Guest Column | May 3, 2021

Change, Or Be The Dinosaur

By Dave Sobel, The Business Of Tech Podcast

Boat Changing Path

Since IT services have been talking about being seriously behind the times at sales and marketing for the past 15 to 20 years, why hasn’t anyone fixed this issue?

I covered this topic last year in a video called “This video is the Complete and Total Answer to your sales and marketing questions.” My basic premise is you simply need a system and to work at maintaining that system.

In retrospect, however, I think that idea is both right, yet probable completely wrong. If my idea was right— that you could just implement a system— why isn’t that happening?

To start, let’s think about the buying process for a moment. Now, there’s plenty of material about “the buyer’s journey” available. That’s good information, but I don’t think we have to get that complicated. Let’s step back and take a look at the market itself for a moment.

I can buy a lot of products and services online— such as incorporating a business, getting a business bank account., hiring business tax services, getting insurance, finding commercial real estate, subscribing to payroll services, and buying marketing services.

However, if you look at IT services available online, that’s a different story. Website after website tells potential customers to “call for a quote.” Instead of prices, we see websites that say, “fill out my contact form and I’ll get back to you. Where’s my e-commerce for IT?

None of the IT service companies I look for let me do any actual buying from their website. Of course, they’ll try to sell to me. Their website tells me how great they are, with lists of services and how special their employees are.

For most of them, I can’t even talk to the company on their website since there’s no chat feature. I can’t even book an appointment. I have my business credit card; I know what I need – someone to run my technology – but I cannot do any actual purchasing.

Instead, I can only be sold to.

Let’s observe the marketing experts out there, and what they have to say about website design. Not only is the answer to this issue with them, but I can also buy from marketing experts on their website. There’s big “CLICK HERE TO BUY” buttons. One site has a $5000 package a click away.

But they aren’t telling you to put e-commerce on your site.

I interviewed with Kevin Urrutia, who has a tech background and later launched a home cleaning service. The video is on YouTube. What struck me during the interview was how natural the marketing process was to him. He saw the problem with getting cleaning services in New York. He specifically said how everyone wanted to come out and survey the place, count the rooms, and only then give a specific quote.

So he built a service to do just that: let you pick what you wanted online, book it, and rest easy, knowing your cleaning services were taken care of.

The results were astonishing: his business went from zero to $3M in 18 months.

Telling me that story, all I could think of was: why are IT companies doing all these counterintuitive things? For a lot of IT problems, I know what the solution is. I could even sell a bundled assessment of services for those whose jobs are complicated.

I know what my best endpoint configuration is. I can have that drop-shipped to you. I know what my best service solution is. There’s a price I can spin you up at.

In every one of those cases I mentioned earlier, from the house to the car to the doctor to the plumber, there is a vast array of ways to communicate online with those agencies to get my questions answered.

This is particularly striking now because the economy has shifted so fast. Citing NYU’s Professor Scott Galloway, we had years of acceleration in 8 weeks in 2020. Just like the frog in the boiling pot of water, your lack of e-commerce wasn’t a problem— until the heat was turned way up.

Most of the objections to putting more services online sound like the same tired excuses people told me about managed services: “This won’t work for me,” or “My market is different,” and “My services are just too customized.”

This isn’t an all-or-nothing approach, either. You don’t have to put all of your services or products online. Advocating e-commerce does not mean I’m saying you have to now sell everything you do online, and then only sell online. Remember, binary is and/or, not just or.

Putting e-commerce on your site does not mean you can’t sell other ways. You are making your services available for the way the customers want to buy, not the way you think they should be bought. When you say, “I don’t think they will buy this way,” you’re missing that you don’t get to choose for them. You might like not to buy services in this fashion, but why are you dictating the only method you’re going to sell to your potential clients?

If you think you’re pushing people into the same box, you’re thinking about it backward. Instead, you are offering all of the ways people would want to buy. You aren’t taking away your other methods, you are adding a new way for people to buy. For example, think about an insurance sale. That insurance agent sells online, while at the same time, offers an agent in a physical office. This is about adding, not limiting.

Another objection: “I don't want people to be able to sign up for our services unless they are qualified. And qualification does not mean, able to write a big check each month.” Another commenter said, “A good salesperson is an educator.”

What many companies are missing is that your marketing is supposed to be doing this. This is particularly true about deep niche areas.

Real educational content, of real value, helps the buyer self-qualify for the service. Your website is your virtual storefront. Whereas in a real shop you would talk to someone, an online buyer is learning from your site. Unfortunately, for many of you, that storefront is a pamphlet at best. Really, so many of the IT websites I see are not about the buyer, but rather, about the seller.

The approach of real e-commerce is not to have someone randomly come into your virtual storefront and go from zero to purchasing in two clicks. Instead, your virtual shop should have all the educational resources needed. Again, this is an addition, not a replacement.

An additional common objection is: “What if someone rejects you because of listing price?” My counterargument for that is easy – you must realize some people are eliminating you now because you don’t have pricing. Customers go to your site, expecting to see what things cost, and that information isn’t there. My point is, because it’s now so easy to get prices on most things, it’s become expected. Do you honestly think that hiding your prices is good for your business? If you really believe in the value of your company, that you are proud of what you offer, you will display it. That includes the price – because you know it’s worth it.

Do you know how easy it is to get some sense of how much IT services cost? Just go to Google right now and search “how much do IT services cost.” Besides the fact that all your vendors are out there providing this insight by showing off their Managed Services Pricing e-books – and don't think your customers can’t see that info too – the data is at their fingertips!

Do you think customers and prospects get all their information from you? Do you think they don’t have Google? This is exactly what I mean by behind the times— it’s 2021, and our business models must reflect that.

My message is not one-size-fits-all eCommerce. I am not saying the only way to do this is a shopping cart of all your services and everything is a virtual store. What I am saying is that you need to enable the customers who do want to buy from you to be able to do so in a much more streamlined way, with a full electronic version of your process, whatever that means for your company. It’s not one size fits all, and this is not a fully commoditized sale. Sure, some parts of it might be – and that is likely to drive sales, not hinder it.

Here's my final thought. What no one has debated, what no one has addressed, was the disruption that has occurred in the last 12 months. E-commerce surged between two and five times faster now than pre-pandemic. Online doctor consultations have spiked, as an example – tenfold between April and November 2020.

If you are debating what worked before COVID-19 and all your knowledge is gained from the times before the pandemic, that means you are completely ignoring that everything has changed. You can’t argue that there are no changes to be made due to changes in buying patterns brought on by the pandemic. That flies in the face of common sense.

Unfortunately, the arguments I hear do not consider a single bit of current market data. Nothing about the surge in purchasing online. Nothing about the shift in buyer behavior.

It sounds like an argument from two decades ago, and I’m not buying it. You can die on that hill because for those of us living in the here and now, rather than the past, we recognize the world has changed dramatically.

Change, or be the dinosaur.

About The Author

Dave Sobel is the host of The Business Of Tech and a leading expert in the delivery of technology services with broad experience in both technology and business. He owned and operated an IT Solution Provider and MSP for over a decade, both acquiring other organizations and eventually being acquired.