“We’re a technology company that just so happens to sell XYZ.”
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Odds are you have. Even if you can’t place when or where.
Last summer, the head of Fidelity’s brokerage business made a bold pronouncement: Fidelity, he said, thinks of itself “as a technology company that happens to be in financial services.”
At the same time, WestJet CEO Ed Sims wrote: “Two years from now, WestJet will be a digital company that happens to fly airplanes” in an edition of the company’s in-flight magazine.
Sounds vaguely familiar. They’re just a few of a bevy of similar declarations across a diverse range of industries.
“At our core, we’re a technology company. We just happen to make steel,” Big River Steel’s website proclaims right on its home page. Even pizza chain Domino’s has, for years, been shouting from the rooftops that they’re a technology company that just so happens to make pizza.
It would, at this point, be difficult to argue against technology being intrinsic to any company’s success, and that’s a trend that will only grow in momentum in the future.
But if technology is also becoming integral to the way companies in financial services, transportation, manufacturing and food services describe themselves in general, how are actual technology firms – from enterprise software and services providers to artificial intelligence and blockchain innovators – supposed to stand out?
By remembering that the end user isn’t there for the tech, but for solutions to the challenges they’re facing.
Shifting the narrative
The tech space has never been more crowded, and that means the tech message has never been so diluted. So while the rest of the market is zigging, it’s time for tech to zag.
Let retailers talk about how great their new cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) tools are at integrating their point-of-sale and e-commerce platforms and providing an omni-channel shopping experience for customers.
But for the CRM provider, the focus should be on the customer experience first and the solution second. Is that customer able to save money by being provided exclusive, tailored deals that are only possible because of that aforementioned integration? Can those deals reach the customer in their inbox, in an app and when they’re at a bricks-and-mortar location?
At the end of the day, the customer really doesn’t care about how technology works – they care about how it impacts their lives. And the retailer doesn’t really care whether the solution uses the latest and greatest functionality and technological advancements if it can’t help them better engage their customers and ultimately do more business.
When tech companies focus on the customer first, and how their offerings improve customer experiences, they can insert themselves into the “final mile” of their client’s journey. In doing so, they’ll establish themselves as a provider that understands more than just their own products.
Sharing the spotlight
Look, if you’re a tech company, it’s great that 498 of the Fortune 500 use your technology. That makes for an awesome highlight on a sales sheet when pitching to a final holdout. But it’s one thing for tech companies to talk about how they work with their customers. It’s another altogether for those customers to talk about how they work with that tech company.
Countless studies have shown that word of mouth is one of the most effective tools in marketing in terms of driving purchasing decisions, if not the most effective. Customers trust other people more than brands, whether they’re looking for a new smartphone or a new managed security services provider. Prospective customers want to hear first-hand from other customers so that they can feel confident buying what companies are offering.
Chances are existing customers also want a public profile, and often don’t have the resources to get it. So by engaging them to help tell your story, you’re providing them with a value add at no cost -- something that other vendors aren’t likely doing.
And if they’re hesitant about time commitments, a nominal incentive (small discounts, access to new products early) can help turn them into advocates. This presents an opportunity to share their stories through owned and earned media in a way that clearly billboards a tech company’s value to future customers.
Thought leaders, not product salespeople
Consumers buy tech to solve challenges in their lives. Goods and services providers buy tech to solve problems for their customers. But too often tech providers have a difficult time convincing either of those groups that they understand the problems in the first place.
Consistently being visible and vocal on the issues that affect the customer is key for tech providers. By investing time and effort in becoming thought leaders and subject matter experts, tech companies can offer both insights and solutions regarding the challenges facing the customer. That expertise can boost brand awareness and affinity and encourage customers to buy.
Technology is simply the tool; customers are what matters. That’s why the strongest and most meaningful narratives about the future of technology will come from the companies and leaders who can tie them to the needs of their customers. The successful companies are those with tech that not only helps sell their products and services, but also wins the hearts and minds of the customer.
While the rest of the market is trying to become “tech companies that just happen to sell X, Y or Z,” tech companies will win by becoming customer-centric organizations that just so happen to sell technology.