Scouting for Solutions?
There are a wide array of customers who seek external capabilities that they either lack or wish to not dedicate internal resources to provide for themselves. The key questions that the customer usually must wrestle with are:
How specialized is my need? How pressing is it? How likely is it that I can satisfy my need through my exisiting network and how long will this take?What is the cost to me if I can't satisfy my need in the time I have allotted? And ultimately...what (if anything) am I willing to offer to have someone identify viable solution alternatives for me?
In my world, customers are always asking "Do you know or could you find somebody who can (fill in the blank)?" My answer will vary, depending upon the challenge and upon the terms of engagement. I will decline a request if I genuinely feel that I am unsuited to address their need and may refer the customer to another party whom I feel is a better fit. If I accept the challenge, I do so knowing that it will generally require me to do a fair amount of prospecting. So, what should the service of identifying solution options be worth?
I divide customers who seek solutions into two camps: (1) those who expect solutions without paying anything for them, and (2) those who are willing to pay for viable solutions.
Representing the first camp, a customer may seek to utilize web portals or to activate their various networks to seek to identify contacts without paying anything to find them. That is, they desire for people to volunteer solution options (possibly with the expectation that the scout will negotiate a contingency based agreement with the technology provider, payable only if the customer does a deal with them). These customers feel that if they can activate a sufficiently large network to scout their solution, they should be able to identify some viable options. As many of these companies lack a budget to pay scouts to conduct external scouting, they try to do what they can with the resources they have. I tend to avoid these kinds of "opportunities", because they are usually attached to non pressing needs where the customer is under no real pressure or obligation to select any solution provider. This means there is an exceedingly high likelihood that there won't be any payout.
The weakness to this approach (in my opinion) is that the solution set is limited to those parties who choose to respond to the solicitation. This is where the second camp can derive particular benefit from specialized "retained" scouting services. The scout is paid to proactively seek out viable solution providers who would not likely respond to a solicitation or even consider making their solution available to another party. In these scenarios, the customer has a financial interest in the scout's deliverables. The scout's performance determines the likelihood of repeat business.
I have no knowledge as to how successful one group is in achieving their objectives versus the other. I am simply describing the differences and expressing my preferences. If I had to guess however, I suspect that one tends to get what he pays for.
Next week I will discuss new business development.