We sure tend to give stuff away, don’t we? Systems integrators are good at charging for parts, but not always for their smarts. I find it ironic that that our members are busy trying to figure out how to become more engaged with their clients, yet at every turn that sustained engagement somehow leads to giving away more free advice.
I recently participated in a technology webinar where a member was trying to leverage their position as a primary information resource, but it seemed as if they only managed to teach their customers how to do the technical work themselves. I agreed to be involved but spun the presentation to show why they needed a qualified systems integrator far more than they even imagined. To me this was a very odd strategy as their goal was to sell more parts by giving away their smarts. No offense, but does that really make sense for an integrator?
As you look back on this year and look towards next, be mindful of what things you currently give away in order to keep your customers happy. What does it mean to be engaged with each of your clients? What does that really get you and what does that really cost? Are you providing a service desk but not charging? How about training?
Examine your value proposition. Do your sales engineers extend so much free advice that they essentially design systems for free? Are you providing your clients with direct manufacturer links that have step-by-step video tutorials on installations? Do you disseminate white papers intended for authorized dealers?
You are probably thinking about using social media to be more engaged with clients. If so, will that lead to more business, or you providing more free information? Figure out the business purpose before you head in that direction. Use it to communicate your key messages, build your brand and sell services, but be careful that you don’t use it as an outlet for sharing free advice you should be charging for.
So the logic must be “If we don’t do it for them they will find someone else who will,” right? Maybe, but on the other hand most of your clients appreciate your expertise enough to pay for it, and most would expect to pay for it.
As you look toward 2012, I challenge you to focus on building up your managed services agreements with your clients. It will provide you with a competitive advantage for future business and allow you to be paid for your expertise in the meantime. If that’s not possible try using the block labor sales approach where your customers will get a significant discount for hours billed in advance in exchange for support services.
Don’t get confused between needing to be more connected, engaged or involved with your largest customers and giving away services you should be charging for. Learn from your lawyer how to charge for advice. That profession has mastered this concept. — CW