The Principles of Selling Outsourcing Pretium Partners, Inc.

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1 The Principles of Selling Outsourcing Pretium Partners, Inc. Selling outsourcing is different, perhaps more challenging, than product, service or solution sales. The past 10 years of outsourcing expansion has taught us much about the do s and don ts of selling. Experience in the outsourcing marketplace, supported by research results, enabled Pretium to fashion The 10 Principles of Selling Outsourcing. Results of a study of Outsourcing Justification Practices conducted by Pretium Partners, Inc. and The Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University, exhibited several trends by outsourcing buyers that have an impact on how outsourcing must be sold in the marketplace. The following principles represent, in no particular order, fundamental requirements for success. They do not outline the complete sales process or skills. It is an evolving list. Principles are refined as the market matures and we all learn more. The 10 Principles of Selling Outsourcing 1. Profile the customer situation early 2. Sell from the top down and from business to technical 3. Convert interest to confidence by using references and bridging internal relationships 4. Focus on how value is created for each customer 5. Understand and set expectations 6. Build relationships by involving the operations team 7. Demonstrate a relationship management process 8. Exhibit financial acumen 9. Emphasize both tangible and intangible benefits 10. Find opportunities to mitigate risk 1. Profile the Customer Situation Early Instead of eagerly responding to an inquiry or taking a presentation to a new prospect, the first step is to understand the customer s environment. This step pays huge dividends by improving your decisionmaking, avoiding mistakes, creating sales efficiencies and more. Among others, you ll want to explore these areas before applying resources: Understand their decision-making paradigm. Outsourcing has evolved from primarily a cost reduction vehicle to an enabler or problem solver. This evolution, however, creates complexity for the seller who must now build their value proposition on a customer-by-customer basis. Customers tend to fall primarily into one of four paradigms that affect decision-making. These paradigms are: Strategy, Cost Reduction, Improving Operations and Restructuring. Even though companies can exhibit tendencies for more than one paradigm, it is likely that one will stand out as dominant. These paradigms change with each company depending upon any number of internal or external factors. For example, many companies in early 2001 may have abandoned a growth and acquisition strategy and entered a paradigm of cutting costs in order to weather the new economic conditions. Have they have outsourced before? The answer, and whether or not their experience was/is a positive one, will have an impact on how you need to position your company and your services. If they Pretium Partners, Inc. All rights reserved.

2 have never outsourced before, you will probably have a longer sales process since you have to prove that outsourcing is a viable solution in the first place. Understand where the customer is in their buying process. They may not be in a buying process at all which means your first sales efforts may focus on the merits of outsourcing (depending if they have outsourced before) not on the merits of your company. If they are exploring outsourcing then understand where they are in the process. If they are in the early phases, you will have better access to executives and be able to position your company as quite consultative, perhaps even helping write the RFP. If they are later, in their solicitation phase, where they issue an RFP, then there are some hurdles to overcome. For one, it is harder to get to the real decision makers. And if the customer won t grant access, beware! You might just be a price point for someone they have already chosen. Understand the executive decision making criteria. Financial return, risk mitigation, strategic alignment, political impact and intuition. Position your solution to impact these areas; they are all important to the outsourcing decision. So in order to demonstrate and articulate your highest value proposition and get the attention of your customer s senior executives, it is essential to profile the customer situation early in the sales process. 2. Sell From The Top Down and From Business To Technical This may seem obvious but it is worth restating because not enough sales people are doing it. Perhaps this is because it requires selling outside their comfort zone. Those who are not in a high enough management position or don t have the capability to see the big picture of the organization, and the positive changes brought on through outsourcing, will not have an appreciation for your solution. Further, these people can be very effective at constructing roadblocks that can derail your efforts. C Level operational executives are the ones looking to capitalize on the benefits outsourcing can offer. They see the big picture of the organization and are constantly looking at ways to gain market share, increase their stock price, drive revenues and keep costs under control. They know that these goals require making tough decisions, and outsourcing can be a tough and many times unpopular decision. For outsourcing providers, especially those that run technology or technology-intensive processes, the message is clear: business management will be involved in the justification process. As the study confirmed, major outsourcing decisions are made at the executive level and, therefore, that is where the selling must take place. 3. Convert Interest To Confidence By Using References and Bridging Internal Relationships Many would say that product sales people have it made. All they have to do is demo their product, regurgitate technical specifications, compare it to their competitor s, prove reliability and show the business impact and, poof, a sale is made. Not so with outsourcing; there is no simple method to compare outsourcing services. When a company has interest in an outsourcing solution, they progress through their buying process carefully. At some point, they become confident in outsourcing, or a specific provider. The shift from interest to confidence is both subtle and very challenging. As a service provider there are preferred ways to make it happen. Strong references internal and external are essential. Further, the customer must become comfortable with your personnel, your capabilities and your management and quality processes. The strong relationships and resulting trust that is built during the outsourcing buying process are key to helping the buyer make that transition from interest to confidence, enabling them to pull the trigger to move forward with the outsourcing engagement Pretium Partners, Inc. All rights reserved.

