Moving the spotlight from products to customers

Bite-the-bullet

Perhaps one of the more positive aspects of the recession (there I said it) is that many companies are now finally biting the bullet and thinking seriously about what it is they sell and how they sell it.

In good times it’s easier to succeed with a product-led sale, setting out your stall and letting customers buy from you. In tough times, buyers are scarce, investment is limited, no-one buys ‘nice to have’ and this can easily lead to commoditisation and loss of control as the initiative moves from supply to demand.

The term “solutions” has certainly lost much of it’s meaning with just about everyone using it for just about everything but that doesn’t negate the fact that there is, for many, the opportunity to regain control of their destiny by changing focus from, “what we’ve always sold” to “solving a real customer need”.

Sure, Apple has become the most highly valued company in the world by developing and marketing products that entice customers to queue up and buy. Which is nice, but what works in the B2C world does not always apply in the high value, B2B marketplace where most of us trade; increasingly we’re competing on financial value delivered not bells and whistles. Few have the luxury of a “killer app” that will sweep all before it, the new battleground is customer intimacy, it’s about knowing your customer and meeting his needs better than your competitor.

If you’re still following a  product-centric strategy it’s probably reactive, few businesses can afford to create demand, so, you’re dependent upon your customer to work out what they need, and then buy it, hopefully from you. But business today is faster moving and rarely that clear-cut, there may be many different ways to solve a problem and if a competitor gets in there first you can get locked out.

The glib answer, (and we hear it all the time), is “to become more customer intimate” but that’s a concept that’s rarely explored or understood to the level that can generate the much needed change of mindset. It’s not a trivial challenge, it requires getting to understand customers better than anyone else and then doing something for them that helps them in a unique way, something they’ll value. But, if you can do this, if you can develop a relationship where they’ll trust you to help solve their problems you’ll get back in control and can start being proactive in developing business.

The steps needed to make this happen are blindingly obvious, there’s a general agreement on what they are, they’re just really, really difficult to do in practise:

  1. Understand who your customers are and get to know in detail what needs they have, identify the ones  that you can do something about
  2. Be clear about what you can do uniquely well to meet these needs, what differentiates you from your competitors, why they should buy from you; then articulate it in a clear, consistent, compelling manner
  3. Identify where you’ve been successful, which customers will sing your praises, research those market sectors where you can replicate your success
  4. Seek out new customers in these sectors with similar problems to those you’ve solved. Calling is easier, you’re not trying to foist a product on them, you’re offering to help in the same way you’ve helped someone else with the same problem, someone who’ll endorse your success
  5. Do whatever it takes to ensure that your sales team truly understand the problems of their prospects first, it’s easy and wrong to jump to convenient conclusions. But once the client agrees you’ve got it, (and only then) develop a proposal that in client terms, shows conclusively and unarguably why they should invest in your solution. What’s in it for them?

Working with many companies making this transition we’ve found three areas that are most challenging.

Firstly, taking the time to do steps 1 and 2 in an honest, dispassionate manner. It requires activity that’s completely divorced from “business as usual”, some clear thinking, an open mind and a structure to get a result. Invariably objective facilitation is required.

Secondly, producing the tools that marketing and sales will need to take this new proposition to market in a consistent, compelling manner, and make sure it gets heard. Not easy, being customer centric is a different mindset and creativity is required to get above the noise of a busy marketplace.

Finally, the customer facing team have to learn to build interest, ask questions and, hardest of all, listen. It’s the opposite of doing a “demo” at the first meeting, it’s about building confidence by having meaningful business discussions with top management. Not all sales people can do it, and those that can usually need time and support.

If these are some of the challenges you face then we should be talking, getting it right sooner rather than later can have a dramatic effect on the bottom line…

As the “Sales Pipeline Engineers” that’s what we’re all about.

 

“When the promise is clear,the price gets easy..”
Jim Rohn