I love the software industry, particularly the continuous change and innovation, the unexpected twists and turns, that lead to new trajectories. I've worked in this industry for quite a while, starting off as a developer in the IT group at Texas Instruments. Over the years, I've had the pleasure to take on a variety of roles, all of which has given me a unique perspective when looking at technology and how it's used by businesses.
The world has been turned upside down for most software companies: increased and unexpected competition, uncertain global economy, customers constantly morphing, volatile and disruptive solution markets, customer-driven sales, and constant technological change. The strategic capabilities to effectively differentiate and position a software vendor are in constant flux.
Often software vendors need outside advisors and strategists to help them take on new perspectives, call out current wrong turns, and put together new competitive direction – with guidance for how to make it all happen. An outside consultant brings the advantage of not being embroiled in company politics, "drunk" on the company kool-aid, or blindly enamored of the company technology.
To truly make a difference for midsized software companies, an outside consultant should be first of all a Generalist, to pull together the optimal end objectives, and then a Specialist, to understand how to get there. The generalist meets the challenge of connecting the right dots across many domains to construct a valuable new 'big picture' of possibilities. The specialist makes sure that strategies are rooted in reality for a particular software vendor and its customers, and understands logistical issues that could impact execution.
'Master of Many Trades': The New Generalist
It's tempting to label today's generalist as "jack of all trades, master of none". But this clichéd phrase doesn't come close to the strengths embodied by the category-bending generalist. My generalist strengths draw on the mastery that I have in many areas – all of which come into play for upping the game for my clients. Generalists help companies do a better job of meeting customer needs, developing useful and forward-looking products, and going to market with the right mindset by understanding how these different elements have to work together to achieve success.
Generalists are driven by an insatiable curiosity: we quickly understand new ideas and concepts, continuously consume information, and usually go after research and analysis in hyper-drive. The generalist's broad diversity of perspective and experience is key to achieving innovative and creative thinking. A wide variety of knowledge combined with intelligent questioning of the status quo open new ways of seeing and doing things. As a generalist I'm wired to provide strategic context for my client projects, deliver the key points, and lay out clear guidance for actions to take and why.
The means to solve large problems and create the basis for new value usually run across multiple disciplines, lines of business, and even industries.Innovative thinking comes from connecting concepts, technologies, practices in ways not previously envisioned – with components often coming from outside the vendor's current solution domain and comfort zone. Innovation results from associative thinking or idea mashups:connecting known but frequently disparate concepts or constructs to create something new that can take companies in advantageous directions on less-traveled paths.
And Then There's the Specialist in Me
It's very important to develop good strategies. But it's also important to help software vendors with the execution of those strategies, with high level planning based on the realities that exist for a particular company. To give my clients the innovative ideas and strategies that will work for them and their customers, I draw on my specialist background to provide a pointed focus on how software should be developed, marketed and sold for a particular purpose that will solve real customer problems.
The specialist in me comes from:
- Hands on work in multiple software solution domains
- Different roles: technical, customer-facing, go-to-market
- IT team experience
- Entrepreneurial business experience
- Detail-oriented analytical skills (analytical abilities relate both to specialists and generalists)
- Creative bent
- Advanced communications proficiency
- Customer interactions of many kinds -- related to software solutions, specific industries and solving business problems
Devising Strategies for B2B Software Companies is Multi-Layered
Software solution spaces started off as silos. But it's no longer possible for software technologies to exist in a vacuum within any company. Enterprises need better integrated systems and processes. Over recent years, solutions have developed more overlap and convergence with one another. Software vendors had better understand this new playing field, as well as the endless number of new innovations for different kinds of solutions and how they are delivered to customers. The convergence of software solutions means competition can come from any direction. It also means most solution spaces are commoditized.
Software vendors and buyers alike need strategies and expert guidance to optimize how they support today's integrated enterprises: how different software applications fit together, how to evolve practices and processes for users to best take advantage of new technologies – even how to evolve cultural changes for the internal enterprise. Changes in how enterprises function affect software vendors as much as buyers.
Readers of my writing here in my blog and other publications may wonder what I do professionally, since I cover a wide variety of business technology topics. To provide real and actionable advice on strategies, I have to understand the many layers of creating, marketing, selling, and ultimately using B2B software solutions. I bring a great deal of value to the work I do for my clients because of what I know and what I have experienced from real world implementations of various software solutions and working with buyers and users.
I constantly keep tabs on:
- Specialized knowledge of many customer industries, to understand how technology makes a difference for these industries and customers
- Multidimensional knowledge of the Customer and the customer experience: how and why customers research, buy, use software solutions
- What vendors need to do to offer the solutions and experiences that best benefit their customers
- Optimal target markets and customers for various B2B software vendors
- Deep knowledge of many software solution spaces and how they fit together for most companies
- Focused insight that plays well for midsized and smaller vendors
- Activities of the overall array of B2B software vendors
Strong Authentic Customer Focus is Everything
Your customers are your company – period. Whether your company sells software or your company uses software, your main strategic goal should be Successful Customers. To focus on what customers need, the people of the enterprise and their technologies have to work well together. The customer-focused enterprise can achieve growth and competitiveness -- by delivering what their customers want and need, for now and the future.
But software vendors continue to struggle with prioritizing the Customer over their business-as-usual, ingrained product and self-focused strategies. I provide the guidance and expertise to help vendors look at technology solutions from customer perspectives, and build connections from their software solutions to the problems customers want to solve.
Why You Need Help from the Generalist and Specialist That I Am
If you're reading this article, it's likely that you work in the software industry. You may already realize that software vendors often put too much focus on technologies and features, and fail to connect with the right potential customers to meet their needs. Vendors must transform product and go-to-market strategies to focus on how their solutions help their customers improve their businesses, meet critical objectives, and work more effectively.
Business growth strategies start with customer insights. Customers are changing, very quickly – as are solution markets. Vendors must keep up. Software companies need to get better at creating and growing the right solutions, that work they way users work. Realistic competitive differentiation comes from meeting the needs of the right target markets and customers with high quality products and services, and from making a commitment to outstanding customer experiences for every interaction.
It would be my pleasure to be your partner in making your software company more successful, with current and future solution strategies. I'll help you re-invent your software company: from business model innovation to new services and solutions, more targeted markets, true customer focus, and effective go-to-market strategies. More information – What I Do for Vendors and Buyers
Image source: creativegeneralist.com
About the author: Julie is an independent consultant and industry analyst for B2B software solutions, providing services to vendors to improve strategies for customers and target markets, products and solutions, and future direction. Julie has expertise in several solution spaces including: data integration and data quality; analytics and BI; business process, workflow and collaboration; digital marketing, WCM and social media; and the pivotal importance of user and customer experiences. Julie shares her takes on the software industry via her blog Highly Competitiveand on Twitter: @juliebhunt For more information: Julie Hunt Consulting – Strategies for B2B Software Solutions: Working from the Customer Perspective