3 Sellers of outsourcing must understand the very personal nature of the outsourcing sale, and capitalize on their ability to build relationships and provide solid references in order to be successful. 4. Focus on how value is created for each customer As stated in the previous article it is crucial to understand the customer s environment and their decision-making paradigm. Remember the paradigms: Strategy, Cost Reduction, Improving Operations and Restructuring. Even though companies can exhibit tendencies for more than one paradigm, it is likely that one will stand out as dominant. To focus on how value is created for each customer, a good starting point is to understand the predominant paradigm they exhibit. This will help you frame your overall value proposition and concentrate on what is most important for them at this point in time. Further, it is important to know what they are trying to achieve through outsourcing. The study sited many benefits that companies looked for. Some of them were: Improve productivity of department or function Reduce operating cost Upgrade, introduce or transform skills Better manage department or function Make resources available for core area Improve cash flow Implement business change If we are trying to sell a solution that helps achieve a strategic vision but the client is really looking to reduce operating cost, than that may be a hard sell. However, if your solution can achieve both, you should place more emphasis on the cost reduction elements of your solution, because that is where their focus is. Finally, and most importantly, we must understand their business well enough to articulate specifically how our solution will help them. In other words, understand their Key Performance Indicators and any other ways they measure their business performance, and demonstrate how our solution positively affects them. 5. Understand and set expectations This may seem obvious! But it is worth discussing because not enough sales people are doing it well. More outsourcing relationships turn sour because of failure to adhere to this principle than perhaps any other. So much time goes into selling the outsourcing solution, that the expectation piece often gets overlooked. In the past many vendors have believed that whatever happens after the contract has been signed can be effectively handled at that point. The problem is that these relationships rarely move along on cruise control. Things don t always go as planned. And if expectations are not properly set in the beginning, it doesn t take long for the vendor and buyer to start playing the blame game. Dun and Bradstreet research states that 20-25% of all outsourcing relationships fail after two years, and 50% fail after five years. Not surprisingly, the reasons for these failures were very common across all types of relationships. The research said that the outsourcing supplier didn t know what they were supposed to do and the cost was too high and they provided poor service. Looking at those reasons, they are really just statements to cover up the real reasons that the relationship failed. The research sites the real reasons as: The vendor and buyer must first quantify the specific objectives Then those objectives must be measured Pretium Partners, Inc. All rights reserved.

4 And finally the results must be evaluated for ways to improve the relationship Vendors must become better at setting and communicating expectations, while ensuring an effective and open communication channel throughout the life of the agreement. Clearly defined and measurable service level agreements (SLA) are a must. Both vendor and buyer must agree to them and understand what parts they are each accountable for. The relationship may still not be perfect, but if expectations are set and agreed to before the contract is signed, the chances of survival and renewal increase exponentially. 6. Build relationships by involving the operations team Buying outsourcing, as with other services, depends on a strong sense of relationships with the provider. Services are intangible and buyers compensate for their inability to see, touch and measure the product. One way that buyers do this, consciously or subconsciously, is to place high value on the relationship they feel with the seller and the delivery personnel. This has an even greater significance in outsourcing since the buyer often has a close working relationship with the account manager and operations team. They buy from people with whom they feel comfortable and with whom they think can deliver on their promises and achieve the required SLA s. One method to build these relationships and achieve the required trust and confidence in your people is to involve the operations team early in the sales process. This provides the buyer with many opportunities to meet with your team and see them operate. The strong relationships and resulting trust that is built during the outsourcing buying process is key to helping the buyer differentiate your company from the others that are vying for their business. Another means to leverage relationship building is by strong referrals, preferably from inside the buyer s company. There is an implied relationship when colleague or trusted source makes a recommendation. A buyer may quickly give credibility to a potential provider for this reason. Sellers of outsourcing must understand the very personal nature of the outsourcing sale, and capitalize on their ability to build relationships at all levels. 7. Demonstrate a relationship management process As stated in Part Two, Dun and Bradstreet research states that 20-25% of all outsourcing relationships fail after two years, and 50% fail after five years. Not surprisingly, the reasons for these failures were very common across all types of relationships. The research said that the outsourcing supplier didn t know what they were supposed to do and the cost was too high and they provided poor service. What does this mean? First of all, it underscores how expectations must be set and met. Secondly, it shows the importance of having a well-defined relationship management process. Providers need to show potential buyers their process because it will be part of the decision-making criteria. Everyone understands there will be bumps in the road. This risk must be minimized. Michael F. Corbett & Associates has studied relationship management extensively the challenges, how to structure it and how to make it succeed. Selections of their research can be found on Firmbuilder.com. You may want to start with Managing Outsourcing Relationships for Value Creation. 8. Exhibit financial acumen When companies were asked how they justified their outsourcing decisions, the results were consistent: relatively few used cash flow measures to a great extent. However, the use of cash flow analysis measures is expected to increase at least two fold in future decisions. And companies were always more likely to use investment analysis measures when the CEO is involved in the decision Pretium Partners, Inc. All rights reserved.

