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Best Practices for Solution Providers to Successfuly Engage Customers
Oracle White Paper Identifies 10 Key Areas
April 8, 2010,
Volume 146, Issue 1

The more transparent the solution process is to the customer and the more the solution flows through the entire sales process to the final delivery, the more you and your team will be in demand to solve key problems.

-- Edward Clay

Successfully managing and delivering an integrated solution is key in becoming a true solutions provider. Edward Clay has identified 10 best practices every solutions provider should know in order to ensure customer satisfaction in solutions engagements.

In the 52-page Oracle white paper, Clay pinpoints 10 key areas that need to be mastered and, once handled correctly, will inevitably lead to a greater success rate in customer satisfaction and loyalty. These areas are:

The sales process (tactical or product sales versus strategic or solution sales)

The key points in this section are:

  • Product-only sales happen at a lower level than solution sales and have less risk.
  • Solution sales cycles are much longer and require lots of research.
  • It is critical to pick the right partners
  • When dealing with the U.S. Government, understand the rules of engagement to prevent a scenario where you cannot bid on a given solution.

The project scope

The key points in this section are:

  • The sales team needs to have the scope of the project well defined and in writing.
  • Communication between the sales team, the delivery team, and the customer is critical.
  • Any scope creep should be defined and how it will be paid for should be addressed before additional work begins.

Communication during the sales process through the delivery hand-off

Clay recommends real-time communication during delivery as well as in advance. He points out that lack of good communication is one of the biggest problems during delivery of a solution/product and communication skills are often missed as a critical skill when it comes to training team members for success.

In this section, Clay discusses the complexity of communication; product enhancements to meet solutions needs; architecture and integration or functionality needs; and bugs and fixes.

"Good communication, using the customer to help push fixes, and letting upper management work the issues in an expedient manor can be critical to a successful deployment," he relates.

Deciding if a time-and-materials or fixed-price engagement is best

The key points of this section are:

  • Time-and-materials engagements work best for untried solutions and fixed pricing is best for repeatable solutions where all the parameters are known.
  • Good communication and setting proper expectations are critical to the success of either type of engagement.
  • A well-trained technical staff is critical to the success of the delivery team.
  • For either engagement method, a realistic, completely updated and communicated project plan is key.
  • Finally, for both types of engagements, it is critical that continuous communication takes place between all parties and that scope creep be kept to a minimum.

Defining the customer's IT maturity level

Clay presents an IT Capability Maturity Model (CMM) and the Gartner Networking Maturity Model for insight. Each has differing levels or phases to help providers assess a customer's level of IT maturity. "I do not believe that the model you choose to use is as critical as the fact that you use a model," he writes.

Defining the customer's IT security maturity level

In this section five levels of security maturity are defined. Briefly, they are:

  • Level 1: Chaotic Security: an organization's security capability is best characterized as immature or chaotic. The organization is exposed to substantial liability.

  • Level 2: Basic Security: some investment has been made in the area of IT security, although such investments tend to be focused on specific projects or problems and often use point solutions that are not guided by an overall integrated vision and strategy. The organization is still exposed to substantial liability.

  • Level 3: Effective Security: the organization has begun to realize the strategic, competitive, and regulatory advantages for developing and maintaining a consistent IT security posture throughout their environment

  • Level 4: Optimized Security: the IT security capabilities of the organization are measurable, predictable, and repeatable, liability management is in equilibrium, and all security requirements have been addressed, where appropriate, through the implementation of an integrated security architecture.

  • Level 5: Adaptive/Dynamic Security: the IT security organization has moved beyond addressing liability issues and the implementation of an integrated and holistic security architecture, and is focused on continuous process improvement adding quantifiable value to the business.

Clay then names available security maturity models. The importance of using a model is emphasized. Clay doesn't recommend any one of them, but does state that once one is selected it is critical that all parties involve understand it. Models presented are NIST CSEAT IT Security Maturity Model, COBIT Maturity Model; and SSE-CMM Model.

"Much like the IT maturity level," he writes, "it is critical to understand the customer's security maturity level to understand what level of procedures, policies, and complexity that customer can be expected to manage successfully."

Key points:

  • Need to understand the security maturity level of a customer
  • Need to understand the customer's security requirements
  • Simplicity should be architected into all solutions when possible

  • The development of a pre-sales and final-delivery architecture

This section addresses why an understanding of the entire enterprise architecture is critical, what the lifecycle of an architecture is, and how the solution process uses it.

Determining whether there is a need for a security architecture

Key points:

  • There is no such thing as perfect security.
  • If security can be used to make the end-user experience better, it is a win-win situation.
  • With all the security regulatory requirements on a solution, the architecture should be, at a minimum, peer reviewed by a security expert to be sure enough security is incorporated in the solution.

Deciding when and how to use partners

The pros and cons of using partners are discussed, and things to look for and watch out for when selecting partners.

Determining what documentation and training should be provided before final delivery

Some key points:

  • Good documentation shows professionalism from the delivery team and makes it much easier for sustaining IT support teams to maintain the solution.
  • There is more to documentation than just referencing other documentation.
  • The more customized and complex the system, the more customized the documentation should be.
  • Upgrade the IT staff with skills to meet the needs of the new technology or solution
  • Training origination: will it be formal vendor/solution company training or provided by the delivery team during hand-off of the solution

"This paper is about the processes, how to maintain control of the delivery, and traps that are fallen into during the delivery of the solution," writes Clay, who has based the information on Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and other IT models and methodologies, as well as his 17+ years in the IT industry. "It is understood that a good solution, with a strong technical team to develop and deploy the solution, along with great management, is critical to success, and this is not discussed in this paper. This paper focuses only on the 10 items that are often missed. If they become part of the solution process, they can help set your team apart from the rest of the solutions companies and teams."

More Information

10 Best Practices for a Successful Customer Solution Engagement

Partner articles

Oracle Partner Business Center

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Other articles in the Partners section of Volume 146, Issue 1:
  • Best Practices for Solution Providers to Successfuly Engage Customers (this article)

See all archived articles in the Partners section.

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