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Strategies for Success in the New Solutions Economy

12 Jan, 2007 By: Darrell Amy imageSource

Strategies for Success in the New Solutions Economy

Technology is rapidly changing the rules of the business world. Communication
around the country and across the globe is instantaneous; we send e-mails from
our cell phones; we get routed to call centers located in other countries; and
manufactured goods routinely float in container ships across the Pacific Ocean
to local discount stores and even our dealership warehouses.

Technology is also evident in our industry.   What used to be a copier is now
a networked scanning device that routes information at the touch of a button.  
Electronic document management systems allow clients to instantly retrieve
documents securely over the internet.  Print management solutions leverage
internet technologies to remotely read meters and enter service calls.  Even our
technicians are dispatched through GPS-enabled service systems.

Technology is fueling profound changes in our world.  And these changes are
radically altering the playing field in the game of business.

In his bestseller, The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman offers advice on how to
succeed in this new environment. Friedman wrote this book after a recent trip
around our planet.  As he visited businesses on every continent, he experienced
first-hand just how technology has radically altered the world since the year
2000. "Christopher Columbus set sail hundreds of years ago to discover that the
world was round" but after observing the changes technology is bringing to
business, Friedman’s conclusion is that the world is flat.

Our Flat World

We live in a flat world.  We communicate instantly and location is not an
issue any more.  Multinational corporations have offices around the world.  Even
small companies are forming national and international networks based on their

Technology has leveled the playing field of business:

> As a hardware retailer it doesn’t matter where you are located.  You
used to compete with a dozen other copier dealers.  Now, you compete with the
world wide Web.  Even if your clients don’t buy copiers from online retailers,
we all know that they check the price.  This kills margins for dealers that see
themselves simply as equipment resellers.

> As a provider of service it matters less and less where you are located. 
Manufacturers recognize that to succeed in a flat world they need to make
products that either don’t require service, or are disposable.  Low-dollar
products like laser printers are almost viewed as disposable items.  Larger
products are increasingly built in a modular framework with the intent that the
customer can change the items.  This trend threatens the local service provider
that only provides break-fix service.  In turn, this continues to fuel the drive
to buy products through alternative channels like the internet or big box

In today’s changing world, there are two options.  We can bury our heads in
the sand and hope that the changes won’t affect us.  Or, we can recognize the
changes and figure out a way to ride the wave and prosper. 

The Skills for Success in a Flat World

In a flat world, we need to reassess the value we bring to our customers and
how we deliver that value.  We also need to consider what skills we will need to
succeed in this new environment.  Friedman offers four skills that are critical
as we contemplate the future of our careers in this industry.

1. The Great Collaborators and Orchestrators

To deliver sophisticated solutions to clients, our employees must become
experts at collaborating with clients to identify problems and come up with
possible solutions.

Next we need to be able to orchestrate the implementation of these solutions
between multiple hardware and software vendors.  In the hardware world, we
delivered a copier and moved on.  In the solutions world, we are integrating our
hardware and software with the clients existing processes and software.  Lone
rangers won’t succeed in this model.

Friedman believes that collaboration is an essential skill saying, "A lot of
new middle jobs will involve collaborating with others or orchestrating
collaboration within and between companies."

We need to become great at team selling and team implementations.

2. The Great Synthesizers

The key to designing a solution for a client is to be able to take the
client’s unique needs and synthesize them with our portfolio of technologies to
come up with a solution. We are called to take multifunction systems and
document management software packages and integrate them into the clients’
business processes and computer systems.  The skill to do this is synthesis.

Jeff Wacker, a futurist, predicts what jobs will be around in twenty years. 
"There will still be a CIO," he wrote, "but the chief information officer will
be replaced with a chief integration officer.  Information technology will be so
fully embedded in every aspect of a business that the IT organization will move
away from technology to the integration of business processes."

Solutions providers integrate technology to solve clients’ business problems.
This requires the ability to envision how disparate technologies could be
assembled to help the client. While we may wish for "out of the box" solutions
we instead need to develop the ability to create individual solutions for our
clients’ problems.

Our success is directly related to how well we combine technology to
solve our clients' business problems.

3. The Great Explainers

We need people who can "see complexity but explain it with simplicity."  As
we create more complex solutions, we need sales representatives who can make the
complex seem simple.

A great example of this was Friedman’s visit to EDS headquarters in Texas. 
The tour guide observed that "there are thousands of people who can distribute
software.   But someone has to go in front of that customer and explain, ‘Here’s
what this is going to do for you, here’s how it will tie into your existing
systems, here’s how it will benefit you and here’s how much it will cost."
Specifically, we need to be able to explain what the technology can do for a

In my Document Solution Specialist Boot Camps, I teach specialists to create
a vision for the solution.  Once you know a client’s business problem, the next
step is to use plain English to paint a picture of what the solution would look
like.  Once we explain what the solution will do, we put the client in a
position to say "yes."  Before this, the client is typically bewildered--but
doesn’t want to admit it.

The importance of explaining is also true for marketing.  As I help dealers
create marketing materials, one of the goals is to explain the technology in a
way that makes complex concepts seem simple.  Monthly newsletters educate
clients on the benefits of your technology and proposals, websites and brochures
further aid in the education process.  Write case studies to educate your
clients about how other companies have benefited from your solutions.  The goal
is to position your dealership as a good explainer of technology.

The Take Away:  The key sales skill is making complex concepts seem

4. The Great Adapters

Friedman cites the Gartner Group’s new term for the technology
professional:  "versatilists."  Unlike specialists who focus on one narrow area,
"versatilists apply depth of skill to a progressively widening scope of
situations and experiences, gaining new competencies, building relationship sand
assuming new roles."

The job of sales representatives, solution specialists and technical
integrators is to take their knowledge of document technologies and apply it to
a wide variety of customer situations.

To succeed in this new environment we need to become less like specialty
tools and more like Swiss Army knives. We need to take time to learn about our
clients’ business challenges. We also need to constantly be on the lookout for
new ways to integrate technology to solve business problems. Continual learning
is the new reality in our business. Make training a regular part of your
business. Challenge sales reps to share what they have learned in their client
meetings.  Read trade journals. Go to shows like ITEX.

As we grow our base of knowledge we become more versatile.  We become
professionals who can see a new situation and apply our body of knowledge to add

The Take Away:  Ours is a job of continually learning how technology
can be applied.

The World is Flat is a thought-provoking read packed with stories and
applications. It’s the kind of book you can read in stages. I’ve been reading
the book as I fly over the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday afternoons to do solutions
sales training on Monday’s with copier resellers in Great Britain. After a
recent training session hosted at a 700 year old castle in the English
countryside, I got on their wireless network to use my internet phone and check
my e-mail.  Yes, the world is flat!

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