We had a great debate in our Banff Workshop about timing one’s IT Strategy correctly when meeting with new prospects. Some people were adamant the IT Strategy meeting be a requirement to even sending a proposal, while others were more inclined to implementing an IT strategy creation process after the onboarding, after we fix all the client’s technical issues. This is often the case in a workshop, when everybody was right but in conflicting ways. Let's see how to best approach this question.
Let's put this question to a higher level first. How you are going to engage your clients and lay down a plan for them to raise their maturity over time to create a sticky relationship and predictable customer success? This is the ultimate question. If you can answer this question then you have a foundation for the type of strategic guidance to give.
Usually strategic guidance services are upfront projects to help you differentiate yourself, get to know the client, create momentum and foster engagement, so it is critical to manage it well. If it’s productized then most client expectations will be set right upfront, or well managed over an annual meeting.
First of all IT Strategy Planning is not a commodity, so let's first define what we mean. IT Strategy is a written document with a specific scope and depth. IT Strategy can be notes on a napkin with goals and major initiatives or dozens of pages supported by hours of research and meetings.
Another complication: your prospects/clients have varying maturity levels in terms of management and technology. A napkin plan doesn’t give so much value to a high maturity client and a 100 page IT strategy does not make sense to a twenty-person old-school local travel agency.
The right answer, of course, is nuanced: create different productized IT Strategy Guidance type services for managing these different situations.
We defined three different productized services to be able to sell to the typical small and medium enterprises. These are scalable - all have the same basics, and are more modular than LEGO bricks. If they’ve outgrown the first they can upgrade to the second just adding more bricks.
1. IT Discovery Service
2-4 hours of commitment gets the deliverable of a standard report with a standard template-based action plan focusing on their IT infrastructure. This is ideal for a low maturity prospect so we don’t take up too much time as well as out of the budget. We can still differentiate ourselves with professional results without overwhelming them with details and terms they don’t understand.
The outcome is typically a report generated by a questionnaire and some additional analysis by you. The report is more of a guidance for the conversation and helping make decisions faster.
That should be part of the Account Management process we include in our services and part of the sales process free advice.
Many of our clients use this approach for making account management more of a value-add rather than a "salesy" item, and to set a stage with any type of prospect.
2. IT Development Roadmap Service
4-8 hours of commitment and the deliverable is a customized roadmap focusing mainly on the infrastructure components and major initiatives listed. We add a bit more meat to the outcome with a structured plan outlining the initiatives and time frames. This takes more research, effort and consultation, but the basics are the same.
The outcome is typically a spreadsheet called IT Development Roadmap, with the plan items elaborating more on the report.
That can be a part of a vCIO Light / Client Advisory service and charged separately. to our existing clients every year ($1000 - $2000) as a project. The reason for this is if they have no room in the budget for that we can create this for free, but since they’ll have no money for the projects included with the plan anyway, this is a great qualification. If we have a low maturity client this can be their guide for the next steps after onboarding. It’s a good idea to charge for that, but give them a huge discount as new customers.
A client of ours uses this approach to set an 18 month roadmap with a new client, to transit them from onboarding to regular QBRs and client management.
3. IT Strategy Planning Service
8-18 hours of commitment with more detailed research for the planning, like business discovery, more in-depth research and better specification of initiatives. More time is spent on scoping the initiatives and liaising with various stakeholders to produce a decent operational plan with activities and budgets.
The outcome is usually a Strategy Plan with the report and development roadmap adding the project definitions and more business-related items.
Now we’re working on their business; we listen to different people, scope projects together and help them set projects for a variety of initiatives. That’s usually part of a basic stand-alone vCIO Package we sell for $1000 - $2000 monthly. However as a project it should be sold around $2000 - $4000, depending on your approach. In many cases this is an awesome service to throw into the sales process when dealing with a high maturity prospect. Usually their infrastructure is not in need of fixing, so it’s hard to beat the incumbent without a major price discount. But defining yourself more as a consultant and someone who understands business can pay off.
A client of ours uses this approach to actually qualify the prospects. They don’t sell to a company who won’t pay $4500 for IT Strategy. They’re looking for a few high level, high maturity and high value clients - not a lot small ones.
If you have multiple types of projects upfront with Strategic Guidance you have more options to engage current clients and to close new ones.
Based on maturity you’re able to apply services in different scales. In engaging prospects this gives you the flexibility to break their buying cycle and apply your sales process, and close deals faster. For existing clients you can qualify them for more advice, and politely disabuse them of the notion that your advice is free.