One of the frequent challenges I face when engaging with enterprise customers is the process of meeting their expectations.
If you’re selling software solutions to an enterprise, it’s quite likely that they are not experts in software, even though they may have a large IT department. However they may well be experts in planning and risk. For them, the software solution is a means to an end, to help them earn revenue from some other source.
Which is a long way of saying that in order for your customer to have a really good experience with your solution, one of the best ways to do that is to be predictable. This is a commonly overlooked characteristic.
Unless — and maybe even if — you’re under delivery pressure, you will do yourselves and the customer a favour by making your delivery milestones comfortably achievable, even if those milestones are not to the customer’s satisfaction. Sure they may argue long and hard with you about the milestones, but you’ll do no-one a favour if you agree to something that you’re just not sure of. Make sure you explain all the risks clearly and succinctly, and make sure you show them a sensible plan for achieving your milestone, one based on your assessment of risks and dependencies. In other words, push back if necessary. But sometimes the unimpeachable logic of your argument will be enough.
Why predictability? Because enterprises crave predictability and hate surprises. Any enterprise development programme requires the marshalling of a large number of resources by the enterprise, and quite often the cost of these resources will dwarf the cost of your software solution. So unexpected changes to the delivery plans due to missed milestones will create cost pressures within your customer’s organization. And because those costs have themselves been approved only after a long and tortuous review cycle, your lack of predictability suddenly has cost implications far greater than you can see. And your contacts within the enterprise will not want to have to go back and ask for more money because it reflects poorly on them. So now you have added a personal element to the problem as well. Always remember that your contacts have their own internal customers to please.
So: be boring, be predictable. Communicate excessively. Spend lots of time with your customer. Under promise and over deliver. That is the path to success with your enterprise customer.