We live in a service economy. People want solutions, not widgets – and Mike says it can be very profitable to sell the all-in answer to people’s problems…
‘We don’t just make widgets, we provide total widget solutions.’ How often have we heard that formula trotted out in the last few years?
The answer, oddly enough, is not as often as we would have liked. Yes, it has become a cliché, but many people we talk to still haven’t really got its message. The unattractiveness of clichés comes from their being obviously right (and thus uninteresting), not from their being absurdly wrong (and thus ludicrous). Why is the obvious rightness of this one still being ignored?
The ‘Technology Trap’ is one possible culprit: the team are so ‘into’ innovation and the exciting products they are developing that they lose interest once the widgets leave the Science Park. Another explanation is that, as with most sage-sounding aphorisms, the hard bit is actually putting it into practice. What the hell is a total widget solution, and how do you deliver it?
Maybe a third reason is that the phrase has become such a cliché that anyone uttering it invites ridicule, being accused of seeking a total thirst solution when they next reach for a glass of water or a total waste solution when they pop out to the loo (or a total bodily fluid level solution when they do either). Okay, the idea was taken too far after that famous ‘Marketing Myopia’ piece set everyone and their dog asking ‘what business are we really in?’, but that does not mean there is no value in it.
If your product does not solve real customer ‘pain’ (or does not provide customers with unexpected delight), then you are doing something wrong. If it does solve pain, you are doing something right – but you can bet the pain is not solved simply by the widgets arriving at the customer’s premises. They will need to be installed, tailored to specific conditions, mastered by the people who are actually going to operate them. The best person to take the customer through these processes is you, the world expert on the product. So do so. Add consultancy.
Of course, you should charge for this. A really radical option is to provide the widgets for cost, or even nothing, and charge only or largely for the consultancy. Why not? This can create more revenue; it leads to the customer actually getting what they need. It can also teach you a lot about their business, including a whole raft of other needs they didn’t mention at the sales meeting (but amazingly you have exactly the solution for. In fact, while our people are here, why don’t they do a temporary fix for you now, and we’ll get the grommets over this afternoon…)
This all sounds obvious, but many businesses are still not doing it. Apparently a huge amount of software is bought, installed, found to be too difficult to operate and ditched. The companies who flogged this software deserve the misery that will undoubtedly overcome them, once they find themselves getting no repeat business and once their once-unique software becomes a cheap commodity. Had they added consultancy to their sell, they would have made more money and would have had friends for life.
Start-ups can benefit hugely from ‘thinking service’ from day one. Outside dotcom dreamland, cash is a major issue for start-ups. If your product or service addresses a real pain, customers will pay for advice and hand-holding, even before the widgets arrive (during which time, of course, you are frantically getting the darned things to actually work). If you still have a few teething problems when they do arrive, you’re already there to work with your customer to get them going. You may even get paid while you’re doing this. And once they’re up and running, keep your customers abreast of the latest developments in the area. Run regular refresher courses for their people. Invite them to seminars. Remember, you are Mr or Ms Widget. Your customers want you to be the experts.
Getting this right begins with that magic question: ‘Where’s the pain?’ If you are addressing a deeply felt need, you will have no problem adding consultancy to your product.