Know before you go about solving the customer's problems

Gettyimages.com / krisanapong detraphiphat

Doing your homework on a customer's challenges ahead of time makes the road to success much safer.

This is the third of a three part series. Click here for part one and here for part two.

“He who does not lay his foundation beforehand may by greater abilities do so afterwards -- although with greater trouble to the architect and danger to the building" -- Machiavelli, The Prince, 1532.

We start this final article of our series by admitting that our choice of Machiavelli to quote regarding foundations for success is probably not what you expected.

Now for the opinion of a voice closer to GovCon:

“Your customers have no interest in you or your company and only a little more in your products or services" -- From “THE AGENDA: What Every Company Must Do to Dominate the Decade” by Michael Hammer

Michael Hammer (along with his co-author James Champy) is the father of Business Process Re-engineering.

A former colleague in government used to have a rule with his executive assistant when he took a meeting with a contractor. After the meeting started, she would knock and interrupt after 7-9 minutes and say “The Secretary/Deputy Secretary/ CFO’s office just called and they want to see you."

If the contractor was still talking about the company’s mission statement, office locations, and so on, the government CIO would apologize, excuse himself, ask the company to leave their briefing materials, and leave.

However, if they had shown had done their homework, knew about IT issues and challenges, and were prepared to talk about ways to deal with them, the government official would say “Please tell them I’m in a meeting but will be there very shortly."

Of course, uttering “we want to know what keeps you up at night” was an immediate death knell to any further discussion.

Understanding a CIO’s issues and challenges must be “fact-based." That is much easier today with so much online -- agency strategic plans, IT strategic plans, transcripts of Congressional hearings as well as IT “report cards," GAO and Inspector General reports, and articles on CIO presentations at conferences and events.

One former government CIO told me something quite insightful about how he decided who to meet with. If they offered something that that would address one of my OCIO problems, I’d likely have someone from my staff meet with them, he said.

But if they could address a problem of my major customer’s (the secretary, an agency or program head, etc.), my deputy or I would meet with them. Because if they could provide that fix, my office and my staff would look good to top leadership.

So as a contractor, put in place systems that measure the things that customers really care about.

“Find out what they want and how they want it, and give it to them just that way" -- Fats Waller, jazz pianist

We close with some some final suggestions from our experiences in both government and industry, in both big companies and small ones, in established players in the federal government space and new-to-market wanna-bes, and in some innovative, award-winning systems implementations as well as what Peat-Marwick dubbed “runaway systems”, that were over-budget, behind schedule, and not delivering the promised functionality:

  • Know what business you are in -- have a very specific and defined focus
  • Present a single face to your customer.
  • Know what your customer will ask for before they do.
  • Make their experience a seamless one.
  • Think of yourself as a provider of solutions, rather than of products or services.
  • Distinguish between what you are selling and what your customers are buying.
  • Take a broad view of your customer’s underlying problems that go beyond you and your products/services; and,
  • Create an early warning system to spot changes to which you must respond quickly.

We’ll await comments, criticisms, stinging rebuttals. We hope this article can begin an important dialogue about new and different models of succeeding in the government contracting space.

If that discussion begins, the co-authors will have achieved our ends.


Alan Balutis is the president of APB Ltd and managing partner with the CIO Collective. He's also a former senior director and distinguished fellow at Cisco Systems Inc. 

Dennis Lucey is a vice president with TKC Global, part of the Akima family of companies. He has over 40 years of business development experience in the federal market.

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