It has been well said that the most important vectors governing a company’s ability to succeed are product, team and market. How revolutionary or disruptive is the product? Is the right team at the helm? Finally, is there a perfect storm brewing in the market?
While these vectors are important considerations to getting a company off the ground, they fall short in addressing the long-term considerations in establishing a company that is built to last. Companies that work today do not necessarily last into the future. Solving the challenge of ensuring you have the right product, team and market is incredibly important. But what sets companies apart in the long term? How do you ultimately do right by customers?
The answer lies in a company’s ability to be transparent.
With the amount of choice customers have today, building a sustainable, long-term business requires a company to be transparent on all levels. Transparency can be an elusive concept to grasp, perhaps even the elephant in the room, if you are a customer wondering what your vendor is really trying to achieve. Transparency in the way business is done with customers and partners is important, as well as in communications with employees. It sounds simple, but in practice can be difficult to commit to – as being partially or even 90 percent transparent is a waste.
Imagine what the IT industry would be like if technology companies lived by the following tenets of a transparent business:
- Be Transparent about Business Terms. Seems simple, right? If a technology vendor doesn’t publish their terms and conditions (T&Cs), the important question is what else they are hiding. The decision to do business with a company demands an understanding of the terms governing the relationship. If your IT vendor says “trust me” but then requires signature on a non-disclosure agreement or a “test run” with a salesperson to get their T&Cs, is that really trust? Agreements that are customer oriented (why wouldn’t they be) have no place being kept private or behind a firewall. Many technology companies, including Pure and other companies such as Brocade, Cisco, NetApp, Nimble Storage, Nutanix, Palo Alto Networks, and VMware make their end user agreements available in the public domain. It’s time the rest of the technology industry did the same.
- Be Intentionally Simple About the Experience. Transparency isn’t complicated. You want customers to love the product? Take a page out of the B2C book. Let them return it with a money back guarantee if they don’t. At the very least, before signing on the dotted line, let them kick the tires on the technology, use it, and evaluate it based on real world scenarios to be certain it meets their needs and expectations. Remember that vendors who propose artificial tests to skew results in their direction do not have a customer’s best interest in mind. And finally, so you decide to buy. Why must the invoice carry on for pages and pages? Simplicity is also relevant to the procurement experience. One test to consider: pull out your last invoice or PO. We suggest that if it is more than two pages at most, it is too long.
A short invoice with a couple of SKU’s + few pages max = that’s easy to business with.
- Double Down on R&D and innovation – not FUD. The market is competitive, which is great news for customers as it drives innovation. What’s not great? FUD – “fear, uncertainty and doubt” – fed by the competition about the competition. Put simply, it’s disingenuous. If your IT vendor isn’t laser focused on educating you on how they are innovating solutions to your pain points, pause and have a think. Sowing the seeds of a manipulative FUD campaign is nothing more than smoke and mirrors, designed to take the focus off of inherent limitations in the product or technology being pitched. Transparent business is being open and honest about intentions as a vendor to serve customers, not forcing a solution that may not be in their best interest.
- Be Transparent with Your People. Building a sustainable long-term business is impossible without happy employees. Company culture is as important as revenue. Employees impact customers and partners on every dimension: from sales people in the field, to engineers, support teams, marketing and yes, G&A teams too! Every employee should understand their role in achieving the company’s mission and be inspired to give a perfect effort. Endeavor to build a place that people want to be a part of. In the same vein, honor employee freedom, that is: the ability to for employees to choose where they want to work to pursue their dreams and enhance their careers. This is paramount to a sustainable long term business. If and when employees leave, address thematic issues with remaining employees and seek to remedy the problem head on. Alternative tactics such as burying feedback under the rug, enacting new policies out of thin air or attempting to teach employees who leave a “lesson” through aggressive litigation shouldn’t be considered a retention strategy.
- Upgrades – just be honest. Transparent companies are thoughtful about customers’ expenditures and factor this in before springing inconvenient upgrades on them. Forklift upgrades, for example. They’re so 1990s. There is most definitely a better way and on this front: the IT industry is ready for an overhaul. The best technology (designed with customer usage and buying patterns in mind) should be paired with an enjoyable ownership and upgrade experience. In advance of new releases, companies should treat customers like partners to the business by communicating the next big thing. There should be no surprises. Customers should be able to buy with confidence today, without trepidation and fear of missing out on the next new thing coming down the road.
Innovative companies that are able to embrace transparency as reflected above build trust with those in their ecosystem, and most notably customers. This trust is inherent to building a sustainable, long-term business. With a good product, a great team and an addressable market that is ripe for disruption, initial success in any market is possible. Layering transparency into the DNA of the company, in all facets of the business, builds a company with staying power – equipped to prioritize customers now and into the future. In the end, of course, it is up to the customer to decide, to acknowledge that there is a better way to do business, and to develop an opinion about what kind of company they want to do business with.