Why outsourcing providers are selling the wrong thing

By June 27, 2013January 3rd, 2022Archive


I’ll admit that I pick on outsourcing providers’ websites and PowerPoint decks. It’s a guilty pleasure—reading ridiculous superlatives, looking for those same-y redundancies one to the other that tell me that all cats (read: outsourcers) are black in the night, and counting the typos and the instances of awkward English (even in the sites of the so-called “global” providers). But these nits mask the real challenge—outsourcing providers are selling the wrong thing.

If you don’t follow Richard Susskind, you ought to look him up on the Web. Susskind’s a lawyer who is obsessed with the way legal services are delivered, and has been predicting the end of lawyers. He recently gave a speech that should strike home in the outsourcing world.

In his speech, he referred to a power tool company with a new CEO. In his first meeting with his board, he held up a power drill and asked his directors “Is this what we sell?” The directors probably thought he was off his rocker; certainly the company was not selling lingerie or chairs. “No, it isn’t,” said the CEO as he put down the drill and picked up a board with a hole in it. “This is what we sell,” he said. “This is why the customer comes to us. This is what he wants.”

It’s a great parable for why providers are selling the wrong thing. According to Susskind, who admittedly is concerned with lawyers, the value proposition is flawed. Why? It looks at the offering from the sellers perspective, not that of the buyer. The seller is concerned with developing a nifty drill that compares well with the competition, while the buyer is only concerned with the end result, an efficient and effective way to create a hole.

So by extrapolation, Susskind’s speech begs the question: what are outsourcers actually selling?

Deep domain knowledge? End-to-end processes? Rapid turn around times?  Excellence? Low cost? The latest technology? Innovative solutions? Great stuff—if you want to compare yourself against another provider. But these are only attributes of outsourcing delivery, something that clients should be taking for granted when they enter into a relationship, not something that they intrinsically need.

Let me explain. Clients already have plenty of deep domain knowledge; otherwise they ought not be in business. So why would they value industry expertise other than as an attribute of delivery?

Innovative solutions? Now that assumes that clients have problems.

Turn around time? That’s a characteristic of delivery, or more specifically, a matter of putting a time value on what someone does.

Excellence? Why bother to be in the outsourcing business if what you deliver is not excellent.

Low cost? That’s just a way to assign dollar signs to a task in order to compare inputs.

Whether a client is outsourcing application development, or claims processing, a help desk or a benefits calculation, he needs one thing, and one thing only: the surety that whatever function or process or deliverable he contracts for will be delivered at least as well as he can, with no fuss, no muss, and no fault. That is why clients look to a provider, plain and simple. At the end of the day, the how is just so many column inches.

Sorry to make outsourcing sales so simple and un-sexy, taking out pages upon pages of PowerPoint-ed superlatives describing credentials, headcount, solutions and systems. In the scheme of things, they represent the provider’s efforts to differentiate themselves when the ask is actually pretty simple.

So if you are a provider, the next time you’re in a sales situation, perhaps focusing more on what the client really wants, and why they turn to an outsourcer, will win the deal. As they say in New York, everything else is just so much chopped liver.