Make your company easier to do business with. That sounds simple doesn’t it? Who would make their company harder to do business with, intentionally at least. Reminds me of the old FedEx commercial when the employee utters the punch line, “How am I gonna do that?”
Of course the punch line is technology and not just any technology but front office applications that do smart things and don’t cost a lot.
I have been writing about this topic for a little while and I guess it strikes a chord with me for two related reasons. The first reason is the recession we’re not going into and the second reason is the state of the market’s life.
It’s not often that you get two things like this lined up and I think the bigger issue is the market — a confluence of disparate industries whose common bond is their aggressive adoption of information processing technology over the last forty years. That means just about every industry we know outside of buggy whip makers.
Blame it on (Gordon) Moore’s Law (Geoffrey Moore does and that’s good enough for me) that said that computing power would double about every 18 months. That went on for a long time but no resource is infinite and the resource in question is the real estate on a chip; you can only make transistors so small after all.
For forty-plus years, more processing power just around the corner made it possible for innovators to think big and build products which drove market creation and market growth. Today, everything we see is touched by computer based technology. But doubling computing power is not what it used to be and for the moment the easily conceived niches to put it in have been filled, more or less. That will change as soon as innovation takes another turn but when will that be?
I believe in punctuated equilibrium and that every spike in change is followed by a long period of calm when markets absorb innovation and acclimate to it. The industrial and transportation revolutions lasted longer but then gave us a period that lasted from just after the Civil War to the post World War II period when manufacturing was king and products that were once luxuries became commodities. Manufacturing is still a big deal but its off shore status says a lot about commoditization.
So back to making your company easier to do business with, here are some things to ponder. When multiple companies in a market all have more or less the same products, they must differentiate on service and making your company easier to do business with is enough to keep and gain customers relative to your competition.
Software is the new hardware and though there is no readily available moniker like Moore’s Law to give it credence (I vote for Pombriant’s Law, but that lacks panache — and a million votes) software is the thing that will drive the easier-to-do-business-with trend. Such a trend makes perfect sense in today’s market. Whether a company is being buffeted by the larger economy or by its competition, the need is basically the same — find a differentiator to go to war with.
But back to the all-important “How to?” question. You make your company easier to do business with when you standardize your customer facing processes and here are some ideas.
Quoting — if your sales team is still quoting from a price book kept in a spreadsheet consider a configuring, pricing and quotation system. Standard quotes bring with them standard discounts and error checking that can prevent returns and other nastinesses that cost you money and cannot be passed on. In a way a quotation system is also a margin preservation system. With workflows and auditability it can keep you on the good side of Messrs. Sarbanes and Oxley, too.
Business forecasting — we all know about revenue forecasting but for lots of companies the revenue is not tied to little CD’s sitting on a shelf. Things have to be made, far away, by lots of people, making components. You get the picture. Business forecasting takes that accurate quote and deconstructs it into lots of little instructions to the supply chain that something’s coming and that the ultimate buyer wants the best price and fast delivery — two things that can best be accomplished when lead times are sufficient. Business forecasting is really all about your own survivability.
There are other, less systematic and less glamorous ways to make your company easier to do business with and the lack of systematization and glamour might also make them easy to use. Recently, I signed a contract on-line. The document I created was presented back to me in a PDF and I gave an e-approval and that was that. “Really?” I said. I don’t even have to store the document for future recall, that’s all automagic. I have to say I liked that a lot.
Then there’s billing. If you are an on-demand company you have a service that you can slice and dice in nearly infinite ways, the only thing holding you back is how you are going to price it and collect. Billing is a big deal and there is an emerging class of vendors that is taking care of that for us. Flexible billing lets a customer consume a service as needed and prevents anyone in customer service from ever having to utter the words, “…but the system won’t let me.”
There are more ways to make your company easier to do business with and this is a real good time to investigate which services will help your company the most. What’s not to like about that?