The Intersection of Solutions Marketing, Strategy and Corporate Agility: Interview with Shawn Jean re the Intersection of Stragile and Solutions Marketing

I had the opportunity to talk with Shawn Jean, a professional colleague of mine, who recently published a business book called Stragile. The book recently was listed in the Top 10 of Amazon’s business books, testifying to its relevance and practical insights for many of today’s leading companies that are in hypercompetitive markets . The theme of the book is how to survive as a business in a world of unparalleled – and increasing – change. According to Shawn, the seamless integration of agility and strategy are the two most critical ingredients for the secret sauce of success.

Shawn has spent many years with leading technology companies such as Avaya and Cisco in creating and marketing solutions. I asked him if the principles in his book were relevant to solutions marketers. He responded with an enthusiastic “yes!”. The following comments are extracted from that conversation.

S. Hurley: What are the core messages in your book for solutions marketers?

S. Jean: In my experience, solutions are only relevant and beneficial if they are truly focused on a business challenge or problem. A real solution can’t be developed and delivered if there isn’t a clear objective or goal. It’s important to set clear targets for the outcomes for what you want. The outcomes will provide a clear and defined business case that can be attacked. If you set a clear target and you have a picture of the result that the potential solution will yield, you can then work backwards from there and determine what you’ll need to do to hit the target and get the results you expect. The solutions pieces – the products and services that are required -- will come together in a logical fashion. I also believe that solutions marketers will often will to work as a team with the customer. The benefits of doing this are that you’ll have a better understanding of their problems and their targets and objectives, and also to gain clarity regarding the assets and capabilities required to help the customer reach them.

S. Hurley: You talk about the fact that the technology is almost never the solution in itself, and that it’s only the enabler to the solution. In a techno-driven world, what are the shortcomings of simply applying technology innovations to customer problems?

S. Jean: We’ve all observed that most companies are capable of developing a strategy with clear objectives. The problems arise when these strategies are implemented. In my experience, the results of a company’s operations and activities end up deviating from the intended strategic plan. An additional problem is that there’s always an unplanned time lag between what they plan to accomplish and what they actually achieve. Once companies start to see these gaps, they sort of panic and decide to close it by employing new, glitzy and expensive technologies. The problem arises when the power and capabilities of the new technologies don’t provide the benefits that the customer expected or wanted. I use a very simple analogy that I think nearly everyone is familiar with in my book, which is the story of the Titanic. The whole purpose of building the Titanic was to create a fleet of similar ships for the White Star Line. The Titanic was going to show that transportation between Europe and the US would be faster and more comfortable than any other type of ship that sailed at that time. The White Star Line’s #1 priority for the maiden voyage, then, was to make sure that the Titanic would get to New York on time. That priority, that outcome, overrode all other factors when they sailed into the iceberg field in the middle of the Atlantic. They should have veered off course right then and there and taken a slower but safer route, but they didn’t. Even when all of the information they had pointed to a change in their plans to ensure a safe and successful journey, it didn’t matter. All other potential outcomes and problems ended up being secondary to reaching New York City on time. We all know how this story played out.

Another example is Blockbuster, which hung on to an obsolete strategy instead of thinking in a more agile and responsive way in terms of customer wants and needs. A real solution was emerging that required a new purchasing and delivery system. If Blockbuster had focused on optimizing the customer experience, and then looked at the services and products required to provide that experience, the company would have seen that their bricks and mortar operation was in deep trouble. Even when the writing was on the wall that movies would be streamed to everyone’s homes, and downloadable onto multiple devices, the company didn’t see the opportunity that Netflix presented. By the way, they had a chance to buy Netflix for $50 million at the time that Netflix started to take off – a company that now has a market cap of over $43 billion! They didn’t pull the trigger and make the purchase because they were wedded to an old strategy that ignored the opportunity of providing a better customer experience.

S. Hurley: My colleagues and I at Solutions Insights have conducted a number of surveys that have asked a core question in one form or another – what is the biggest challenge that solutions marketers face in getting companies to make the shift from a product focus to a customer-centric, solutions focus. The answer, every time has been getting the organization to change in a way that will allow the solutions processes and models to be accepted and adopted. Where do the cultural and change management issues fit within your “stragile” framework?

S. Jean: Great question…I was interviewed on a TV show called “Leading Change” by Tara Seager who has a change management and adoption company. In many of conversations that I have had with my solutions development teams in my past jobs, we spent a lot of time making sure that the technology-based “box” would light up and the gears would move the right way. I always intervened at some point and said “Stop – forget about the technology. Will the user have the right experience? Walk me through what the user will think, feel and do in light of all of the other technologies that they can buy or are already using”. Even though we can check the box and claim that we implemented what we promised to deliver, will the customer in fact use it and get the value out of it? There’s an old saying that user interfaces are like a joke – if you have to explain it, it’s not good enough. The trap that needs to be avoided, and that I address in my book, is too often companies are set up to sell only what’s in a specific BU’s portfolio instead of looking for opportunities to collaborate across BU’s and provide a better offering that will have a bigger impact on the customer’s business. This, of course, means significant internal change. Without a sound change management plan, the “solution” will go off the rails pretty quickly.

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