5 With this in mind, sellers must, at a minimum, be conversant in financial analysis, and will likely be asked to demonstrate the financial effects of their proposed outsourcing services. On a case-by-case basis it is important that the seller understand which financial measures are important to their customer. The study clearly shows that use of cash flow analysis is common and it will certainly increase as decision-makers want less risk in their decisions. Does this mean that the sales professional must have enough financial knowledge to go head to head with the CFO? No, the customer does not expect them to be CFO s. They do expect them to be the expert concerning their outsourcing services and how they produce credible benefits. Still, they should have a solid understanding of appropriate investment analysis measures, and perhaps in larger deals, knowledge of how financial statements can be affected. It is always acceptable for the sales professional to enlist the assistance of a senior financial executive from his/her company to handle the more in-depth financial discussions. 9. Emphasize both tangible and intangible benefits The majority of outsourcing decisions require more than financial analysis. Since decision-making at the senior and executive levels are multi-dimensional, a business case approach is preferred. The business case looks at all the executive decision-making criteria, going far beyond those benefits that can be easily quantified. The study s participating companies sited the three most important intangible benefits they expected to achieve from their recent outsourcing experience. The majority of the identified benefits fell into the following categories (in no particular order): Quality/expertise Speed/productivity/efficiency Managing operations Improving morale Focusing on core business Reduce tasks/functions Improving customer service Improving capabilities Improved product development/time to market/marked share In the study, these intangible benefits may not have been quantified because it was either too difficult or unnecessary. This does not make them any less important to the decision-making process. The point is succinctly made by Laudon and Laudon in Management Information Systems, Organization and Technology, when discussing justification approaches: Financial models assume that all relevant alternatives have been examined, that all costs and benefits are known, and that these costs and benefits can be expressed in money. [However], these assumptions are rarely met in the real world. Intangible benefits must be a part of a seller s value assessment process. The key is to identify the specific benefits meaningful to the customer. The decision-making criteria revealed in the study demonstrate that buyers will accept and include non-quantified benefits in the justification process. 10. Find opportunities to mitigate risk Outsourcing raises the question of risk in ways few investments do. Consideration of risk in the decision-making process is clearly on the rise. Nearly 40% of respondents to the study used formal risk analysis (a system to quantify, measure or grade risk) and 69% will do so in the future. So it is fair to say that buyers demonstrate a consistent use of risk analysis and this will increase. This is driven in part by an awareness of failed outsourcing initiatives. Service providers must be much more sensitive to customer perceptions and will need to address those perceptions immediately Pretium Partners, Inc. All rights reserved.

6 Feelings about risk can be unique to an individual. Therefore, a sales professional must explore feelings and perceptions of outsourcing s risks with individual decision makers. This includes risk associated with the transition process, technology, the provider, the relationship, outsourcing itself and more. Building a balanced dialogue about risk into the early phases of the sales process is recommended. Outsourcing buyers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in evaluating potential partners, realizing that reducing risk in the decision requires intense scrutiny and executive commitment. They are not necessarily looking for the best deal, but are looking for the best partner. Sellers must intimately understand how buyers are buying and adapt their selling methods accordingly. Look for other articles addressing these and other aspects of selling outsourcing Pretium Partners, Inc. All rights reserved. Pretium Partners is a sales training and consulting firm located in Columbus, Ohio. For more information please visit their web site at or call (614) or Bill Hall, Pretium Partners, Inc. All rights reserved.

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