And it's not what you think
If you find yourself reading this, you are probably a business owner looking for guidance in the selection of a software. Maybe you are in the midst of implementing a software within your business. Or you are someone like myself, who is genuinely interested in the advancements of computer software and its impact on our business environment. Yes, people like me exist.
Regardless of your motivation, you want to know how to become successful in applying the vast array of cool technological tools within your business. Usually when someone authors something on this topic, they will usually discuss project management methods, training strategies, buy-in strategies, and the like.
Well, that’s not me. That’s why I added the “No B.S.” to the title. Software for Success is predicated on one key idea before anything else. But before I can get into that, I think it’s important to summarize the ever-evolving relationship between business-to-business (B2B) software.
No one can dispute the impact of technology on the business world. As time has passed, we seen advances in technological infrastructure and the software that runs on it. The world is seeing a major change in how we purchase and implement software. Gone are the days of companies pouring thousands of dollars a year into creating and maintaining client/server environments. As the web has advanced, so too has the proliferation of web-based software in the business world.
While there are many benefits to companies purchasing and implementing web-based software, one of the drawbacks from the perspective of a software vendor lies in the fact that companies are growing less and less patient with their software partners. Not so long ago, the B2B software industry could have been described as a “push” economy - where software companies introduced innovation and enhancements when it saw fit. Well, that’s long gone now. We are now seeing a “pull” economy in this industry -where ease of purchase, advancements in “social sharing” and a hyper-competitive business environment have empowered businesses to dictate what they want to see in a software. This is why the concepts Churn Rate and Customer Success have caught on within the software industry over the years. The business world now recognizes that it is financially cheaper to invest in software, since there is no need to purchase the physical infrastructure of old.
And they are right. It is cheaper from a monetary perspective. However, this is where a clear distinction needs to be made. While it may cheaper to purchase these resources, the cost of routinely implementing new software can put a toll on a company’s personnel. As I have seen over my 9 years as a consultant, there is a misconception that the solution to a company’s issues revolves around finding the “right software”. The truth is that without proper leadership and guidance, no software will ever fully satisfy such a company. The companies are looking outward to resolves issues whose resolution requires an inward analysis.
The effects of frequent software switches can leave a feeling among employees that there is no agreed-upon strategic vision at best and at worse, management will experience a decrease in company moral. This is why it is so critical for business owners to be intentional in the selection, purchase and implementation of any software.
I serve as a consultant to the small to mid-sized freight forwarding industry where this problem is amplified. In a highly-competitive industry with thin profit margins, the implications of blind software purchases, coupled with a lack of direction during the implementation of software can be catastrophic. This is why strong leaders are needed during these times. While these companies’ resources are not as abundant as a larger company, an advantage that small companies usually have is that there is a clear and visible leader – and that is you, the business owner.
B2B Software Marketing - Pulling Back the Curtain
What does B2B software and your local health club have in common when it comes to prying money away from you? A whole lot.
Let’s consider the common experience of signing up for a gym membership.
At some point in your life, it is common to feel compelled to get into shape. You might realize that your health is not what it used to be. Or you see some fit individual posting motivational quotes on Instagram and think, “I can be like them too”. Or as many of us do – you head to the gym when you have a suit or a dress that you’ll need to fit into for fear of looking less than average in those wedding party photos. Whatever the reason, you feel compelled to do get up and do something about the current situation.
So, you start asking around to see what’s the latest craze. If you are motivated, you jump on your computer and intensely research the different gyms around their area. You’ll go to their website and see those toned bodies (you’ve never seen an overweight fitness model on these sites, have you?) and you’ll review all of the options that these gyms offer for creating the “new” you. You might compare and contrast the varying qualities of each gym. You might even sign up for a free trail at one or two.
Once you have made a decision on a gym, you hit the ground running. You go every single day. You’ll tinker with the exercise machines to learn how to use them. Hell, if you are really inspired, you might even get crazy and hire a personal trainer.
But then something funny happens. A week, a month, or even a year passes by and you realize that you have been paying for this membership all of this time and you haven’t derived any value from it. It happens almost unconsciously.
How did we arrive at this? Where did you fall off the wagon? More on that to come.
