GUEST POST from Geoffrey A. Moore
In a downturn, everyone has to prioritize. For sales prospects, this means funding their most pressing needs first. For vendors who want to thrive, it means focusing on offers that match those needs, marketing that speaks to those needs, and sales coverage that is targeted specifically at winning those deals. And the key to winning is to deliver the whole product.
The whole product, as Ted Levitt taught us a generation ago, is the complete set of products and services needed to fulfill the compelling reason to buy for the target customer. In normal times, it is often OK to deliver most of the whole product, as either the customer or a channel partner will likely have resources and motive to fill in the rest. But in a downturn, not only are budgets scarce, so is expertise. Moreover, in a downturn, it is more critical than ever to deliver 100% on the promised outcome, as the customer is counting on that ROI to make their plans work.
Creating a bill of materials for your whole product is a straight exercise in design thinking. Just put yourself in the shoes of your target customer, get the compelling reason to buy square in your sights, and figure out what you would need to take that problem completely off the table. Once you have a draft, then test drive it with friendly prospects and let them show you all the things you missed. Take that input back to the team and construct a go-to-market offer that fills the bill, with every need taken care of. That’s what’s going to differentiate you from the competition. That’s what’s going to get you not only the sale but a radiating customer reference. That’s what’s going to let you thrive in a downturn.
Start-ups have an inherent advantage here over established enterprises because for them a single whole product focused on a single target market with an urgent use case is enough to get them across the chasm and into the mainstream market as a viable long-term player. But product managers in established enterprises can orchestrate the same play if they can garner executive support. The trick is to get the product team to prioritize some slightly off-road-map features, the service team to create a small corps of use-case experts, and the go-to-market team to field a dedicated target market initiative. The resources are always there to do this, but the inertial momentum of large enterprises works against such tightly focused efforts—hence the advantage to start-ups.
Whole product delivery has been greatly advanced by two seminal developments in the software world in this century. The first is the SaaS business model, especially when augmented by managed services. This transfers a large portion of success responsibility from the customer to the vendor. The second is the emergence of telemetry data processed by AI and ML. This allows service providers to get better and better at delivering customer success.
One company I am on the board of illustrates these advantages to a T. WorkFusion, experts in Intelligent Robotic Automation, no longer offer high-tech projects to early adopting visionaries. Instead, they supply digital workers to financial services companies needing to staff their regulatory compliance functions in a time of staff attrition (the job really is not that much fun) and high demand (the crooks are out in force). The point is, their digital workers do not just automate a task—they act like real colleagues who do the work and deliver the needed results. You can fund them out of the IT budget, of course, but you can also fund them out of your HR headcount (and they are a lot cheaper, don’t mind coming to the office, and actually appear to enjoy their work—certainly the people that program them do).
The key takeaway here is that downturns create new, pressing needs that prospects will prioritize over their traditional budget spend. These are problems that are both urgent and important—real threats that need to be addressed quickly and efficiently. To thrive in a downturn, you need to detect these opportunities quickly and pivot to meet them head on and let the other chips fall where they may.
That’s what I think. What do you think?
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