Businesses don’t become successful by giving away their products and services. And your own business won’t be successful as long as you fail to realize that every company you work with should be counted on to do whatever it can to get as much money out of you as possible. If you hire a software vendor, for instance, they’ll probably try to upsell you on things like additional planning, customization, added features, or training. This is like what happens when you pick out the washing machine or laptop you want from the store, the one that gives you the best value while remaining within your budget, only to get to the register and have the clerk ask if you want the additional three-year warranty.
Is it a good idea? Or is it a mild form of extortion? When you’re standing at the register, it’s already too late to do the math. So it’s a good idea to determine the value of any additional services or guarantees before you’re forced to decide.
When it comes to SharePoint, business leaders face a similar dilemma at two different times: first, when they have to choose a partner to help them plan and implement their solution, and again when they have an issue that needs to be addressed, whether it’s low user-adoption, the need to adapt to evolving business processes, or simply a task that’s hard to figure out how to accomplish.
When you’re implementing SharePoint, do you go with the partner who encourages you to do lots of upfront planning, stresses how engaged everyone from stakeholders to end-users will have to be in the project, and really pushes you to have a plan for post-deployment? Or do you go with the firm that’s more of a vendor than a partner, the one that sets up the solution on the cheap and then goes on its merry way?
And how often should you call your SharePoint partner once the solution is deployed? Is every call an invitation to be given a new sales pitch? Or can you count on receiving valuable information that will help you get the most return on your investment in the technology?
Isn’t SharePoint Just another Product?
When people think of Microsoft technologies, they’re usually imagining the various parts of the Office suite, products like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and so on. You don’t need much planning or support to create a Word document. These software products are things you simply install and start using. If you start running into problems, then you can pretty safely assume the problem is with the product itself, either with its functioning or with the user-experience it provides.
Applying similar standards to SharePoint, though, doesn’t make much sense. No one denies that if you try to use the technology as it is right out of the box it’ll probably be a disaster. If you were to list all the capabilities the technology gives you access to, you could easily fill over 500 pages. That’s thousands of flashy tools for the tech people to get excited about, while regular business users are busy getting lost. The bottom line is that, for a SharePoint implementation to be successful, the people taking on the project have to have almost as much understanding of your business situation as they do of the technology itself.
Yet 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies are using it, and about 20,000 new users are added every day. The takeaway here is that there are right and wrong ways to incorporate SharePoint into your business. This raises the stakes of the dilemma you face when you’re trying to decide which partner to go with and how best to leverage the partnership. Instead of taking on the issue directly, though, we may get more insight from examining the mindset that leads to businesses getting the least value out of their partners, which in turn usually leads to them getting the lowest possible return on their investment.
How to Get the Least out of Your Partnership
- Treat the implementation as a top-down initiative.
Get all the c-levels in a room and decide how you want your employees to use the technology. What do all the top management people want workers to see when they sign in? What tools do they want everyone to have access to? Draw up some detailed plans. Don’t bother getting input from end-users.
- Only bring in the experts when your plan is fully developed.
You already know what you want the solution to look like, so now you’re in a position to negotiate the best price. And, since you’ve already worked out what all you need, you don’t need to worry about any coercive sales techniques and upselling initiatives.
- Make the partnership as brief as possible.
Once you’ve got the system set up, you can count on your workers to figure out how to use it. You and your c-level colleagues designed the solution, after all, so how hard can it be to navigate through it? Plus, they’re your employees, right? They’ll take the time and put in the effort to learn the technology if you insist it’s necessary.
- Never call a SharePoint expert unless it’s an emergency.
You can make most fixes and adjustments in-house. That’s why you have IT people on staff. If you call the experts every time some little thing goes wrong, you’re just asking to be nickel-and-dimed half to death. But you always have the option of calling in some help if something catastrophic happens.
- Don’t worry about software updates, advances in infrastructure technology, or upcoming changes to your businesses.
Your workers will be able to adapt to using the solution as it is now, and there’s always your IT department to handle any issues that arise. However tempting it may be to explore new versions and newly released capabilities, and however prudent it may seem to try to anticipate how your solution will keep apace of changes in your business, you should never consult with a SharePoint firm because they’ll simply see it as an opportunity to clean out your coffers.
Okay, back to reality.
According to Aptera’s Senior SharePoint Administrator Scott Walsh, who has actually worked on countless implementation projects and currently answers all kinds of calls from clients with various issues and questions, the items in this list of attitudes not to have are only slight exaggerations of what he encounters from certain real businesses. “What’s most frustrating about it,” Walsh says, “is that you know it’s true that a lot of companies really are trying to squeeze every ounce of cash they can out of every engagement—but being an involved partner is not how they do it.”
Partners and Consultants: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The irony is that a client relying on the “I’ll call you when I have another project” stance—or the “I’ll call you when something goes really wrong” one—actually plays right into the hands of a SharePoint company that concentrates solely on maximizing short-term profits. “A good partner,” Walsh explains, “will answer your questions in a way that empowers you to do more yourself. A bad partner is one who’s always thinking how he can get you to keep calling for more projects.”
A bad partner will be happy to hear you’ve designed your information architecture and planned your implementation without any input from end-users. They’ll be happy to set it up to your specifications and be on their way, leaving you to experience all the foreseeable problems with poor user-experience and low adoption. They don’t want to hear from you very often because they can make more revenue on big implementation projects than on answering questions over the phone or helping with smaller tasks. And, if a completed project doesn’t end up showing a good ROI, they know they’ll either be asked to return for another project or they can just move on to the next client.
“When you have a good consultant on the phone,” Walsh says, “they may try to sell you on something new, it’s true, but that something new will probably benefit your business. One of the big things you should look for when you’re choosing a SharePoint partner is how much of their business comes from existing clients. If I sell you on a project or on something like Nintex, I know that if it doesn’t work out for you I’ll lose out on the opportunity of doing future business with you.
“Yeah, we’re out to make money like every other business,” Walsh continues, “but we do it through long-term partnerships with clients, not hit-and-run engagements. We could easily make more money in the short-term by trying to convince people they need crap they don’t really need. But that only works short-term, because it erodes trust.”
To get the most out of SharePoint, you have to first have access to people with SharePoint expertise. For most businesses, that means finding a partner. But simply understanding the technology isn’t enough; your SharePoint experts also have to know about your business. Of course, that probably means trusting them more than you may be inclined. The best solution to this dilemma, though, is probably not withholding your trust from the outset; the best solution is to be ready to punish any partner company that betrays the trust you give them—by finding another partner.
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