Use project management to 'sell' your company's products and services
by Joan Knutson, Contributing Editor
ALMOST TWO DECADES AGO, I was talking to one of IBM‘s regional directors, who was lamenting the fact that IBM could no longer just sell computer equipment. It had become necessary—almost more important—that they sell installation support along with the equipment.
Today, companies that sell products and/or services are expected not only to provide installation or implementation assistance but also to provide this assistance using the project management discipline.
As William Doey, Jr., president of IKON Business Imaging Services, a document imaging company in Walnut Creek, Calif., said in his company's newsletter: “Recently, we began reviewing the value we bring to our clients, which is something I believe we offer that is in addition to our core products … [W]e deliver conversion plans that go beyond project-to-project thinking … We call this value Performance Beyond Expectation … We do this by investing in engineering and project management skills …”
Doey and his entire organization are committed to working every job as though it were a project and to employing project management in every client engagement so that the customer is assured that their job is being planned, monitored, tracked and managed to the best of IKON‘s ability.
How can project management aid a company in selling its product/service? This month we'll provide an external plan to position project management as a differentiating sales factor; and an internal plan to assure that project management is executed in order to meet the commitments as sold.
Using Project Management to Sell. Many potential customers will see the use of project management by a vendor as a differentiating factor. Why?
The services or products that many vendors are selling often are comparable, maybe a little stronger in one facet and a little weaker in another. How is the customer to decide? Each vendor's sales staff is professional, charismatic; but they can only represent a comparable product or service as it exists.
Joan Knutson is founder and president of Project Mentors, a San Francisco-based project management training and consulting firm. She can be reached at 415/955-5777. Send comments on this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The sale comes down to what the vendor is going to provide over and above the actual tangible product or intangible service; something that will differentiate them from their competition. This is when each vendor starts making promises about the support that their firm can give to assure successful implementation or efficient installation of the product or the service. But a “promise” to provide support has no substance without a methodology demonstrating the credibility and integrity of the promise.
The methodology the customer is looking for is a documented process that the vendor is going to employ to plan, organize and manage the assignment. The customer just wants the job done on time, within budget, of the quality expected, and with as little upheaval to their organization as possible. Using the project management discipline can satisfy this expectation.
But the customer needs more than just a promise that project management will help the vendor meet their expectations. They need to hear it and see it during the sales process, later during the launch of the engagement, and ultimately throughout the entire endeavor. The customer needs to see that their vendor of choice has invested in inculcating project management within their organization and has trained their staff to use the tools of the trade.
PM as a Differentiating Factor—An External Plan. The sales and Marketing department needs to parley the use of the project management discipline in their marketing collateral, in their bid proposal and during the engagement.
In the marketing collateral:
1. Create collateral that not only sells the product/service and the implementation/installation support but project management as well. This sales collateral should include a customer-oriented project management benefits statement.
2. Include “slick” bios of the project managers, with both their technical and project management experiences; maybe even include a photograph. Project management is a consultative job. Consultative jobs are typically dependent upon the personal relationship between the project manager and the customer. Getting a feel for who one will be dealing with may lead the customer to make a choice on the person and thus the company with whom they want to entrust their job.
In the Bid Proposal:
3. Include within the proposal a description of the roles and responsibilities of all the players from both the vendor's organization and the customer's organization. This section serves two objectives: (a) to inform the customer that the project manager is not just acting as liaison between the customer and the vendor, but that he or she has the skills and the authority to “actively” manage the project; and (b) to differentiate, in the mind of the customer, the various roles so that there is a clear understanding of what the vendor is beholden to do and what the customer must do to get the job done.
4. Generate a communication plan indicating what type of information each role, as described in 2 above, needs to “give to” and to “get from” each other, in what mode the communication will be delivered, and how frequently. A key part of this plan is to make the project manager the focal point of communication with the customer to proceduralize when and how communication will occur.
5. When preparing the proposal, be sure to include a line item charging the customer for the project management effort. something given for free is often seen as having no value.
During the engagement:
6. As part of the kickoff meeting with the customer, add a session on the importance of project management in fulfilling their requirements and an overview of how project management will be employed within their engagement. This presentation reinforces the differentiating factor that helped sell the job, gives the customer the reassurance that their job will be handled professionally, and sets expectations of the working project relationship between vendor and customer.
7. Religiously conduct customer surveys, questioning the customer on the timeliness and quality of interim deliverables as well as the supportiveness of the project team. This brings to the customer's attention not only your desire to provide excellent service but also how the discipline of project management is affecting the success of the assignment and the relationship with the customer.
8. Budget for face-to-face meetings with the customer, whenever possible, to review schedules, budgets and quality of deliverables required from both the vendor's and the customer's perspective. These project management meetings unearth problems before they can negatively affect the job.
Now let's look at more subtle but meaningful internal efforts to assure that these expectations, which got the customer to buy, are actually delivered.
PM as a Differentiating Factor—An Internal Plan. To assure that the promises concerning the benefits of project management made during the sales process are met during the execution of the job, institute a variety of internal processes and organizational commitments. Here are several that need to be in place:
Develop a product or system development life cycle, defining the steps needed to implement or install your company's product/service. Share this model work breakdown structure with your customer—it is the framework for the project plan. Modify it with the customer so that both of you feel comfortable that all the work efforts to be performed are scheduled. Be sure to include all the project management efforts such as project planning, project kickoff, project status meetings, and project close-out.
As part of the communication plan described above, include an internal component. It is the requirement of all internal stakeholders to inform all other stakeholders of any changes in scope or changes in priorities. Position consequences for failure to do so and rewards within their performance appraisals for maintaining good internal communication.
Establish a continuous improvement process to pass on lessons learned to new project teams. Build a project history base using the actual data from past projects’ schedules, budgets, change control logs, staffing plans. Then use this historical data to increase accuracy of bid proposals and confidence in project plans for future projects.
Produce a project management lexicon to help current employees from different divisions and representatives from the customer speak the same project management language.
Consider a rolling wave approach to project management. This means conducting a formal project management review at predetermined milestones, the customer is officially informed of any problems and lessons learned so that appropriate action can be taken.
Maintain the rigor of creating and updating project plans. This includes discipline on the part of all stakeholders, both within the vendor's organization and at the customer's site.
Establish a proactive “quality plan” by instituting many interim quality assurance checkpoints during the project plan to assure delivery of a quality deliverable.
Institute a performance improvement, appraisal and development process for project managers based on following the project management discipline, managing the financial budget commitments, and optimizing customer satisfaction, and other criteria.
IF PROJECT MANAGEMENT IS to be seen as a differentiating, value-added service to your company's customer, then position it within the sales process, utilize it during the launch of the engagement, hang-tight to the rigor of project management throughout the entire job, culminating in a professional project close-out review once the engagement is completed. Project management can make the installation or implementation of our company's products or services more efficient, more effective, more successful. Let's put the limelight on the project management process and use it to “sell” our wares, and more importantly, because of the success of previous jobs, use it to continue to “sell” the next job or the next engagement.
March 1999 PM Network