Melissa Swartz | No Jitter | November 4, 2015

Understanding a client’s business is more important than talking about the latest whizz-bang device.

If you’ve ever taken a trip around London on the Tube, you might recall that at subway stops, a recorded voice tells passengers “mind the gap” when the doors open, to remind everyone to step over the gap between the train and the platform. (It makes me wonder how many people stepped into the gap before the voice reminder was there.) Because the recording plays at every stop, for me during my travels, the voice reminder eventually became background noise, and I was no longer consciously aware of hearing it.

In a similar way, I think that many professionals in our industry have become so accustomed to new technology that companies create, sell, and deliver, that we don’t recognize that there is a gap between what is normal for us communications folk, and what is normal for “everyday people.”

At many of the conferences I attend, I see demonstrations of some pretty awesome capabilities that are coming to market. And when I work with our clients, I see everyday people spending significant time and money on activities that just keep the doors open. They usually want to think strategically, but often the day-to-day business of simply keeping up steals all of their time.

So when it’s time to look at changing their technology, these everyday people are living in the past. If they bought their existing technology in 2011, they are living with 2011 capabilities. Yes, some of them upgrade along the way, but many don’t upgrade regularly enough. And those who do upgrade don’t necessarily activate and use all of the new capabilities available. So for many, their technology has stood still since the last time of purchase. Their business’s outdated communications technology has them essentially frozen in the past.

When a sales team comes onto the scene, they are living in the “current world” — or maybe even the “future world” — in terms of technology. So they are, literally, years ahead of where the potential customer is.

And that creates a gap.

We all know that the rapidity of technology change only continues to grow. A lot has changed in the last four years alone. An article from Geekwire named tablets and smartphones as the most important technology of 2011: “They are changing the way people communicate, consume information, work and play, and ultimately our live[s],” the article quotes PopCap Games’ Giordano Contestabile as saying. The Motorola Xoom tablet was named by Forbes as one of “The Hottest New Technologies Of 2011,” recognizing the world’s first device to run Android 3.0 Honeycomb, Google’s powerful operating system designed specifically for tablets.

Today, smartphones and tablets are everywhere. They have become everyday technology. And yet, I don’t know anyone who owns a Xoom.

Things have changed a lot since 2011. There’s a gap.

Bridging the Gap

When working with clients who are in the market for technology change, I spend a lot of time educating them about what new technology can do for them. I also spend a lot of time translating vendor speak into normal English, trying to help bridge the gap.

While the new stuff is clearly more exciting than outdated capabilities, we need to remember that our customers are often overwhelmed and confused when we throw too much new stuff at them at once. It’s the equivalent of a technology time machine; they are moving forward in one big leap rather than learning the new stuff incrementally over time. While a new 2015 (or 2016) capability may be the most impressive to us, it may actually be an advance from 2014 that means the most to a customer undergoing a technology upgrade.

In the end, technology is ultimately intended to address business problems. Understanding a client’s business is more important than talking about the latest whizz-bang device. Many times, it’s not the newest gadget that solves the problem. The answer may lie in something that is simply newer than what the client has today.

When working with customers, we need to remember that dumping them into a technology time machine that propels them forward too fast often results in confusion. And confused people don’t buy anything. We all need to mind the gap.

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