The Marketing Strategist:

How Providers Can Help Customers with Their Business Cases

August 10, 2010

Ask B2B buyers how providers can help them develop their business cases for new services and solutions and the answer is usually clear and concise: They can’t. The problem is that buyers see a yawning chasm between what providers know about their solutions and what they know about their customers’ businesses. But providers know more than buyers may think. And providers have valuable input to give to buyers trying to make a business case for a solution. As long as buyers will accept it. There are different levels of participation that providers can have in the business case—everything from constructing the whole ball of wax for them to getting shut out of the process entirely. Providers that contribute to business case development have an advantage over those that don’t. ITSMA research has shown how important it is for customers to be able to measure their solutions’ value. In fact, almost all customers are required to make a business case for and validate a solution’s value before they receive approval for buying it. Business cases are sometimes developed during the epiphany stage of the buying process, long before buyers have formulated their RFPs. Helping buyers with business cases at this early stage could boost you onto the short list of contenders for the deal, or even give you preferred provider status. Rejection Is Natural Buyers’ natural reaction is to reject our help. Our real problem, though, is that we accept that rejection at face value. We should understand that at least some of that rejection has to do with buyers and not with us. It’s part of human nature to think that we are unique and special. It helps us get through the day. We apply that same perception to our organizations. How many times have you heard customers say, “Yes, I know we have 12 competitors that do roughly the same thing as us, but we’re unique.” It’s also human nature, given our tribal backgrounds, to mistrust outsiders. Acknowledging that providers may already know more about their businesses than buyers think causes the same kind of discomfort as when a complete stranger approaches us already knowing our name. Customers are highly skeptical of providers’ claims, and they don’t necessarily want to collaborate with solutions providers to measure or document value delivered. So how can we break into the business case development process? Here are some ideas to consider:
  • Realize that not all business cases are alike. Although ITSMA research has shown that the vast majority of buyers are required to provide some kind of formal justification for purchasing a solution, sometimes those decisions are made based on the solution’s features and functions rather than on hard ROI numbers. Providers can offer evidence of the benefits of those features and functions with detailed case studies of customers in similar situations.Furthermore, companies frequently implement solutions to comply with regulatory changes, such as Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX); increase the company’s level of security; or support the company’s strategic direction. In these cases, ROI is often irrelevant. ’The features and functions are what allow a company to comply with SOX, increase security, or achieve sustainable competitive advantages that are important. In this case, providers can offer thought leadership on regulatory compliance to support the case.
  • Build evidence for soft benefits. Many customers in our research look at soft metrics when building a business case and measuring a solution’s benefits, things like customer and employee satisfaction, brand equity, internal collaboration, communication, and service quality. Soft benefits cross all industry and company boundaries. Providers that can demonstrate how their solutions have improved these soft metrics with customers will have a more receptive audience among customers looking for the same improvements in their own businesses.
  • Provide ideas for ways to save money. By focusing less on what solutions do and more on how they save money, we can help customers make their business cases. For example, a solution can reengineer a business process to reduce needed headcount or increase efficiency, leading to substantial savings. Providers should point out all the ways that customers have saved money using their solutions. Buyers may see opportunities for savings that they themselves hadn’t envisioned, thereby strengthening their cases.
  • Establish best practices and benchmarks for processes. Business process improvement is at the core of many B2B projects. Showing objective evidence that there is a better way to do a current process helps prove the business case for a project. Providers can try to do it themselves or they can contribute to efforts by third-party business process standards organizations to benchmark and define best practices.
  • Help measure post-implementation business improvements. Validating the business case via a post-implementation audit is not a priority for many customers. Such audits are costly and time-consuming. But by stressing that post-implementation measurement is a path to continuous improvement and that the solution can help by making it easier to measure the value, providers can help buyers build their business cases. For example, if a customer’s reason for buying a solution is to improve customer satisfaction or increase productivity, the solution needs to make it easy for that customer to measure improvements in these areas.
Providers that follow these five guidelines will lay the groundwork for strong, trusted, and reciprocal relationships in which customers are better able to build their business cases and are more likely to share the information providers need post-implementation to win more business. What other ways can we help customers with business cases?

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