Project management can help "sell" your company’s products and services

what’s the hook?

Almost two decades ago, I was talking to one of IBM’s regional directors. He was lamenting the fact that IBM no longer could just sell computer equipment. It had become important, almost necessary, 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. In other words, the internal customer’s expectation is to have the product or service delivered on time, within budget and of the quality promised. The only way to meet these expectations is to plan, organize, and track the delivery in the most professional way possible. That means using the discipline of project management.

As William Doey, Jr., the President of IKON Design, a document imaging company located outside of San Francisco, said in his company’s internal customer 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.” “… we deliver conversion plans that go beyond project-to-project thinking.” “We call this value Performance Beyond Expectations.” “We do this by investing in engineering and project management skills.”

Bill Dooley 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 internal customer is assured that their job is being planned, monitored, tracked and managed to the best of IKON’s ability.

This article will discuss: (1) how project management can aid a company in selling its product/service, (2) an external plan to position project management as a differentiating sales factor, and (3) an internal plan employing project management in order to meet the commitments as sold.

Project Management’s Ability to Aid a Company in Selling Its Product/Service

Potential internal customers will see the use of project management by a vendor as a differentiating factor. Why?

Let’s use a hypothetical situation as an example.

Image we are a vendor who is looking to sell a specific product to a prospective client. The search has been narrowed down to two potential vendors; us, Vendor A and our strongest competitor, Vendor B. There is a requirement list of features that the client wants this product to possess. We have Feature 1 and Vendor B has Feature 2. Features 1 and 2 are comparable features and to be honest this certainly will not be the tiebreaker for the client. We have assigned our best salesperson to this account. But guess what? Vendor B also has a very charismatic sales rep doing the best that they can do to get the sale. Vendor B assures the prospective client that they will support the implementation of the product. The client has asked us about our implementation support and we have assured them that we are the best in the business.

It is easy for the prospective client to compare Feature 1 against Feature 2. Both of our salespeople are pros and both of us “promise” strong implementation support. It is not so easy for the perspective client to differentiate an unsubstantiated “promise” that the implementation will be satisfactory and the implementation effort will not turn their company up side down.

What is the differentiating factor from the viewpoint of the client? We not only can promise competent and professional implementation assistance but in the proposal we can show how we will keep that promise. We will include in the proposal the following:

A template of the tasks that will be performed during the implementation indicating which tasks will be done by them and which tasks are our responsibility

A communication plan describing the project management reporting that we will be providing to them on a monthly basis

A biography of several qualified “project managers” who would be available to manage the project from our side.

With this project management model describing how the project will be handled, it becomes clear that we, Vendor A, should be the vendor with whom the prospective client will want to work.

In other words, 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 internal customer to decide? Each vendor’s sales staff is professional, charismatic, but they can only represent a comparable product or service as it exists.

The sale comes down to—what will the selected vendor provide over and above the actual tangible product or intangible service— something that will differentiate us from our competition. This is when each vendor starts making promises about the support that their firm can give to ensure successful implementation or efficient installation of the product or the service. But a “promise” to provide support has no substance without a documented methodology demonstrating the credibility and integrity of the promise.

The differentiator that the internal customer is looking for is a tried-and-true process, one that the vendor will employ to plan, organize and manage the assignment. More specifically:

Re: Time—The internal customer wants the job done on time. He or she has advertised internally and sometimes externally that this product or service will be available or will have accomplished its objectives by a certain date. The advertisement of the due date makes the project and the internal customer very visible. Slipping the due date becomes an embarrassment to all those who were responsible for the choice of and the interaction with the vendor.

Re: Money—The internal customer has requested from their management funding for a specific amount of money or at least a range of potential expenditure, which will not exceed a certain amount. Therefore, the internal customer is relying on the vendor to perform the work within the preestablished budget. Having to come back to management and to ask for more money is embarrassing. The assumption on management’s part is that either the wrong vendor was chosen or that the vendor relationship was not well managed. Either way the onus falls back on those folks who chose the vendor and those folks who are managing the assignment.

