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The Selling of WebSphere

The Selling of WebSphere

Welcome to the inaugural column of "Why They Buy." In this space we'll explore the reasons behind why customers choose WebSphere and why WebSphere sales are made. Making sure that the customer is part of the solution team ensures effective team selling and WebSphere sales. It's not as hard to achieve as it sounds. Hopefully, this column will help you do that.

We’ll look at the role of the technical members of the sales teams, hear from sales representatives from IBM and its business partners, and along the way try to provide helpful tips. But most of all we’re going to try to give you a competitive advantage in selling WebSphere.

In this first installment we’ll look at an overview of some of the basics of selling and assisting a customer in choosing WebSphere. In upcoming columns we’ll look at real-world examples in the form of successful WebSphere sales, and speak with the customers and sales teams to better understand how they work together to create winning solutions. We’ll hear from customers’ first hand on how they view the WebSphere solution and how they measure and realize ROI.

Begin At The Beginning
In this case, the beginning is the fundamental question: why does a customer want to improve their infrastructure? The simple answer is because they want to improve their business, to service their customers better, so the business makes a greater profit. How do they do this? They control costs to be competitive. They’re responsive to their customers. They’re able to adapt to the ever-changing marketplace. How do they do this? They adopt technology that helps them better share information within their own organization and with partners and with suppliers, making the business process more efficient. More efficient usually equals more profit. Often, though, the two goals come into conflict. Implementing new technology can be costly. The decision affects the entire enterprise, not just the IT department. Potential customers must participate in planning, cost analysis, and implementation, bear the hard dollar cost of the technology, plan for support, contend with some business disruptions, and plan for employee retraining.

So how do we bridge the gap between running a cost-efficient business and the cost of new technology? First, we need to make sure whatever new technology is selected works for the whole enterprise, not just for stovepipe operations. Second, it has to be scalable so, as the business grows, the same technology will continue to be the right answer. Third, it must create a better customer experience or business growth will stall, defeating the original purpose of the business improvement. And don’t forget the IT holy grail question: will the technology be able to support today’s business environment as well as tomorrow’s? WebSphere answers all of these questions and more when the sales team and the customer have a shared vision of their business goals.

The Front Line
Before any sale can get to the win/win stage the sales team and the customer first need to get to the yes/yes stage. What’s that? Yes/yes is when the sales team has a clear understanding of the customer’s business goals and plans, while at the same time the customer understands the dimensions and functionality of the proposed solution. So if anyone asks, “Do you understand that?”, whether the question comes from the customer or the sales team, the answer is, “Yes, I do.” Effective communication is the key to a winning sales solution.

It’s always vitally important that the members of the sales team be experts in their areas of responsibility to the team, but it’s equally important that each member be expert in acquiring and understanding the customer’s business goals. It may seem obvious, but very often we human beings miss seeing what’s right in front of us. This sometimes happens in the sales process and that’s when the good deals sometimes slip away. Selling as a team works because each member brings strength to the overall effort. They also bring a unique way of seeing a situation because of the experiences they’ve had. The better the sales team interacts together, the more useful an understanding of the customer you’ll have. The benefit to the team is realized both early on and later in the sales cycle.

What It Isn’t
However, before we get to how to better understand a customer, let’s make sure we know what’s on our side of the equation. What’s WebSphere? What can it do for a customer? How will they benefit? Why should a customer choose WebSphere instead of a competing platform? It’s very important to understand what WebSphere is not.

  • WebSphere isn’t yesterday’s or experimental technology.
  • WebSphere isn’t proprietary technology with limited applications or toolsets.
  • WebSphere isn’t cheesy.
What WebSphere Is
It’s even more important to understand what WebSphere is.
  • WebSphere is an open environment that allows applications to be leveraged by users regardless of their locality or access device.
  • WebSphere is a foundation for building and deploying business processes.
  • WebSphere is a launching pad to deliver personalized user experiences even when scaling to enterprise levels.
Let’s look at what WebSphere is and how the platform fits into the customer’s plans to improve their business processes. Today, many business processes are migrating to the Web because of the tremendous benefits that come from its ubiquitous access and distribution model. The same foundation technologies need to extend themselves to private networks, extra/intranets and the wireless world. This is the e-business transformation.

The e-business transformation is a process that has helped propel many companies to 21st-century success. Both for new economy companies and traditional businesses that have been around for a while, WebSphere is a launching pad for the e-business transformation. E-business is more than just horoscopes or selling stuff on the Web. It’s a method of leveraging technology to create streamlined business processes to improve business cycles. It’s the ability for the enterprise to reach out to its customers and suppliers. It’s also the ability for customers and suppliers to be incorporated into the enterprise. In a nutshell, WebSphere is the vehicle for merging the back office and front office together to create one straight-through process.

WebSphere’s use of open standards provides the platform to create applications and tools that are independent of the user’s method of access. By embracing standards such as SOAP, UDDI, WSDL, XML, and J2EE 1.2, WebSphere becomes an integral part of almost every e-business technology solution. These accepted standards are the foundation for Web services, which offer reliable, e-business processes that can be accessed anywhere, anytime, every time, by everyone. Pretty neat stuff when you stop and think about it.

