Six Lessons from Hearing Customers Talk about Vision
By John Petronio and Rick Case
A lot of high tech companies think vision is fluff. And they come to that conclusion because their customers won’t outright admit that vision played into their buying decision. However, when we conduct in-depth win/loss interviews, vision comes up almost every time.
We hear buyers saying things like “Yes, we saw their vision statement, and it rang true for us”.
The big tech giants, like IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, and the new-comer Salesforce.com, etc., got to be big by learning how to sell vision.
Did you ever hear someone say, “We can’t beat these guys, even though we’ve got better products”? For better or worse, vision is a major factor in driving the perception of where a company is going, how successful it will be, and how good its products are.
If your competitor has more resources and a better-articulated vision, you can bet that customers will have more confidence in them to create an “even better” product in the future. It’s also true that customers will often overlook product deficiencies if the company has a great vision behind it.
My business partner Rick Case has been performing win/loss interviewing for years, and he shared with me some thoughts about vision. Below are six points from that discussion which will help you understand how to deliver on the right vision:
- Vision completes your product story.
You may have the best technology, but where is it going? Where will your company be in five years when this version of the product is obsolete? If the customer grows, where will you be?
Vision is not a pipe-dream. It is simply a means of connecting your products to the evolution of the market. One slide with a short statement may be all you need to establish your vision. “In five years, superior customer service will depend on social media listening technology to stay ahead of customer issues.”
- If your competitors lack vision, it’s an opportunity to define vision for the market.
Customers looking at vendors in certain markets will say, “No one in this market space is selling vision. It just is not on anyone’s radar.” If a market is so mature that everyone thinks they know where it is heading, then that’s a great opportunity to define the market vision before someone else does. Assert yourself as the thought leader, the trail blazer who is taking the market in a certain direction.
- Make your vision unique to you.
You have to own this vision. It needs to support your unique value proposition. I have talked to customers who say, “A couple of the vendors had roughly the same vision statement. It was nothing I hadn’t heard before.”
The customer really wants to know how you see things and what your role is going to be in the future of the market. “Where are you taking us? Why? And, how will you get us there?“
And, if a vendor doesn’t lay out a vision, we’ll hear comments from customers like, “I just don’t see them being around.”
- Show customers how your vision maps to their
If you have one slide stating your vision, up the ante with a second slide that matches your vision to your customer’s vison. The proper discovery process will help you understand enough about your customer’s challenges and goals to make the vision match their needs.
This is where the tech giants excel. They are very good at using their relationship with the customer to ensure that they can deliver on a vision. They’ll say, “We’ll do everything we can to make the customer successful.”
- Vision does not equal Roadmap.
The product roadmap is one piece of the puzzle. In effect, it is your third slide.
Product Roadmaps show your ability to incrementally advance your products toward your vision, one step at a time. If you’ve shown that you’ve been building toward a vision, and the roadmap is an extension, you’ve just gained credibility.
Err on the side of openness, too.
Without a clear roadmap, customers may get nervous. They may think you lack a strategy. They’ll say “I’m worried about this company because the market is moving so quickly, and they need to adapt. They seem to be falling behind”. Or they may worry that you’re hiding something. “The secrecy tells me something else is going on they don’t want us to know.”
- Use your competitors’ inability to execute to your advantage.
Lastly, when you’re confident about your vision and your ability to execute on it, look at your competitors’ situation. Even though the tech giants are good at projecting vision, they fall far short on their ability to execute on their vision.
I ask customers, “Have you ever looked at the company’s track record? Are they able to execute on their vision?”
What I often hear them say about competitors’ visions is, “Their strategy in this space has been confusing for me,” or “That’s not for us, and probably won’t be a good fit.” Reactions like this can be a gold mine for your competitive messaging.
To sum it up — It is essential that technology companies come up with a true, unique vision on how they’re going to attack the future. Make sure you communicate your vision clearly, and make it work for the customer.