Is he deaf, or is he stupid?!?!
I don’t know, Brad. I don’t know.
The guy practically screaming the question and ready to pop a blood vessel was the Executive Vice President of Global Operations at State Street Bank. The guy responding was his comptroller. I was in the room, and I was the one who prompted the EVP’s frustration and provoked his anger.
In my early years in business, when asked a question, I wanted to give a full answer; a nuanced response with plenty of details and corroborating evidence. But after the life-altering exchange with Brad Tripp, the EVP, I learned to just answer the question.
Brad had just asked me a Yes/No question: “Should we do this?” I thought the question deserved an “it-depends” response, due to the subtleties of the decision. I was wrong. He assumed that I had done my research, figured out the nuances, the risks, the potential rewards, and had formed an opinion. He was right. He wasn’t looking for me to pass the decision up to him. He wanted me to make the call. I hadn’t.
I attended the New England VTUG at Gillette Stadium this past week. For those who don’t know, the VTUG is the premier, vendor-neutral virtualization technology conference in New England. It attracts over 1000 attendees, mostly server, storage network, and security administrators – the hands-on folks – from throughout the area. It’s a great place for emerging vendors, as well as the well-established IT solution providers, to showcase and explain their key differentiators.
Going around to the various vendor exhibits, I asked two questions:
Who is your target customer?
What is the one thing you can do better than anyone else for that target customer?
Some tried to turn the question back on me by asking, “What problem are you trying to solve?” Maybe they had been tutored in the style of “The Secrets of Question Based Selling.” Others gave long explanations pointing out a wide range of features and benefits. The worst answers were some variation of “Regardless of who you are, if you’ve got a problem, we can solve it.” I won’t dwell on these or call them out. You can run your own test, next time you are being pitched.
There were a few emerging companies that were very crisp. I particularly liked the response from Gridstore. I asked two people and got the same answer:
Q: Who are your target customers? A: Mid-sized and large Microsoft Hyper-V users.
Q: What do you do better than anyone else? A: 50% less infrastructure, while maintaining quality of service.
There are always plenty of value-added resellers and systems integrators at the VTUG. While price is always a potential differentiator, it’s certainly not one that most lead with. Delivery time and quality of support are others. I was particularly impressed by Integration Partners. When I asked them the same questions, they said their target customers were network architects and administrators and the one thing they did better than anyone else was helping architects and administrators understand the upstream and downstream impact of changes in the network.
I’m a director on the board of StorMagic, a supplier of virtual storage appliance software. The CEO, Hans O’Sullivan, and the Director of Technical Services, Luke Pruen, presented at Virtualization Field Day this week. The attendees were hands-on virtualization users with lots of credentials and certifications; in the trenches practitioners. One of the greatest compliments they received from the attendees was acknowledgement that StorMagic knows their niche: Organizations using virtual servers in 10s, 100s or 1000s of remote sites and branch offices. And StorMagic knows where they are better than anyone else: Enabling cost-effective, high-availability storage with two servers and no SAN.
In all three cases, these are nice, crisp answers. Back to my Theory of One: When the team knows the target customer and the problems they solve better than anyone else, everyone knows what to do when they get up in the morning.
For everyone else, just answer the questions.
For more on The Theory of One, check out: