KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR CUSTOMERS

Change is BAU–Business As Usual.

My colleagues at consultancy Tignum say that we are living in a VUCA world—one that is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and, at times, Ambiguous.

In the world of business development, sales, and key account management, you simply cannot afford to make assumptions about your customers and what they need. Too many people are all too ready to launch into solution mode based on either outdated or irrelevant assumptions.

However, there is one assumption you can rely on that was given to me by Joe Galvin, Chief Research Officer at the MHI Research Institute, and that is this: In today’s market, assume everybody buys everything differently. This assumption works in B2B sales as well as B2C, and retail. Just because someone bought online the last time don’t assume they will not buy from the mall the next time.

The need to challenge assumptions also applies to those selling internally as well. I have seen a number of key initiatives not get funded or put on hold because internal team members made assumptions about who the stakeholders were and what their needs and priorities were and got them wrong. It is important when talking with buying influences and decision makers to ensure you understand each of their concepts and, if you don’t, have enough emotional intelligence to admit you have a red flag and you need to find this information out before proceeding.

So how do you keep up to date on your customers’ business and the changes that affect the business? First, you have to want to. Have a passion for the customer’s business—not just the sales function, but the whole business. Approach it like an investor would. Be curious and ask questions:

  • How do they make money?
  • What are the business’s best profit centers?
  • What are the developing products/solutions?
  • Who are their customers and why?
  • Is the business growing or contracting?
  • Who are the leaders and what are their priorities?
  • What is their strategy for expansion, i.e., new regions, new verticals?

All of this information is available either through simple research tools or via coaches and your network.

Watch for company announcements and new roles and positions (e.g., Customer Experience Officer, Digital Strategist, Dealer Quality Manager), as these often provide evidence of a change in strategy. I feel so strongly about the importance of knowledge that I am a big supporter of social selling tools such as LinkedIn and Twitter. So many organizations now make their announcements through Twitter first, and with mobile devices there really is no excuse for you not being up to date with your customer. Better still, more CRM systems now accept direct feeds such as Twitter so that this rich data can be captured in one place.

Validation. Knowledge about customers and their business is one thing, but the payoff comes when you use it. The best way to do this is through validation and insight. Use this knowledge of the customer to confirm changes, challenges, and new strategies with key buying influences and then add your own insight to build credibility so you are viewed as someone who adds value to our customers. Recently a colleague of mine in B2B financial services did this and fired off an email with a strong VBR (Valid Business Reason) for a meeting to the chairman of a Fortune 500 organization. Within 30 seconds, he had a response and, a week later, a 60-minute breakfast that was beneficial to both sides. In doing so, he validated his assumptions and raised his credibility in the process.

Experience. Once you have your knowledge and assumptions validated, then adding customer experience—insight and perspective from the customer’s view—is always appreciated. One of the most effective ways to do this is to be a customer. Of course it is not possible to be a customer all of the time, but you can be one (or may know someone who is) more than you may realize. Providing insight based on your experience as a customer and showing how your solution and ideas would enhance their business is very powerful, because you experience much more than the sales organization. You get to experience marketing, pre-sales, sales, customer service, supply chain, post-sale delivery, and maintenance—all examples of business units involved in the Total Customer Experience (TCE).

Execution. Plenty of people have ideas and knowledge, but it is in the execution where the results and payoff reside. The key to your execution success is that the solution you have must be customer-centric and be aligned to overall strategy. For example, one head of Customer Experience I know has a weekly call with his sales and service leaders during which each idea is considered and allocated to one of three buckets:

  • Bucket 1 – Vital and will be fixed by close of business that day
  • Bucket 2 – Important and will be sorted within one week
  • Bucket 3 – Not aligned to strategy and no action necessary

With this executive, it is vital that you understand how to fit your
solution to bucket 1 or 2.

To sum up, don’t assume the strategy, solutions, and even the account team you have been applying for the past two years are relevant any longer. Keep close to your customers, understand the customer’s customer, and provide insight at every opportunity.

Credits: Miller Heiman


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