RSPA Recommended Read: Switch

“RSPA Recommended Read” is a series of articles in which RSPA staff members share details from books we think would be helpful to leaders and aspiring leaders at VAR, ISV, and vendor member organizations.

By: Jim Roddy, President & CEO at the RSPA

If you’ve spent even just a hot minute in the retail IT channel, you’ve heard about change. The only constant is change. The rate of change is accelerating. Adapt or die. But do you understand in detail what VARs and ISVs should do about change?

During a recent meeting of the RSPA Business Growth & Development Group, executives from several RSPA member organizations discussed change in general and specifically how they add new products and services to their linecard. (I’ll share their 12-step list later in this post.)

My favorite book about change management, which I shared on the BGD call, is Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Let’s dive into the book’s key principles and then see how RSPA solution providers are executing on them:

  1. The first surprise about change: what looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.
  2. Another surprise about change: what looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. If you want people to change, you must provide crystal-clear direction.
  3. Once you break through to feeling, things change.
  4. Big problems are rarely solved with commensurately big solutions. Instead, they are most often solved by a sequence of small solutions, sometimes over weeks, sometimes over decades.
  5. Change begins at the level of individual decisions and behaviors, but that’s a hard place to start because that’s where the friction is.

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  1. When you want someone to behave in a new way, explain the “new way” clearly. Don’t assume the new moves are obvious.
  2. Until you can ladder your way down from a change idea to a specific behavior, you’re not ready to lead a switch.
  3. What is essential is to marry your long-term goal with short-term critical moves.
  4. When you’re at the beginning, don’t obsess about the middle, because the middle is going to look different once you get there. Just look for a strong beginning and a strong ending and get moving.
  5. In highly successful change efforts, people find ways to help others see the problems or solutions in ways that influence emotions, not just thought. If someone is unsure about whether to marry her significant other, you’re not going to tip her by talking up tax advantages and rent savings.
  6. When you engineer early successes, what you’re really doing is engineering hope. Hope is precious to a change effort.
  7. Everything can look like a failure in the middle. Success is rarely a graceful leap from height to height. If the team persists through this valley of angst and doubt, it eventually emerges with a growing sense of momentum.
  8. Tweaking the environment is about making the right behaviors a little bit easier and the wrong behaviors a little bit harder. It’s that simple. A change leader thinks, “How can I set up a situation that brings out the good in these people?”
  9. Change isn’t an event; it’s a process. There is no moment when a monkey learned to skateboard; it’s a process.
  10. When change works, it tends to follow a pattern. The people who change have clear direction, ample motivation, and a supportive environment.

RSPA Recommended Read Rating: 9.5/10

I’m a huge fan of the Heath brothers and their books; Switch is on my bookshelf – and on my Recommended Reading list – alongside Made To Stick, Decisive, The Power of Moments, and Upstream. Their principles and advice are rooted in real-world, results-driven, data-based business best practices.

I learned this firsthand nine years ago during a conference call with Chip Heath as he prepped to speak at RSPA Inspire 2015. He could have simply showed up to the event, delivered a canned presentation, and then cashed his speaking fee check, but instead he invested time interviewing RSPA members to better understand their business model and challenges. (Follow this link to listen to my interview with him about the retail IT channel.)

I recall Heath marveling at the competence of RSPA VAR and ISV members and their ability to adapt despite enormous macroeconomic headwinds. Heath would be raving again had he sat in on the Business & Growth Development call I referenced previously. The executives on the call collaborated to create a list of steps to effectively adopt a new product or service:

  1. Start with being curious. Always be on the lookout for what’s new. Step one is simply identifying what looks interesting.
  2. “Exposure Therapy”: Take a lead tech/installer to trade shows so they can share in your thought process. This will both help your org make better decisions and will enable that tech to become an evangelist to your product team (installers, developers, etc.).
  3. Research the product. This also is not a one-person job. Your techs can assist at this early stage to help you learn more, offer their feedback, and generate more buy-in.
  4. Ask yourself, “Does this fit in our technology lineup?”
  5. Ask yourself, “Does this fit our audience?” Will the product or service benefit your current customer base and/or your targeted prospective customers?
  6. Talk with trusted customers about the new product or service. This isn’t a sales pitch; it’s a candid conversation between partners. The BGD Group recommended in-person conversations and demonstrations vs. a phone call.
  7. Conduct thorough internal tests of the new product/service. Or, as one RSPA member said bluntly, “Beat on it in your office – a lot!”
  8. Use one or a few trusted customers as a beta site(s). Do not charge them for the new product/service during this phase.
  9. If you learn at this juncture the new product/service isn’t effective enough or is too complicated, walk away. If it’s promising, keep moving forward.
  10. Understand the adoption cycle among your broader customer base. Who is likely to adopt it first? How long will that take? Who would be the next group of customers likely to adopt? How long will that take?
  11. Sunset appropriate offerings. Sometimes you can’t do it all. To fully embrace the new product/service, you may need to phase out an existing vendor.
  12. This final step may cause you to feel a lump in your throat: sunset appropriate customers. Measure revenue per customer per month as well as service hours per customer per month and analyze if any current customers are not profitable for you anymore. As one VAR said, “We need to focus on customers that make us money. We need to focus on the customers that value us, not the high-maintenance customers.”

What stood out to me was this list didn’t have a separate step for announcing the new product to the team and winning them over with lots of bluster. In its place was genuine collaboration with the team to decide if and how the product/service fits. That’s fully embracing four Switch principles:

  • In highly successful change efforts, people find ways to help others see the problems or solutions in ways that influence emotions, not just thought.
  • Big problems are rarely solved with commensurately big solutions. Instead, they are most often solved by a sequence of small solutions.
  • Change begins at the level of individual decisions and behaviors, but that’s a hard place to start because that’s where the friction is.
  • Change isn’t an event; it’s a process.

Purchase your own copy of Switch here because, as you know, the only constant in the retail IT channel is change.

Don’t forget to register for RetailNOW 2023, July 30-Aug. 1 at the Gaylord Palms in Orlando. It’s Where The Industry Meets!

Jim Roddy is the President and CEO of the Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA). He has been active in the retail IT channel since 1998, including 11 years as the President of Business Solutions Magazine, six years as an RSPA board member, one term as RSPA Chairman of the Board, and several years as a business coach for VARs, ISVs, and MSPs. Jim has been recognized as one of the world’s Top Retail Influencers by RETHINK Retail, a Leading CannaTech Influencer by The CannaTech Group, and is regularly requested to speak at industry conferences on SMB best practices. He is author of two books – The Walk-On Method To Career & Business Success and Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer – and is host of the award-winning RSPA Trusted Advisor podcast. For more information, contact