There is no cookie cutter approach to managed services, that’s why it’s important to hone your team’s listening skills.
Are you a good listener? Or do you just do what you think will do the job?
“We are really good listeners,” affirmed Ken Knight, director of technology sales and strategy at DOCUmation, a large, multilocation dealership serving much of Texas that has developed a successful managed IT services operation. Knight said listening is vital because every customer’s needs are different, sometimes quite subtly. “There is absolutely no cookie-cutter approach for managed IT services,” he emphasized.
For DOCUmation, there can’t be: The company offers a broad range of services to customers in finance, education, construction, and other key vertical markets. There are standardized products in the mix, but all are fine-tuned to address specific customer requirements.
Listening to customers talk about those requirements begins when a customer voices a need for managed IT. The conversation can go on for weeks, followed by installation and training.
“We know customers have different concerns and goals, so we learn about those,” said Knight. “Some may be trying to reduce risk, others may be in major growth phases and want better control of their operations, another may be having communications issues. We listen, learn all we can, and create a managed IT solution that matches the concerns they are trying to address.”
Knight notes that every company has its own idea of what managed IT should be in the context of their business.
“Listening to and understanding a customer’s requirements helps us take a more proactive approach to fitting our offerings—hardware, software, and implementation services—that will best fit their needs,” said Knight. “This shows that we care about them and that we are not just providing a one-size-fits-all approach.”
Such customization stands out in a world where so many technological products and services are offered as a take-it-or-leave-it option. A customized approach is exactly right for managed IT because every business’s needs change over time. Routinely assessing your customer’s needs on an ongoing basis, even in casual conversations, can alert you or your sales and service teams to issues that can be addressed before they become problems. To be prepared for this flow of information, copier-printer salespeople and service techs should be at least conversationally aware of IT issues so they can alert your managed IT team to contact the customer and address the concern. This makes your entire team a more valued resource and increases your company’s proactive stance in addressing potential trouble spots.
Then, There’s Not Listening
Coming from a company that has listening baked into the DNA of its sales and support teams, it was somewhat surprising to hear that not listening was the biggest “gotcha” in managed IT. While not shocking given the complexity of the topic, it can still be easy to lose the thread of managed IT in the mix of a customer’s day-to-day challenges. As Knight noted earlier, every customer has a different set of challenges, and each one is important to a particular customer. So, listening all the time, even about seemingly minor items, is important.
“We have sales meetings and training sessions every week, including training done by vendors, so both salespeople and IT techs are armed with information they need to improve the customer experience we offer,” said Knight.
Managed IT as a Core Competency
One of the more interesting things Knight said in our Zoom call was that DOCUmation considers managed services as one of the company’s “core competencies,” which include solutions and systems for scanning, copying, printing, and software services.
“Providing managed services lets DOCUmation add value to its other cores,” observed Knight.
Including managed IT as a core competency ties your other offerings together in a more coordinated and streamlined way than merely sharing Microsoft Office documents on a common server. This enables a dealer to become a much deeper, broader, and more integrated resource than by offering a few capabilities on an à-la-carte basis and calling it managed IT. This also requires you to continually learn more about customer needs and their hoped-for business outcomes.
Needs Border on Desire
“A complaint is often a desire and the biggest failure is not listening,” observed Knight.
Customer complaints sometimes come in the form of comments and may not be overt. They can be along the lines of: Things are working fine. We’ve had some issues with “fill-in-the-blank,” but otherwise it’s OK. An astute listener will pick up on what might be falling through the cracks, hopefully, ask a couple of questions, and pass the info gained to your IT support people. Then, your team has the opportunity to look like magicians. Nothing wrong with that.
Sometimes, it is not so much that something is wrong, but merely that the customer’s world would be a better place if some small part of it worked differently. When you do that, you deepen the trust and sense of partnership between your dealership and a customer.
The upshot here is that salespeople and technicians alike should be able to walk away from conversations with a customer knowing about an opportunity that may not be fully satisfied. These could be upcoming opportunities the customer sees or problems they are having. If these are something for which you have an answer, it’s time to roll it out and become a hero.
This goes hand in hand with another key characteristic: talent.
“Talent and skill are the best ways we can provide a positive outcome for our customers,” said Knight.
DOCUmation’s salespeople are sufficiently tech-savvy to both initiate and close managed IT sales, but the process invariably includes members of the IT team to ensure a customer’s requirements are fully understood.
This ties into the core competencies mentioned above and understanding how they all link together as a bespoke set of services created for each customer.
Any dealer who has considered adding managed IT may have thought it better to wait until the technology settles down. Guess what? That is not going to happen. It’s no different from your cell phone, your computer software, the changes in the copiers and printers you sell, or the way the touchscreen in your car works. You cannot just lock and load on whatever seems good this week because in a few months it will be past its use-by date. Embrace change and put it to work for you and your customers.
“We are in constant evaluation mode of the solutions we provide our customers, what they care about, and the manufacturers we partner with,” affirmed Knight. “The pace of technological change is one of the reasons we listen so closely to customers on an ongoing basis. Listening also helps us retool, search out, and bring forth new or improved solutions that we might miss if we weren’t listening.”
You Can Do This
Selling and supporting managed IT should not be undertaken without careful planning and a strategy for making it work for every customer that asks for your support. Key to DOCUmation’s success is how it has integrated managed IT into all its offerings and hired people who will listen to and understand customers’ needs, goals, and business objectives. Moreover, the company has educated its people about what works and why it is important for customers, and it is continually raising the bar on what it delivers.
You can do the same. Begin with asking customers what is keeping them up at night, or at least what customers are saying would make their world a better place.
Remember, a complaint or a need may really be a desire. Are there solutions you can offer, perhaps by working with a vendor or three? It’s important to remember that the right solution will always vary based on customer need, so understanding each customer’s needs and wish list is crucial. Ask questions, listen, then find the answers and create a strategy for delivery and support. Do it all once. Repeat. And never stop listening or asking questions.
Access Related Content