Moving Partners: Why would anyone do it?

Matthew Dredge, Marketing and Sales Director at The NAV People tells us a few of the horror stories he’s heard when it comes to NAV Partner failings and explains how The NAV People strive to be different from the rest.

When we started The NAV People we wanted to be different, to do things that others didn’t and to look after people in a way that we like to be looked after by our own business partners. One of the things that was very obvious from the very outset was that there was a lot of dissatisfaction in the Dynamics NAV Customer Community. As unashamed NAV geeks and enthusiasts this made us more than a little sad. So, we had our primary role easily defined: ‘Build a partner whose number 1 aim was to bring better service to the NAV community.’

Over the last 8 years we have taken on the care and support of more than 200 existing NAV implementations; from the smaller, finance-only customers, through to huge, global brands utilising the full extent of the ERP functionality and in a lot of cases complex ISV solutions too. But regardless of their size or reason for moving we hope we have given these customers a home where they get the service and attention they need and deserve.

It’s a big decision to move partners, after all Dynamics NAV is often the core and most critical IT solution a business has in place; in some of our customers it literally runs everything! So to move from a known partner (regardless of how poor the partner), to a new, unknown quantity is a very daunting prospect, especially as most NAV systems have some (or lots) of bespoke components.

Why do people move?

We have seen a host of reasons for customers wanting to move partners, but the following are some of the most common!

Probably the most frequent reason for people wanting to move is poor service. This comes in a variety of forms; it could be that their partner has chosen not to invest in the post implementation teams and as such there is limited or no support readily available to the customer. Quite often these types of partners rely on their consultants to also provide support, the challenge in this approach is that most of the time these people are onsite doing the next new project, so it’s difficult to respond in a timely manner or deal with complex issues in a focused way. It’s also not fair on the new customer if the consultants delivering their solution are distracted by a constant support requests from other customers!

Not only does access to support cause many issues, but access to a limited skill-set can also compromise the quality of support. If your partner has a small team or relies on their service delivery consultants then it is highly unlikely they will have all the skills and detailed knowledge to support the full breadth of complexity that NAV, the supporting infrastructure and complimentary solutions requires to work at its very best.

The NAV People solution has been to constantly invest and grow our support team in line with the demands we, and our customers, put on it. With over 25 experienced members in the team, we offer a service and skillset that can deal with any issue whether it’s NAV or SQL or products like Jet Reports. What’s more, because they are not part of delivery team it means that they are fully focused on resolving client issues and they do this 365 days a year, 15 hours a day. Oh, and because we like to provide our teams with variation and offer a better service than everyone else you can also use them for free web-based training session and free minor modifications.

Poor service doesn’t just end with support, it sometimes starts with Sales! Unbelievably a large number of clients who have moved have struggled to even get a quote to do carry out a strategic or urgently needed piece of work. That’s right, NAV customers have been known to beg and plead to buy services or software from their partner for their requests only to fall on deaf or unconcerned ears. It’s hard to imagine why a partner wouldn’t be falling over themselves to get more business but it quite often comes down to human behaviour. If you incentivise sales people with big commission cheques based on big sales deals, then what’s the chances they will prioritise ‘smaller bits of work’ for a customer? Individual targets and bonuses drive individual behaviour and it’s quite often the wrong behaviour because it doesn’t result in action that is good for the partner or their customers! Another factor behind this most bizarre form of poor services can be that the partner’s sales team have limited skills and resources – they simply might not readily know the answers, which means it’s more work for them to get an answer and under pressure these sorts of requests will rarely be prioritised.

Poor service doesn't just end with support, it sometimes starts with sales!

For us, the solution is simple; no-one earns commission and no-one has an individual target. That way people don’t start to behave in their own best interests, they behave in the way that fulfils our commitments to our clients, to be responsive to every request, to provide the best ‘knowledge’ input from our 140 NAV enthusiasts and to ensure that we do what is best for the customer and not what is best for our wallets! An example of this is how the Account Management team work together. First of all they are all NAV experienced consultants, not sales people, so they know what they are talking about or know who to ask if they don’t! The Account Management team have a group email account so when a customer submits a request, if their assigned AM is busy with other clients the on-duty AM can start progressing the request. Not only does this provide much faster turn-around times but it also means our AMs don’t get home in the evening and have to deal with the day’s work that has occurred while they were engaged elsewhere!

The final point around poor service is just the availability of resources to get the work done. Here’s a common story we hear: The customer asks for some work to be done, it’s been quoted, agreed and then they have to wait 6 - 8 weeks (and sometimes even longer!) to get the resource to do the work. This is quite simply an unacceptable timeframe for businesses to work in. Quite often the work is strategic or critical and the faster it gets done the sooner the customer and their customers realise the benefits! But if your partner has limited resource and needs the next, large shiny project to pay the bills then they will prioritise that over existing client work. For us that’s a simple solution, we have a team dedicated to just doing customer work, so they don’t get tied up on big projects and are an agile team that can react quickly and deliver work in an acceptable timeframe. It’s also about the planning of work and resources. We always try to be overstaffed so we have available bandwidth and that means we never stop recruiting. One lesson we learnt years ago is that if you only recruit when you realise you need someone, a) you are already behind the demand curve and b) you can only employ people who are on the market at that point in time. By constantly recruiting it means that when someone amazing is on the market we get to engage with them and even if we don’t quite need them yet, we still employ them as there is always work for amazing people!