So how is the gym membership experience comparable to the purchase of a B2B software from a business owner’s perspective?
For starters, if you are like most people I know, you’ll ask your contemporaries what software they are using. A rousing review from someone you trust might be enough for some of you to go all in on a software. If not, you’ll create a Google search and visit a few vendor sites, where you will read about all of the cool bells and whistles, see the image of smiling employees giving each other high-fives and read promotional material and fancy slogans like, “Easily manage operations, accounting, visibility and tracking, connectivity, and compliance with a single system”. They had you at “Easily”, huh?
So, you’ll probably sit through a demo where the salesperson might all but guarantee that this software will make you business hum on all cylinders. You have seen enough. You buy the software and you sign up for all of those bells and whistles. You pay to have the software implemented and have your staff go through training. You Go Live with high expectations for the growth of your business. You took the magic “software” pill and expect all of your businesses issues to be resolved. Just. Like. That.
Days turn into weeks, and weeks turn into months and there are no noticeable improvements in your company that can be associated to the new software. You discuss the situation with your team. They inform you that they haven’t use the systems that you invested in because of “XYZ”. Maybe they do use the system but you come to find out that it is not being used correctly or even to its full capacity. Remember all of those bells and whistles?
So, you eventually reach a point of frustration and you just give up. You and your staff return to your previous habits, which is what got you here in the first place. Then you wait some time and feel compelled to try again. This time with another software provider. And they vicious cycle begins again.
It’s been said that many people never have the time or money to do things right the first time – but they always have the time or money to do it again. This holds true when it comes to software implementations.
And so, we re-visit my original question. What do B2B software companies and your local health club have in common? They practice the same form of manipulative marketing. The manipulation that I am referring to here should not be seen in a negative light. Theses companies are within their right to sell you idealized scenarios. This is called Aspirational Marketing. These aspirational messages can spur you into action but as times goes by, they cannot make you consistent in applying the steps required to reach that level of success.
Should you feel deceived? Absolutely not. They delivered on what they told you their product can do. It is fair to say that it is not the system that fails. It is your ability to push your team past the challenges that are bound to arise in any implementation. Remember, these companies sell you a vision of yourself or of your company. They sell you the tools that you need to reach that vision. The problem? These companies are here to sell you products and services. They can’t and usually won’t, sell you on the mindset that you will need to accomplish your ambitions.
The common thread in both of the examples that I mention is you. The Gym Member. The Business Owner. The Leader is hiding within.
In both of the scenarios that I mentioned, nothing will work unless you work, to make it work. Got that?
So, what is the secret to accomplishing software for success? The answer is no different for the results that you expected to receive from joining the health club.
It is all about mindset and heart-set.
I am a big fan of the work of Simon Sinek, the author of “Start With Why”.
For most of my life, I felt as if I was just drifting along in life. Not a horrible life, but not a fulfilled life either.
I would start things, encounter struggles, and then quit. Then maybe, just maybe, I would try again later.
It wasn’t until I began studying his work that I realized what the issue that I, and most every other person has.
Most people make commitments before understanding “WHY” we are committing in the first place.
I don’t mean the superficial “why”. I mean that deep sense of purpose that is built on an emotion from the past that exists inside of each and everyone of us. It’s the one compelling and endearing reason that serves as the beacon that guides you through everything that you do in your life.
In my case, I received two degrees and passed the CPA Exam because I strongly believed that it would magically create this awesome life. It didn’t. I worked in corporate for most of my life, believing that if I did everything the way I was told to do it, I would be rewarded with praise, and maybe that would satisfy me. Wrong again.
It wasn’t until I did some serious digging into my past experiences that I found my “WHY’. It is based on personal fulfillment. Fulfillment means different things to different people but in my world, it means accomplishing the things that I set out to do, being of service to my family and community, and building emotional, spiritual and financial wealth for the future generations of my family.
Soon after this epiphany I realized that I would never be able to reach this emotion if I was an employee. For me, the feeling of fulfillment would come in the form of building and growing my life, on my terms. I could never feel that sense of ownership as a 9-to-5’er.
