We’ve been around long enough that I’ve had the opportunity to observe many interactions between our team members and their clients. One thing that strikes me time and again are the little things we do in an effort to become subject matter experts within a client’s vertical. I think this is one of the markers of success for any consultancy and something customers should look for when evaluating agencies — it turns the vendor/customer relationship into a partnership.
Here are few things that we do to build knowledge around an industry, and in particular a customer’s business, that your business could also consider.
This one is obvious; when you need to know something, ask questions. The important thing here though is to ask “why” as much as “how.” Asking “how” helps you know what a customer wants to build, while the “why” question leads us to what they want to accomplish.
Follow the Money
In any industry there is a natural flow of money, and understanding that flow helps you know what the business drivers are. Knowing where a customer’s business fits into this flow and how their revenue model works is crucial. This knowledge allows us to bring new ideas to the table that will complement the customer’s own approach.
Most businesses these days, especially digital ones, are only successful if they’re able to negotiate strong partnerships. Knowing the various players and their roles can help illuminate the nuances of an industry. This is also a good opportunity for disruption and possible cost savings if a vendor or provider can be removed from the equation.
Understand the End Customer
Some of the first questions we ask of any new client are, “Who is your customer?” and, “Why would an individual or company spend money for your service?” We often break these down further into personas, which categorize end users on several dimensions. This can help us identify places where we can trim unnecessary features from an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) or even spin off separate products.
Unless a customer is one of the rare trailblazers in an industry, they’ll have competitors. We spend a fair amount of time researching a customer’s competitive landscape so we can help them avoid the pitfalls that others have already experienced. Beyond just learning what feature set works in a space, we also learn about pricing models, partnerships, user expectations around customization as well as onboarding and much more.
More than technology or even product design, the software business is about knowledge. It’s about taking a problem space and synthesizing a solution from as much knowledge as we can obtain. It’s essential to our success with any customer that we get to know their industry, their business and the people involved.
If you run a services organization I’d highly recommend examining the tools you use to become subject matter experts. And, if you’re a company looking for a consulting partner, you should ask the question, “How will you get to know my business?”
A version of this post originally ran on the author’s blog.