Want to Be a Data Visionary? Change the Conversation

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What do customers really want? What do they actually need?

If you’re like me, you’ve been trying to answer these questions every day for pretty much your entire professional career. Every conversation you have with a customer is an exercise in peeling the onion—listening to them, trying to understand their unique problems, and eventually getting to the core issues that they are looking for you to solve.

I’ll give you an example. How many times have you heard a customer ask, “Is the cloud right for me?” As IT professionals, we know that the cloud is great. It has a lot of potential, and it can be an extremely valuable tool in developing and bringing solutions to market. And because it’s the shiny new toy in the market, everyone is clamouring to find out how they can use the cloud to do things better than their competition. But as time and experience have shown, we also know that it’s not right for everyone (or everything). So how do we approach this conversation?

Here’s an idea: listen to your customers. They will tell you exactly what they need if you give them the chance. But there’s a twist: you have to ask the right questions.

The world of IT has changed. Customers don’t care about infrastructure and systems anymore. What they care about is their data. They want flexibility, choice, security, and control at a cost that works for their budgets—they couldn’t care less what the underlying storage looks like. They don’t want to hear a load of technology terms thrown at them. Because we’re now talking to CxOs, we’ve got to learn how to speak their language. These people care about business value. What are the outcomes? How is what you’re selling going to help them grow their business?

When you change the conversation to talk about data, you’ll start to see the lights come on. You don’t even need to mention NetApp (or any vendor or technology name for that matter). It’s about asking the right questions. What do you want to do with your data? How do you want to use that data to help you grow as a business? What type of data are you collecting? You’d be surprised what you can find out when you keep the conversation focused on them and their data requirements.

In my “Is the cloud right for me?” example, my customer was looking at modernizing its ERP application. Instead of going back and forth between going all-in with cloud or keeping it on-prem like countless other vendors had done, we started by asking them about their data and how they want to use it. Turns out their primary concerns were pretty standard: governance, security, performance, and quality of service. But none of the proposals that had been put forward were ideal for what the customer was trying to do. That’s because the other vendors had been trying to sell the customer on something they didn’t need, based on a conversation that didn’t focus on actual data requirements. By positioning a solution and a strategy, not just a new piece of kit, we were able to provide the customer with exactly what they were looking for, without compromising.

Of course, at the end of the day, you’ve still got to have something to sell. The solution that we positioned was ONTAP Cloud, and the strategy is Data Fabric. Without even mentioning NetApp, we were able to figure out what the customer was really looking for and how it was using data. Once we peeled back the layers of the conversation and discovered those key requirements, positioning NetApp solutions was simple and natural because you’re not trying to put a square peg in a round hole.

NetApp gives me the scope to widen that conversation. Whether you’re a reseller or a partner, NetApp enables you to act like a service provider, and to help your customers do the same thing. With NetApp, you’re not just selling disparate pieces of gear: you’re selling an ecosystem, a portfolio, and a strategy that your customer can build on for the future.

By talking about data, you can up-level the conversation from just another “me too” technology bidding war. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. It may sound like common sense (because it is), but I’m always surprised at how often people forget. NetApp gives you the tools to be a data visionary for your customers. But just because you have the world’s best hammer, it doesn’t mean every customer is a nail. Take the time to listen. Ask the right questions. Be the partner they need you to be. And when you’re finally ready to talk tech, NetApp is here to help.

Author: Mark Carlton, Group Technical Services Manager

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