Re: Quality—The internal customer has announced that the product or service is to perform in a certain way. There is a preconceived expectation of quality on the part of those who will use the product or those who will be exposed to the service. If this quality expectation is not meet, the failure is not only visible to the management but to everyone who comes into contact with the end deliverable. And again, who looks bad? It is the person(s) who chose the vendor and/or the person(s) who managed the engagement.

Re: Upheaval—Lastly, the internal customer implicitly expects that the assignment be carried out with as little upheaval to their organization as possible. This is not as quantifiable as on time, within budget, of the quality expected. However, it is sometimes as important if not more important than the three tangible criteria of time, money and quality. Implementing a new product or purchasing a service indicates that there will be change in the environment. Not only will a cadre of employees be involved in the implementation/installation, but also an even larger group of people in the organization will be using the new product or the concepts introduced through the service once the vendor has left the scene. Therefore, the bumpier and the less controlled and managed the effort, the more dissonance that it causes within the organization. And again those people internally who chose the vendor and who worked to manage the vendor are seen as the culprits.

We must remember that the person(s) who make the final decision as to which vendor to pick and the person(s) who manage the relationship with the vendor are putting their reputations on the line. If the vendor is unsuccessful, yes, the blame falls on the vendor’s shoulders but it also falls by default on the shoulders of the person who chose and/or managed the vendor. The vendor leaves the stage; but the person who made the choice or managed the engagement has to stay and endure the consequences. Using the project management discipline can help satisfy the internal customer’s expectations of on time, within budget, of quality and with minimal upheaval; thus setting up the people involved in the selection of the vendor and in the management of the vendor relationship as superstars.

Yes, the internal 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.

During the Sales Process: The proposal needs to clearly show what project management tools and techniques will be employed. We will talk more about that in the next section of this paper. Even more persuasive, conducting the Proposal Response and Vendor Selection Process as a project shows the prospective client how the discipline would really add value to the future engagement. In other words, planning the preparation of the proposal, letting the client know what the steps are in this process and keeping the delivery dates increases the vendor’s credibility and reliability. It demonstrates how project management makes the entire interaction between client and vendor more professional and more mutually beneficial.

During the Launch. Once we have been awarded the contract, the first few interactions set the tone and establish our reputation as an easy-to-work-with or as a troublesome vendor. The first interaction is a well-organized project kick-off meeting during which the members of the internal customer’s organization and the members of our organization do several things. They develop a project plan (using our already predefined template of tasks to be performed), they agree on roles and responsibilities, they establish a mutually agreeable communication plan consisting of reports and appropriate meetings. First impressions count. This first impression sets the stage not only for a successful ongoing relationship, but also for our project manager to drive the ongoing work effort.

During the Entire Effort. It does no good to show that we use project management to win the job and project management to launch the job and then drop the discipline like a hot potato once the engagement gets under way. During the project I the time when the vendor, the client, and we truly see the return on investment of applying the project management discipline.

In other words, the internal customer needs to see that their vendor of choice has inculcated project management within their own organization and has trained their staff to use the tools of the project management discipline.

An External Plan to Position Project Management as a Differentiating Factor

The outputs from this external plan are deliverables, which are seen by the outside world. They are tangible items, which position project management as a way to do business. Some of them are imbedded in other sales and marketing collateral while some called-out uniquely as project management related differentiators. In other words, your company 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, which not only sells the product/service and the implementation/installation support but also project management as well. This sales collateral should include an internal customer-oriented Project Management Benefits Statement.

2. Include “slick” bios of the project managers chock full of both their technical and project management experiences. These bios might 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 internal customer. Seeing the qualifications of the person with whom one will be dealing may lead the internal customer to make a choice based on the person and thus the company with whom they want to trust their job.

