Systems Implementation is an IBM i ISV/business partner that offers a full IBM i software suite for both the sales and services sides of the two-way and wireless communication business. Taber Alderman is the President of Systems Implementation. She's been with the the company since 1986 and has owned it since 2007. Systems Implementation selected ASNA Wings to modernize their IBM i application to keep it competitive with PC-based competitors. You can read more about System Implementations' use of ASNA Wings in their recently-published case study
Taber combines nearly 20 years of experience with the IBM i midrange platform with sharp business acumen. She is the rare CEO who sees the big picture but knows when it's important to drill into the most minute details of the business. System Implementation's primary competitors are vendors selling PC-based solutions. By most yardsticks today, the IBM i is a tough sell against PC-based solutions. Yet 95% of Taber's company's new customers are new to the IBM i platform. Systems Implementation achieves success not just by selling its software to customers, it also has to sell them on the IBM i. And it does so quite well.
During my discussions with Taber to write the Wings case study, my notes had tons of sub-notes scratched into the margins. What follows are a few nuggets of wisdom I gleaned from Taber buried in those margins.
Lessons from the Taber Alderman playbook
An IBM i rose in a bucket of PC coal
Taber Alderman's company, Systems Implementation, is an IBM i ISV. 95% of the time, when it gets a new customer, it installs a new IBM i into a business that previously had no IBM footprint whatsoever. Furthermore, Systems Implementation's competition is nearly all PC-based. Let those two facts soak in.
It's no secret that in the last 20 years, PC servers have given the IBM midrange marketplace a tough run for its money. The IT Jungle's Timothy Prickett Morgan concluded that in 1990 or so, before the advent of the enterprise PC server, IBM's midrange revenue was 36% of IBM's total revenue. By 2012 the midrange share had shrunk to less than 13%. In a world where the conventional wisdom is that PCs are eating the midrange's lunch, how is it that Systems Implementation is able not only to protect its lunch plate, but to take plates away from the PC market?
My grandmother used to tell me that if I took care of my pennies, my dimes would take care of themselves. That approach sums up Taber Alderman's answer to my question. The more we chatted about her business, the more I understood how well she takes care of her pennies. Parts of my discussion with Alderman about Systems Implementation and its IBM i-based business solution were almost like attending a master class in sales 101. Here is some of what I learned. The quoted passages below are from Taber.
On PC-based competition: "Most of our competition is PC-based. And most don't come close to offering the features and value that Systems Implementation offers. During my initial conversation with prospects, as I'm talking about the benefits and metrics of using our software, I listen to their questions and responses carefully.
"I know there are prospects shopping for a communications software solution for whom Systems Implementation isn't the right vendor. When a prospect is driven primarily by price points, when all he or she needs to do is print invoices and track general ledger entries, we probably aren't a good fit. Our product, provides the tools decision makers need to dig into the business and make clear, measurable changes for the better. I watch closely for those prospects who are searching for a long-term software solution that can help them improve and transform their business."
The short take-away: Believe in your product. Listen to your prospects. Sell benefits and business transformation. Sell long term. Understand that there are prospects with whom you can't afford to do business.
On selling IBM i: "Many of our prospects aren't at all familiar with the IBM i. When told what it is, one of the universal responses is, 'Oh, yeah, you mean that old IBM machine.' I explain that the AS/400 is to the IBM i as a 1956 Cadillac is to today's Cadillac. Yes, the two models share a rich history, but the benefits, features, and values have greatly matured over the years.
"I make sure prospects understand the IBM i's intrinsic value, including its legendary reliability and its security model. The IBM i's resistance to the viruses and malware always gets their attention. The near commodity-economies of the IBM i also helps. IBM has done a great job sharpening its pencil to make the IBM i's pricing competitive against PC servers."
Having sold a prospect on the benefits of our software, and having explained the IBM i, it is usually perceived simply as a necessary adjunct to our software."
The short take-away: Once again, sell benefits not features. Use good analogies. Make your prospect need what you're selling before you need to explain potential roadblocks.
On the manager's role in a modernization project: "My expertise today isn't coding and understanding bits and bytes. As our team discussed our modernization project, I quickly realized that my role was to convey the vision, help us maintain focus, and get road-blocks out of the way.
"It was important to find and provide our Developers with any resources they needed, and work closely with them to make sure they didn’t get bogged down by any one issue. We had weekly meetings to review our progress and discuss our outstanding issues so I could help the team resolve them."
The short take-away: Trust your team. Know when to get out of the way. Be the point person pushing obstacles out of the way. Meet frequently to keep speed bumps from growing into walls. Have transparency and metrics.
My conversation with Taber Alderman was inspiring, to say the least. She is leading a company that is successful getting new business in market that isn't widely known for getting new business.
Hearing her thoughts and ideas drove me back to the day in 1988 when I attended the AS/400 introduction ceremony. Back then, IBM wasn't selling a midrange box. Rather, it was selling the "Applications System/400." A major calling card of the platform's introduction was that "more than 1000 software packages" were available for this new computer. The business benefits of the AS/400 and these software packages were writ large in the day's message.
26 years later, the IBM i is better than ever because Alderman and the company she leads continues to live and breathe that message.