The ability to leverage open standards enables rapid application development and will later minimize support issues. Whether your customer or their customers or suppliers choose to develop applications in-house or through an application provider, the foundation technologies are the same. There are no compatibility or integration issues. My standard is your standard, which is also someone else’s standard. It almost seems like IT world peace, scary. Open standards also bring a reduction in the costs for the development and support of future initiatives because there will be a deep talent pool to be tapped. It’s very unlikely that there will be a shortage of people with the skills in these areas. A WebSphere customer won’t be locked into a proprietary arrangement where the business is limited by the availability of skilled people. The global e-business transformation is already under way.

Web Services
Web services make it easy for the infrastructure to be extended within the customer organization and out to the world of their customers and suppliers. This is the e-business model at it finest. This practice retains the technology and skill sets that are most likely in place today, while opening the door to the applications and methods of tomorrow. Most organizations have by now started down the open-standards road in one way or another; WebSphere will get them to their destination. There are no ties to applications or tools that can disappear or lose popular support. However, there’s the ability to leverage resources already within the enterprise. This is the first benefit of the transformation to an e-business. Web services based on open standards are what make WebSphere the preeminent environment for positioning an e business to be competitive during today’s fast-changing business cycles.

As the range of access devices proliferates, so will the nature of the applications deployed to them. This flexibility makes the WebSphere infrastructure not only the machine that keeps the business humming but also the one that transforms it into an offensive business tool, allowing your customer to react to business conditions more effectively and quickly. Open standards eliminate the burden of tailoring applications to physical devices, instead linking them to what they should be linked to in the first place: users.

Making the Decision
Why do we need to understand and communicate these fundamentals to a customer? Shouldn’t they know this already? Perhaps they do, but always remember that we each have a unique view of the world. We need to make sure that our customers’ views and ours come from the same perspective. No matter how effective the solution we’re selling, the customer’s decision will be based on a relatively small number of decision points that each carry tremendous weight. The following is a simplified list, but it offers the foundation points of the decision process.

  1. Will it improve and grow the business?
  2. Can the solution be implemented without significant disruption to the business?
  3. Is there a measurable return on investment?
We’ve already explored some of the factors that address the first two points; now let’s look at number three, ROI. This is the key to selling any technology solution in today’s marketplace. It’s a numbers game in the end, where you have to prove value. The days of implementing cutting-edge technology and then figuring out what to do with it are long past. Today we need to demonstrate that new technology investments will directly benefit the business by quickly recouping the initial investment and the after effect will be a long-term foundation to further grow the business.

The value proposition is very straightforward: the cost of maintaining the existing infrastructure versus the increased benefits of implementing WebSphere. This is where having a clear understanding of the customer becomes invaluable. It’s also when the shared vision with the customer is put to the test. The cost of the current environment minus the WebSphere environment should equal increased benefit. Hey, we’re all grown-ups here; go ahead and think profit instead of benefit.

If, during the sales process, the sales team has had meaningful and effective communication with the customer, then there should be an established set of measurable standards to determine the cost of the current infrastructure. There should also be a measurable set of benefits that the WebSphere solution will bring to the customer. These may be a reduction in operating costs for order processing or increased sales due to having a broader or better marketplace. It’s here that a price is put on the custoýer’s vision. If during the fact-gathering process the sales team did a good job understanding the customer’s business goals, this part of the selling and closing process becomes much easier. This is why the customer should be part of the WebSphere solution team. They need to see the situation from the same perspective and through the same lens that the sales team sees the situation. If this happens, then the sale should begin to close by itself. (It’s not that easy; you’ll still have to work at it – sorry to lure you in like that.) Some of this may seem fundamental, but it’s the little things that may separate you from success. Big things will knock you out early in the game and you will move on to the next opportunity. That’s the way things are. It’s having the understanding of the details and your ability to address them that will separate you from your competitors.

Closing the Deal
Very often, and unfortunately, surprises come from both sides during the closing process. The best way to prevent this is to be attentive during the early sales processes. Understand what’s driving the move to a new way of doing business. Understand the decision-making process of your customer. Establish lines of communication at all levels of the organization. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Try to see what they see. This keeps the sales team from presenting a less-than-complete or inaccurate solution while it ensures that the customer won’t introduce eleventh-hour thoughts that can extend the sales cycle. The key is to truly make the customer part of the solutions team. Remember the old saying, “Many hands make for light work.”

When properly engaged, the customer should internally create almost the same ROI model that the sales team creates. Why? You’re all working from the same set of measurable facts. There are no “Well, the way I see it….” conversations. Those conversations can extend, or even worse, derail the sales process. A common understanding will also foster customer loyalty long term, which will mean more sales later on as they continue to leverage the WebSphere platform. In the end you’re pursuing the same goals as your customer but in different ways and for different reasons. You’re both searching for a better way to do business, both looking to discover a more efficient way of doing business, and in the end you both want to increase your productivity – and make a greater profit.

How do we accomplish this lofty goal? Pay attention to each stage of the sales process and be part of it. Listen to your customers. Listen to your teammates. Teams win, individuals just work very hard. Some of this may sound trite or rudimentary, but we overlook simple things every day that affect our business. We’re only human; we’ll make mistakes or forget something, which is why we work as a team. We support one another to make things work. That’s why we should never forget to include our customers on our team. Many hands will make for light, and smart, work.

More Stories By Jim Martin

Jim Martin has worked in the system integration and communications industry for the past 15 years. Working on design and implementation teams, he has been instrumental in deploying Web-based mission-critical systems.

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