Solution providers may be selling themselves short -- and missing chances to steal business from competitors -- by failing to differentiate themselves in sales pitches, and consultant Randy Schwantz, CEO of the Wedge Group, suggests that's very solvable.
In a general session keynote at XChange Solution Provider at the Disney Dolphin Hotel in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Schwantz walked attendees through a series of questions aimed at uncovering whether they could be falling short.
"You bring in a great proposal [to a prospective client], it looks good," Schwantz said. "The incumbent finds out you're about to take their client. Then they pull out their VIP card, they bring in the nice wine and cheese basket, and say, 'I don't know what these guys are telling you, but whatever they can do, we can do.'
"The incumbent finds a way to keep the business," Schwantz said.
Schwantz, a consultant and five-time author of books including "How To Get Your Competitors Fired Without Saying Anything Bad About Them," set out what he believes are potential areas of possible competitive advantage: Price, product offering and services.
On the first two, most solution providers present said "no" when Schwantz asked if they would be sustainable competitive advantages. The third, services, he said should be broken down in two parts: reactive and proactive services. It's in the area of proactive services, Schwantz said, where competitive advantage is found.
"It's hard to trump the competition in reactive services," Schwantz said. "If you're proactive, then that's where your services [differentiate]."
Schwantz then asked one solution provider in the audience to name eight different parts of a car, which the solution provider did quickly. Then he asked another solution provider to name eight differentiated services his company provides. That solution provider couldn't.
"It's easier to name off eight parts of a car than eight proactive services," Schwantz said. "Parts of a car are tangible. Each has a name." The challenge for solution providers, he said, was to make tangible the proactive services they provide and then teach prospective customers that those services can fix problems they don't even know about.
"He hit on a spot that I think everyone struggles with," said Bob Nelson, COO of Augmentity Systems, a Chicago-based solution provider. "His message did a good job of facing the challenge we all face."
Scott Crosby, general manager of solution provider Encompass Iowa, Cedar Rapids, said he thought Schwantz's message was spot-on.
"We've actually been doing something the last two years like that around managed services and being proactive, and it fits exactly with what he’s talking about." Crosby said. "It's right on board with what's been working for us the past two years."