By Larry Walsh
“Delighted” and “technology” aren’t words that naturally go together. Yet the technology market has adopted a goal of ensuring that customers are delighted with their technology experiences. Customers no longer want collections of hardware, software and services they have to cobble together to facilitate processes; they want systems that produce superior outcomes.
Outcome-based systems are the new stab at consultative selling, in which vendors and partners deliver technology products and services that fulfill a customer’s needs. The difference is that the outcome isn’t about solving a problem; it’s about producing better results. The success measure is an old metric: customer satisfaction.
IBM recently placed customer satisfaction at the core of its revamped PartnerWorld channel program. In addition to partners earning competency ratings in 36 technology domains and earning status through their sales productivity, IBM partners must also measure and maintain high customer satisfaction ratings.
The logic behind the customer satisfaction requirement is elemental: If customers are satisfied with the partner experience, they’ll remain loyal to the partner and to the IBM brand, which will result in repeat and horizontal sales.
“Business partners are an extension of IBM, and we want the customers to have the same experience [with partners] as they have with us,” explained Jamie Mendez, director of channel marketing at IBM.
The goal behind IBM’s customer satisfaction push isn’t just ensuring customers have a good experience with IBM products and partners. It’s to ensure customers remain engaged with the IBM partner ecosystem.
As Mendez aptly explains, all businesses make choices in how they expend budget and with whom they work. Suppliers—vendors and partners—are judged based on the quality of their product, work and relationships. Those that don’t have a strong affinity across these three attributes are typically the first to get cut.
Treating Customer Satisfaction as an Intelligence Tool
The necessity of measuring customer satisfaction isn’t new to vendors and partners. Many companies operating in the channel routinely query accounts on their experiences. These measures are mostly in the vein of quality control checks and sales effectiveness measures. But IBM is aiming for partners to treat customer satisfaction as an intelligence tool.
Through customer satisfaction measures, IBM wants partners to understand where they succeeded and where they failed. The vendor wants partners to learn through the analytics, adjust their policies and procedures, and continuously earn and reinforce their customers’ confidence.
IBM is among the leading proponents of leveraging big data and cognitive computing to make better, more accurate business decisions. Recently, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty predicted that within the next five years, all businesses will use cognitive systems in all of their business decision-making processes. As part of the customer satisfaction push, IBM will provide partners with the tools and guidance to measure and leverage customer sentiment in decision making.
Where IBM goes in customer satisfaction, others should follow. Customers can buy a product from anyone, virtually anywhere. And when a product’s value is distilled down to nothing but price, the price always drops—and drags profitability with it. Strong customer engagements through outcome-based systems and solutions are the antidote.
IBM isn’t the first to recognize the value of customer satisfaction in the partnership equation, but it is taking the measure in a different direction to ensure long-term customer engagement and business viability. Even in cases where customer satisfaction isn’t a requirement, vendors and partners should rethink their customer satisfaction measures and emulate the IBM example.
Larry Walsh is the CEO and chief analyst of The 2112 Group, a channel research and strategy firm based in New York. He is the former editor and publisher of Channel Insider. Follow Walsh on Twitter: @lmwalsh2112.