Some of a company’s biggest expenditures—upgrades, infrastructure expansions, and new applications—are, of course, technology-related. But these requirements don’t always come from the IT department. Rather, they’re handed down by a business driver within the company, and these are the people we, as IT consultants, should pay special attention to. The business driver is the one who recognizes a detriment to the business process, calls for action, and asks for solutions. And more importantly, business drivers usually make the big purchasing decisions.

In this column, I’ll talk about the importance of recognizing both a client’s business needs and the business drivers themselves. By formulating a solution that targets the client company’s business needs, you align your goals with those of the decision makers, a method that not only adds value to your services, but one that can also help you land new clients and strengthen your relationship with present clients.

Identify business needs and business drivers
A business need might be defined loosely as a requirement to fulfill a particular process for the good of the business as a whole. A technical need, on the other hand, might simply be the need for an additional file and print server in the sales department. Good examples of business requirements would be the need to manage the client’s growing paper trail with a document-management system, or to consolidate customer-visit notes into a wider customer-relationship management system.

Often, a problem that at first seems like a technical need may, upon further investigation, be identified as a business need. First of all, make sure you completely understand why the need for a solution has come about. When meeting with a potential client to draw information for a proposal, ask questions such as, “Is it simply that the existing file server is at capacity, or is there a need for a new server to make the business operate more efficiently?” Also, see if you can meet the person or team who has driven the requirement. These business drivers have probably had to fight to get you there in the first place, so they have a vested interest in giving you all the information they can.

What about new clients?
Once you’ve been with a client for a while, you will be familiar with their organization’s business culture, and you will know the business drivers and understand the pressures under which they work. When you’re introducing yourself to a new client, however, you need to compensate for the lack of history if you are to start a relationship with them. Remember that your job is to have a far better knowledge of the tools that can facilitate effective and efficient business processes—their job is to know their business far better than you. You need to listen and learn from them first so that they can understand how you can help them.

As consultants, we could wait and propose a solution for the consequential work, which may end up fulfilling the business need. This seems to be the “usual” route to gain new clients—proposing infrastructure and design consultancy, server implementations, and rollouts—all of which are closer to our core skills. But if you can understand the underlying business needs, you can strengthen your relationship with the decision makers within the client company.

Creating opportunities
Clearly, the key to success in this scenario lies in meeting the decision makers, recognizing opportunities to relate our experience and skills, and drawing together the requirements into a proposal that has a chance of acceptance. How we get access to these audiences is a vast subject: We network, we are referred, we promote ourselves, and we persevere.

Recognizing business needs and being able to “do something about them” can move us higher up in the decision-making process, add value to our services, and make us far more proactive in attracting new clients and developing old ones.
How do you gain access to the business driver at the client company? How do you convince this person to use your services? Post a comment below or send us a note.