In the Bid Proposal

1. Include a description of the roles and responsibilities of all the players from both the vendor’s organization and the internal customer’s organization. This roles and responsibilities section serves two objectives: (a) to inform the internal customer that the project manager is not just a “pair-of-hands” acting as the liaison between the internal customer and the vendor; but he or she has the skills and the authority to “actively” manage the project and (b) to differentiate, in the mind of the internal customer, the various roles so that there is a clear understanding of what the vendor should do and what the internal customer must do to get the job done.

2. Generate a Communication Plan indicating what type of information each role as described in Number 3 above needs to “give to” and to “get from” each other, in what mode will be this communication be delivered and how frequently. A key part of this plan is to make the project manager the focal point of the communication with the internal customer and to establish procedures for when and how this communication will occur.

3. Charge the internal customer for the project management effort. Something given for free is often perceived as having no value. Managing the effort using the project management discipline has tremendous value and should be recognized and paid for accordingly.

During the Engagement

1. As part of the kick-off meeting with the internal 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 your engagement. This presentation reinforces the differentiating factor, which helped sell the job, gives the internal customer the reassurance that their job is going to be handled professionally and sets expectations for the working project relationship between the vendor and the internal customer.

2. Religiously conduct internal customer surveys, questioning the internal customer on the timeliness and quality of interim deliverables as well as the supportiveness of the project team. This brings to the internal customer’s attention not only your desire to provide excellent service but also the ways in which the discipline of project management is affecting the success of the assignment and the relationship with the internal customer.

3. Budget face-to-face meetings with the internal customer whenever possible. In these meetings, review schedules, budgets and quality of deliverables required from both the vendor’s perspective and from the internal customer’s perspective. These project management meetings unearth problems before they can negatively affect the job.

Above are a variety of ways to explicitly display the discipline of project management to the internal customer. Now let’s look at subtler, but meaningful internal efforts to assure that the promised results which got the internal customer to buy are actually delivered.

An Internal Plan to Facilitate Project Management as a Differentiating Factor

In order to assure that the promises concerning the benefits of project management that were made during the sales process are met during the execution of the job, a variety of internal processes and organizational commitments need to be instituted. Here are several that need to be in place:

1. Develop a Product or System Development Life Cycle, which defines the steps, needed to implement or install your company’s product or service. Share this with your internal customer as the model Work Breakdown Structure; i.e., the framework for the project plan. Modify it with the internal customer so that both of you feel comfortable that all the work efforts, which need to be done, are scheduled to be performed. Be sure to include all the project management efforts such as project planning, project kick-off, project status meetings, and project closeout.

2. As part of the Communication Plan described in the section above, include an internal component. It is the requirement of all internal stakeholders to inform all other stakeholders of any changes in scope of the deliverables or changes in priorities. Position consequences for failure to do so and rewards within their performance appraisals for maintaining good internal communication.

3. Establish a Continuous Improvement Process in order to pass lessons learned on to new project teams. This can be done by building a project history base, using the actual data from past project schedules, budgets, change control logs and staffing plans. This historical data is then used to increase the accuracy of bid proposals and confidence in project plans for future projects.

4. Produce a project management lexicon of terms that will help internal employees from different divisions and internal customer representatives speak the same project management language.

5. Consider a rolling wave approach to project management. This means at predetermined milestones, a formal project management review is performed. The internal customer is officially informed of any problems and lessons learned so that appropriate action can be taken.

6. Maintain the rigor of creating and updating project plans. This includes discipline on the part of all stakeholders, both internally within the vendor’s organization and also at the internal customer’s site.

7. Establish a proactive “Quality Plan” by instituting many interim quality assurance checkpoints during the project plan in order to assure a timely and quality deliverable.

8. 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 internal customer satisfaction, to name a few.

Summary

If project management is to be seen as a differentiating, value-added service to your company’s internal customer, then position project management within the sales process, utilize project management during the launch of the engagement and hang-tight to the rigor of project management throughout the entire job, culminating in a professional project review closeout once the engagement is completed. We all know that project management can make the installation or implementation of a company’s products or services more efficient, more effective and 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.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
September 7–16, 2000 • Houston, Texas, USA

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