
I suspect “not doing sales” may be a contentious issue for some readers, and much depends on your ambitions for your business. This is a wider subject for another post but, if you want to grow to a multi-million turnover business in five years, then your approach will be very different to a company growing organically. My point is, there’s nothing inherently wrong with either approach. Either way you choose to grow, it’s important to focus on people—your employees and your customers—over product to get the results you want.
Simon Beckett is the managing director of Dynacom IT Support Ltd, a retained IT consultancy and MSP formed in 2003 and based near London Stansted Airport. Dynacom provides services to small businesses in a range of industries all across the UK.