You might be asking why this is relevant. Let’s return to the examples that I presented previously. Would you give up on the health club if your purpose was stronger than just losing weight? Would you be more inclined to fight through the temporary pain, inconveniences and obstacles of exercise if your purpose were to serve as a role model for your children?
Would you navigate through the challenges that are involved in implementing a new software if your purpose was guided by something stronger than just efficiency and growth? What if your “WHY” involved serving your community for the greater good of society?
Do you see the difference? In each example that I just presented; the former was a finite purpose. The latter is an infinite purpose.
As the name suggests, finite purposes have an end. They are attainable. Infinite purposes have no end and likely will not be attained. Will your children ever see your commitment to exercise as an example for their lives? We don’t know, but you will always be bound to that purpose. How will you know if your business every impacted society the way in which your “WHY” suggests? You may never know. But that is not what is important. It is about the relentless pursuit of these objectives that you value so deeply. This is the difference between success and failure. This is how you leave an indelible impact on the world.
In business, there leaders and there are those who lead. Walmart is a low-price leader. For better or worse, all of their efforts are centered around this mission. Apple, on the other hand, is not the statistical leader in computing, cell phones, music, TV or anything else. Yet Apple is a billion-dollar company with a cult following. Do you see anyone with Wal-Mart bumper stickers on their car? Which leader do you want to be?
As a business owner, in order to lead effectively your “WHY” has to be on display for everyone to see. A strong enough “WHY” (built upon an infinite purpose) that noticeably inspires you will inspire everyone around you to meet your goals and objectives (aka, your finite purposes).
You don’t have to believe me. Just take a look at the pictures below.
Both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi’s “WHY’s extended beyond their own lives and have served as guiding lights to millions of other individuals well after their deaths.
Translating Your “WHY” to your Business
So, you have determined your “WHY” and you have come to realize that you, as a leader, are the pivotal key to success in leading your organization through changes such as a software migration. You understand that we are the “tone at the top” and you realize that you now need to broadcast our passion aloud. So how do we then relay this message to our tribe?
When I started my business, I had no idea how to translate my “WHY” to my business. It took me a few years to come up with a message that could properly articulate my strong sense of purpose while accounting for the dreams and desires of my customers and business partners.
Again, I leaned on my mentor Simon Sinek to help me create a message that would resonate with readers. I found that using the same elements that Simon suggests in creating your “WHY” also helps with creating an effective mission statement that guides your company.
The format looks like this:
TO _____________________________ SO THAT ________________________________ .
The contribution that I am willing to make is the first blank. And the desired impact that my contributions would make is the second blank.
By leveraging my individual “WHY”, I came up with the following:
“To inspire logistics companies to reach their goals and aspirations, so that we all may one day obtain a sense of fulfillment in knowing that we have contributed to a purpose greater than ours.”
I made sure to be intentional with my wording so that those who will be on this journey with me can derive their own emotions when reading it.
My contribution would be to inspire my customers through the sharing of knowledge and resources, where knowledge would pertain to industry, acquired disciplinary knowledge (Accounting & Software) as well as emotional and motivational support. The resources that I refer to would be the software I offer and the services offered by my business partners.
I changed the wording from “I” to “we” so as to recognize the community that I have been building around my business and our common vision.
The impact that I intend to leave in everyone that I interact with is a sense of contribution to a greater good.
Lastly, I made sure to highlight the finite (goals and aspirations of my customers) as well as the infinite (sense of fulfillment) aspects of our mission.
While I don’t consider a mission statement and end all, be all, I do believe that it helps to communicate your deep personal sense of purpose to your community. Of course, the biggest determining factor is to live by your “WHY”, every day, in everything that you do.
I hope that anyone reading this article can see the intention in both my personal “WHY” and in my organization’s mission statement and can draw upon these concepts to draft their own statements. I believe that it applies to every and anything that we do on a daily basis. Through message and example, I believe that beliefs such as these will guide us through the sacrifice necessary to advance any one of our objectives. If I were implementing a software at my company, I would hope that it would help our employees understand that their involvement is essentially a contribution to a greater cause. Because that is what I truly believe.
As I wrote this article, I stopped to consider whether the title of the article itself was finite in nature. I believe that in having discussed the true to key to success in anything in life, we could easily have reframed the title to read, “Success in Software and Everything Else”.