Why Does the Future Sell?

Let me get this out of the way right now.

I’ve misled you with the title of this article. Sort of.

In the first two parts of this three part series on The Future of Selling Tech to the Enterprise (click here to read Part 1 and Part 2), I made the case that as technology purchasing power has shifted away from the IT organization as the exclusive buyer and more to non-technical business buyers, the conversation and focus has changed. One of my final points of the last article was that current enterprise buyers are struggling to compete in the Digital Era and are therefore focused on “buying the future” – they are trying to figure out where to make the smart bets and the right investments that will give them the technology-driven edge that they need to compete with digital-first start ups and a rapidly changing and fickle marketplace.

That’s all true. But it’s only part of the story.

No business executive is all that interested in solutions that only help them to run the business they’re already running. Yes, they’ll keep buying those technologies, because they have to buy them, but you’re not going to get much of their attention. They are much more interested in those things that will help them to compete and react more quickly to shifts in the market.

That’s why “selling the future” works.

But they’re also not interested in buying pipe dreams. They’ve been on the losing end of too many “too good to be true” pitches and want nothing to do with pie-in-the-sky stories that have no basis in reality. What they’re looking for is something actually very specific.

Enterprise executives today are looking for new approaches to applying (relatively) stable technologies in ways that can create rapid and impactful, competitive advantage for their business. While they are open to new technologies, they are more interested in new ideas that use existing technologies. The risks and investments are lower and the rewards are higher. Any executive will tell you, that’s the bet they want to make.

The good news is that this means that you can get their attention without having to develop some completely break-through technology. But the question is: How can you be seen as an organization with fresh ideas that can help them solve their business challenges?

It’s really a two-step process:

Step 1: Listen to Them

The first step in the process is to slow down and listen to your clients. Your clients will tell you their greatest business challenges, their fears and ideas about the future and how your technology solutions might be able to help them address them if you stop selling for a bit and simply ask them. Client Advisory Board meetings and Executive Dinners or Retreats, done properly, are great opportunities to get out of the way and let your customers and potential customers tell you what’s really going on and how you can help. The trick is that it can’t be a veiled sales pitch. It must be a genuine conversation (preferably facilitated by an independent third party) in which you are probing and listening. Surveying or doing what we call “private client research” with your current and potential customers is another key way to gather valuable insights on your market.

Step 2: Challenge Them

After you’ve listened, you need to be willing to challenge them. This may seem like it’s a bit contrary to the first step, but there’s a reason for it. Executives are not interested in simply having their own ideas and challenges parroted back to them. If you want to be seen as an organization with fresh ideas, then you need to share with them something that they haven’t thought of yet, or at least something that they haven’t thought of in that way. You must challenge their preconceived notions about how things are working or the options that they have available to them. Frankly, it doesn’t matter if you’re right or if they agree. If they see you producing ideas in the form of articles, blog posts, white papers, eBooks, videos or presentations that are fresh and represent new ideas, then they will begin to associate you with the future and will see you as an organization that can bring them just the kind of fresh ideas they need.

Of course, you are probably already doing content and event marketing. But the difference that will enable you to be seen as a progressive, future-facing organization that will help them thrive in the future doesn’t have a lot to do with merely producing events and content or the quantity of the content. Instead, it comes down to really only two things: the authenticity and quality of the content and events you produce.

The quality and authenticity of your events and content – not the quantity or cachet – will be what sets you apart. What you present must be thoughtful, insightful, fresh and thought-provoking in order to get their attention and make your organization stand apart.

It’s really that simple. But it’s not easy. Authentically listening, engaging your customers in meaningful conversations, producing content that challenges current ideas and causes your customers to look at things differently is hard work. But it’s the only way to differentiate yourself in a world that is shifting.

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