Moving from a product or regional focus to an industry focus appears to be the “strategy du jour” for many technology vendors today. For some it is a new strategy – with the plan to improve customer focus and increase growth; for others it is the pendulum moving back to where they were five or ten years ago as they bounce from being industry-centric to product-centric to geography-centric and back again.
Getting your industry focus right is much harder than it seems – and has to be timed with client needs and market opportunity. The need to focus on the industry varies for different technology products, services and capabilities. For example, most technology buyers want their vendors to understand what their business does and how they add value to customers – that is a given and industry-aligned Sales teams make a lot of sense. Many tech buyers also want certain software functions to align directly to their processes – there is little appetite to customise ERP and financial suites to specific industry needs and processes – and tech vendors should support these out-of-the-box or cloud needs.
Industry Solutions May Not Drive Competitive Advantage
If the industry solution you are selling is the same as what any of their competitors can buy from you, then organisations get the exact same benefit as the market – no more, no less. For example, about 10-15 years ago, large telecom providers around the globe made significant investments in CRM platforms (often from Siebel) – bringing in one of a few large global systems integrators to deploy their standard processes and systems. These CRMs were supposed to provide business and customer benefit, and drive competitive advantage. And while they did deliver positive change (often at SIGNIFICANT cost!) when every telecom provider was using the same solution with the same or similar processes, any competitive advantage was lost.
Industry Solutions are Often the Sign of a Mature Market
The widely accepted hypothesis is that the technology innovation and adoption happens in waves. The market has 5-7 year waves of innovation, followed by 5-7 year waves of deployment, adoption and consolidation.
The Innovation Phase. In this stage new companies emerge, new products or services are launched and leading/bleeding edge companies embrace these new technologies to drive competitive advantage and business growth. They experiment with new technologies that drive new business capabilities – sometimes failing, but always pushing the envelope for business innovation and forging the path for mass market adoption. In this stage there is often little demand for industry solutions – as both the providers and buyers of the solutions are still working out where the business benefit is; where the technology might be able to drive change or help them get ahead of competitors. If you examine the growth of a company such as Salesforce, you see that the early stage products are targeted towards a generic market – customers are expected to customise the solution based on their needs and individual requirements. In 2002 I worked for a challenger telecom provider that had deployed a traditional Peoplesoft CRM capability, and I was part of the team that brought Salesforce into the business – and as a cloud-based solution, we saw the competitive advantage was the pace at which we could customise the product (by excluding IT teams and processes). However, the solution was a “one-size-fits-all” product. The innovation stage is typically characterised by high growth of smaller vendors and technology service providers who challenge the status quo.
The Deployment, Adoption and Consolidation Phase. This stage of market growth is when the mass market starts to adopt these solutions. Many of these buyers walk the paths that have been forged before them by the more innovative, leading edge businesses. This stage typically sees less innovation, less experimentation, and more standard deployments. To make the solutions more palatable and easier to sell to the mass market tech vendors typically pre-configure or customise the solutions to specific needs – for business teams, roles or industries. It is usually in this stage of market growth and deployment that the industry solutions see significant interest and adoption. This is where the mass market gets access to the business benefits the more innovative businesses received many years earlier (and often profited from in this time). In my example of the Salesforce deployment in 2002, over the following years many partners started to create industry solutions, and eventually Salesforce themselves sold industry-specific solutions – or at least targeted certain products and capabilities at specific industries and provided accelerated deployment models to drive advantage at a faster rate. The deployment and consolidation stage of market growth is typically characterised by steady, slow growth across the entire market as benefits are being driven to all providers (product vendors and solutions or implementation providers). Legacy providers either play catch up or suffer declining business as they realise the solution they sell no longer provides the business and customer the benefits that it used to.
Industry Focus Should be Aligned to Customer Segments, Solution Type and Geography
The decision to sell industry-focused solutions should be driven by the type of solution you are selling; the business benefit you are promising; and the type of business you are targeting the solution towards. Businesses that are more innovative will still buy some pre-configured, industry-specific solutions that don’t differentiate their business or drive competitive advantage. But where they expect competitive advantage, they need to stand apart – to be the only business with that capability.
It is also worth understanding that an innovation in one market might be standard practice in another (and vice-versa). Countries across the globe and specifically here in Asia Pacific have different approaches to technology and innovation. China and parts of Southeast Asia are often innovators – pushing the boundaries of new and emerging tech to do things we never thought possible (in the same way Silicon Valley traditionally has done). Australia and India are traditional markets that adopt industry solutions after they have been tried and tested by others. Innovation in Japan seems to happen in stages and at pace but only once every 10-15 years or so. New Zealand and Singapore are generally more nimble economies where businesses often have to be innovative to gain global competitive advantage quickly.
Evidence indicates that the rate of innovation is increasing across the entire region – even in the less innovative economies. The window for industry solutions is much smaller regardless of location – as the next new innovation is just around the corner. Even the large, traditionally less agile businesses are driving innovation programs – for example, many of the big financial services “dinosaurs” such as DBS and Commonwealth Bank often win tech innovation awards and offer market-leading customer experiences.
Use this lens to better develop your industry approach. The depth of your industry solution or capability will dictate the opportunities that you will drive based on the type of customer and technology stage. Do you want to drive innovation or efficiency in your clients? Do you want to win the big “safer” deals – but be thought of as a technology solution provider; or win the smaller deals in companies that will become the market leaders of tomorrow – and be considered a market leader and king maker? Understanding your own business goals, the current sales and delivery capabilities, and the capacity to change will help your company create a go-to-market strategy that suits your current and future customers and will likely dictate the growth rate of your business over the next 5-7 years.
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