Empower Your Customers to Get “Future Ready”… or Somebody Else Will
You may be familiar with the Future Ready 365 community blog that SLA is hosting this year, where a post a day (at least) will be written on how to make info pros better prepared to meet the growing needs of an increasingly demanding clientele. Well, the blog posts aren’t just coming from practitioners inside organizations managing collections. It’s also an opportunity to give a voice to the thousands of consultants, service providers and others who make up the SLA vendor community.
I am one of you.
And I’d like to explain why I’ve taken up the Future Ready cause myself, call on you to offer up blog to help your customers and give a few ideas on how you can get started.
As founder and chairman of a management consultancy that has recently begun to address the needs of some of the SLA and information professional marketplace, I’ll admit to being a relative newbie to the concerns of SLA’s vendors and their customers. However, as a business strategist for substantially my entire adult life, I can unhesitatingly testify that the secret to sustained success in any B2B market such as this one boils down to two (2) immutable requirements:
- create and renew demand for offerings that build value through solving your customers most important problems;
- create and renew demand for the value offered by your customers to their customers.
You’ve probably got the first one pretty well figured out or you wouldn’t be reading this; you’d have gone under long ago if you hadn’t. So, I’ll spend the rest of this post on requirement #2.
I would describe the info pro market as a highly-trained priesthood of specialists – many with advanced degrees – offering hard-to-imitate capabilities to fill the needs of a customer base increasingly accustomed to finding their own information online. Confronting reality more directly, we should admit, Google does a good enough job answering routine inquiries for the average decision-maker. Even worse, advanced information-finding skills aren’t as inimitable as they used to be. As evidence, info pros are increasingly being asked to interpret and analyze the information they’re collecting and managing as the heuristics of search are being transformed into reliable algorithms virtually anyone could wield.
This genie isn’t merely out of the bottle; these underlying forces of change in information management are poised to accelerate in unpredictable ways.
The key to becoming future ready
Realize that none of those imperfectly inimitable skills or capabilities articulate the problems of our customers’ customers terribly well. Special libraries aren’t really in the business of answering questions or managing collections anymore, at least, not the ones who’ve survived. Info pros need to offer something more substantial to the clients they serve.
Figuring out what that could or should be is where you, as a vendor, earn your keep. Think of this sharing of ideas, tips and lessons-learned as sales collateral to help attract new prospects and maybe even build bonds with current customers who might not realize the full scope of what you have to offer. I’d like to suggest three (3) guidelines for you to consider for your blog post.
- Be a storyteller: it doesn’t have to breach confidentiality or privacy to share a few details of how a customer got Future Ready because of your help and how you did it. Take a look at a post I did recently http://futureready365.sla.org/01/03/id=499 for an example. Of course, details help bring credibility to your message but knowledge transfer is one of the primary values any vendor can offer their customers, so reaching out to the SLA prospect audience through a high-profile new channel like Future Ready 365 is a great way to show you get it.
- Post early, post often, but be brief: this is the longest post you’ll see me write all year, but it won’t be the last. I’ve got a list as long as my arm of YouTube vids, Dilbert cartoonery, insightful article abstracts and in-the-trenches, bare-knuckled war stories to share. In fact, I’ve already exceeded my allotted quota of posts and we haven’t even started yet. I plan to send in anything of value I can find to help prepare the audience I care about to prepare for the brutal future. But I’ll do it in accessible, bite-sized (< ~250 words) portions that I can draft and edit quickly.
- Don’t be afraid to open up and be yourself: to share some ideas you might not think are quite ready for prime time; to be a provocateur; to teach somebody something; to compliment to a rival. You need to take responsibility for teaching your customers how to up the ante and produce real value for their clients. If you don’t, either someone else will or your customer won’t be around very long to buy whatever you’re selling them. And, that’s something to really be afraid of.
So go boldly into 2011! I hope we meet in Philly in a few months … and let the blogging begin!
Arik Johnson is the founder and chairman of Aurora WDC.