The Worst Thing to Tell an Enterprise Customer or Prospect


Two little words is all it takes.   These words can kill a deal quickly.  These words sow fear and doubt into the hearts of existing customers.   The words?  “it depends”.   Those don’t seem so scary do they?   As a consultant these were my go to words when customers demanded an off the cuff answer to a problem.  The fact is any technically gifted developer, dba, or sysadmin knows there are very few certainties and almost never is a magic silver bullet that just fixes issues.   The honest and normally correct answer on how to implement a feature, solve a business problem, or fix something that is broken could easily be “it depends”.  After all, there are a multitude of factors and path that can lead you to a desired outcome.    Take this simple example:  What is the best way to get customers to adopt a new release of your product?   There is no right or wrong answer, there is only different degrees of success.   The engineer in me would ask a litany of questions, for example:

  • What changed?  If these are minor changes maybe a simple email would work.  If this is a major release maybe you need press releases, videos, interviews, personal outreach, etc.
  • What business problems does the new release solve?   Do you have customers who have been asking for these?
  • How does this customer base normally behave? If customers in this industry only consume content a certain way, you need to connect with them where they are comfortable.
  • What is the industry norm? Some industries have different expectations and will consume and deploy updates at different rates, again developing a strategy that meets the customer where they are comfortable is critical.  If you develop software to help with taxes, getting a customer to upgrade during the middle of tax season for instance is probably unrealistic as it introduces too much risk.
  • What internal skills are available?  You may want a video tutorial and some grand announcement, but maybe this skill set or budget is missing.

These are just a few of the questions that you could ask.  Eventually you will get down to a elegant and hopefully optimal answer to solve that specific problem.   This type of narrowing of scope often happens in the pre-sales process.

So what’s the issue?  What’s wrong with “it depends”?  Let’s look at some problems:

  1. Customers want to limit risk:   “It depends” implies that you are inventing a custom solution ( even if you are not ).  This makes them worry about costs, and uncovering issues that now one else has.   Have you ever heard the old phrase  “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.”  This is a rather dated saying, but one with a fascinating history, I won’t go into the history of it here however.  The sentiment of this statement however holds true.   Many corporations want proven vetted solutions, they want their competitors to be the ones blazing the trails and racking up issues & costs.
  2. Customers want to realize value quickly:  “It depends”  implies you need time to choose and analyze the optimal path.  Most larger corporations would prefer having a good enough solution quicker that is showing ROI then a perfect solution that has longer delays.
  3. Customers want simple and easy:  “It depends” has a lot of uncertainty with it.   What will the costs be?  How much effort will it take to manage it?   What does it even look like?   Customers want an easy buying process, an easy deployment process, and easy ongoing maintenance.  Most customers now days are willing to adjust business practices to meet industry and tool best practices.  Don’t believe me?  Look at the growth in the SaaS space.  Most SaaS providers have some customization, but it is limited and most times customers have to adjust to follow core rules.
  4. Your competition:  Customers are being bombarded with options and alternatives.  When given a choice between two vendors one that says “it depends” -vs- one that says “here is the industry leading solution”, the latter generally wins out.

So if “it depends” is often the correct answer, how do you be honest with the customer and get them what they really need without spooking them away?  You need to limit the options before a customer, and distill them down so you have pre-built solutions that will cover 80% of the workloads in the wild.   You want these pre-built solutions to be the blue print and road-map on how others in the industry have used your product to solve their business problems.  Ideally you will codify key variables that will help you chose which pre-built solution meets the customers needs quickly ( for example, having solutions for customers who need industry standard security and those with ultra high security ).  When engaging with the customer, narrow down the choices quickly and keep the discussion open and honest:  ” We have seen a large number of customers in your industry be successful doing it this way.   Of course your business maybe a little unique, so we recommend you start here and adjust over time when you get more experience. “.

Categories: Customer Insight

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