So, poor service - that’s the first (albeit extensive!) area in which many NAV partners fall down. After this it’s often lack of good advice that will drive customers to our door. It could be that they have been told they need to upgrade to solve a certain challenge in the business or achieve a certain level of new functionality. In reality it is very rare that you have to do a full upgrade to solve a handful of key requirements we are strong believers in not upgrading for upgrading’s sake! Often your money can be better spent solving your current challenges.

More-often-than-not advice is given based on what the consultant knows, after all, we will all give advice based on what we know and never on what we don’t know! But when you have a limited skill-set, and in most cases don’t have the time to investigate and learn new the new technologies (be it the next version of NAV or tools from Microsoft or the ever growing complimentary products that exist for NAV) then the advice given is founded on a poorly served knowledgebase. At The NAV People we make time for our consultants and product specialists to learn what’s new; we run weekly Knowledge Transfers both internally (to get everyone up to speed) and externally to educate the NAV community and all of our clients have access to the senior solutions team to ask advice and questions of a broad and deep knowledge pool, after all ‘more heads are better than one’. (Just as a point of interest on the topic of advice, all our customers get free time with our solution architects, this time helps our customers to plan their strategy and IT roadmap in what we hope is the most practical and beneficial manner and we don’t believe this planning should be something you pay for, it should be something your partner invests in you!)

The last common reason for moving is product innovation. It’s interesting when the opening conversation with a prospect starts ‘I like my partner and the service is pretty good’, because then we are thinking, ‘But…’ and often the ‘But…’ comes down to lack of product innovation. NAV users want to see what’s next, what’s new and what is potentially going to revolutionise the way they use their Dynamics platform.

For us Product Innovation falls in to two camps; building it and finding it.


Finding it is probably the easier route for us, our teams spend hours looking at all kinds of applications and solutions, some within the NAV ecosystem and some outside. We sit on demos, we read lots of articles, we attend shows like Microsoft Directions where ISVs (people that write add-on software) are showcasing what’s new, we follow community boards, watch videos and generally trawl the market for the next fantastic, complimentary solution - after all, why re-invent the wheel if there is a good wheel out there? The result of all this work is that occasionally we come across something that we think delivers real value to our customers, so we add it to our portfolio, we learn all about it and when we engage in discussions about solutions we introduce it where appropriate.

The second path to Product Innovation is a little trickier, this is where we build it! There is a team, in a dark cupboard whose sole purpose in their TNP life is to invent new products … and boy do they do a good job! Often ideas will filter through from client conversations, from the work we do when looking at 3rd party solutions, from looking at technological innovations and how they could be applicable to NAV, but an idea is a far shout from a finished product. The team then go to work, crafting, testing and recrafting until we have a product we are proud to put our name to. This innovation helps us deliver a higher degree of functionality to our clients and often that is what an otherwise happy customer is looking for in a new partner.

As you can see there are a multitude of reasons why people choose to move partner, but once they have made the decision to move it’s critical that the partner has a solid and proven on-boarding process to ensure a smooth and de-risked transition.

What happens in the move?

Ok, let’s quickly address the admin bit. It’s a simple move in Microsoft’s eyes; there’s a one page form, you tick a few boxes, sign the bottom, we send it in to Microsoft and within 24 hours we are assigned as your new partner. We need to do this so we can access your licence and make any changes you may need and to manage the billing of your annual maintenance from Microsoft.

From our side, we agree a support contract and sign it! But before we do that, there is some really important work that needs to be done; we need to get know you and your system, so the following activities are carried out as part of the on-boarding process.

 

Initially we take a look under the hood to get a good idea of what has been changed and how. But this only gives us half the story; we also need to understand the context in which the business is using the system and its modifications (or in some case not using the modifications that have been done!)

To get this rounded view of a customer we ask that they present their ‘Day in the Life’ (how you use the system). This is done to our hand-over team which typically comprises a Support Representative, an Account Manager and a Consultant. By doing both the technical review and the ‘Day in the Life’ overview we can ensure that we have context around the development and setup aspects of the solution. It’s also a great way to see if there are any quick wins around changing the use of the system or the processes being employed.

As well as reviewing how the system is set up and used we carry out a performance review; we talk to key users to understand where their hearts and minds are and of course we document outstanding technical and support issues - after all, we expect to take a system on completely, warts and all, not ask you to get everything fixed before we come along! Having carried out a system review a report is produced which identifies those things that we need to address immediately. These could be issues that are being passed to support or it could be chargeable work that the customer has been reluctant to do with their existing partner. We will make recommendations on performance and infrastructure, address any user feedback and also start to identify longer term strategic recommendations, such as training, reporting and functional requirements.

You won’t be surprised to learn that we do all of this is free of charge, our initial investment in what we hope will be a long relationship.

To sum up!

Hopefully this has given you some insight in to why customers move partners and how we move them. At the end of the day we want to see happy NAV customers getting the level of service they deserve with sound advice and access to the very best products and add-ons that the NAV world has to offer. If we achieve all that then we have a lot of happy customers who are as enthused about NAV as we are! Joyful Days!

Read more