The SalesPulse™ Blog, April 2017

SELLING AND THE EMPOWERED BUYER 

I have often written about how complexity wastes time and resources and as an outcome wastes money. Today I am going to talk about the empowered buyer and the negative impacts that this phenomenon has on sales and sales people. As an introduction though I would like to pass on an observation or two from comments I have heard at a couple of recent events I have attended. There is an obsession, if not a self-fulfilling prophecy about how difficult selling has become. Part of this is the statement that “the buyer is 57% of the way through their buying process before engaging with a salesperson”. Many others would argue that it closer to 67%

This statement originally came from the Corporate Executive Board, now part of Gartner, following extensive research. However, the cynic in me said they have an ulterior motive; the statement supported the Challenger Sale methodology they were peddling at the time.

Enough of that, although I do agree there are many instances where the statement could be true. For example, if a buyer is looking for a commodity, then a lot of research can be done and all that is left is the beauty (price) parade. However, even that can be avoided if the right approach is taken by the seller.

Let’s look at what an empowered buyer looks like. She or he is just a person with internet access. Never before has so much information been available. You don’t need to invite salespeople to tell you about their products, it’s there and you can research it in your time. You don’t have to advertise the fact that you’re seeking help, merely drawing up a list of potential contenders all of whom you believe can do the job. This person is aided and abetted by their colleagues in procurement, the formal buyers or purchasing officers who are working really hard to neutralise sellers’ USPs (unique selling propositions) so all they have to do is call for and host the tender process. Job done!

So, if you are selling office products, catering equipment or any number of simple products and services, the only skill, buyers think you need is being best at guessing the winning bid, provided your company is able to make a margin on it. As stated earlier I agree that in certain situations selling is becoming more difficult and if you hear it or are told it often enough you can quickly believe it.

But, sellers are also empowered; they have the same access to masses of information as buyers, the best are insightful, they don’t fight on the same battlefield as professional purchasers and they do not subscribe to the “it’s becoming harder” theory. In the next issue of the SalesPulse we will explore the world of the empowered seller.

The SalesPulse Insight – Professionalising Selling

Over the last nine months, Koru supported by ADM Computing, Aliaxis and WBS Group, has been working with The Association of Professional Sales, BT, Royal Mail, Whitbread, BAE Systems, SIG plc, Consalia. Kimberley Clark and a number of universities to develop a degree level apprenticeship for a Sales Professional. I am pleased to say that the apprenticeship has been approved by the Institute for Apprentices. While there is still work to do, we are quietly optimistic that the apprenticeship will be ready for the first students in the Autumn this year. Early in June we will be issuing a special edition of the SalesPulse dedicated to this subject. This is a great opportunity for companies of all sizes to improve their selling capabilities, with help from the government’s apprenticeship levy fund.

The SalesPulse™ Blog, March 2017

HARMONISE ALL YOUR RESOURCES TO IMPROVE SALES EFFECTIVENESS

 In the last two issues of The SalesPulse™, which you can see in our blog, we have discussed how you utilise your resources in a harmonised manner to tackle your challenges. We have used sales effectiveness as an example, after all this is a sales newsletter! In the January edition we identified your resources as, customers, people, infrastructure (processes and systems), investment funds and company culture. In both that issue and last month’s we discussed how we can apply investment, people, and infrastructure to improve sales effectiveness. In this issue we will look at your customers and company culture and the role they play in improving sales effectiveness.

Customers are arguably your best and most valuable asset, but are grossly under used because the people who serve them, be they sales people, customer services or management may not necessarily have confidence in what your company delivers. Few have customer satisfaction surveys, delivery follow-up questionnaires, customer experience programmes or a senior manager asking a customer “How are we doing”? Nobody likes to be told “Badly” – but in many cases that might very well be the case. We all know that customer satisfaction drives loyalty and repeat/enhancement business. But it also drives business from new customers, if used correctly.

Do you have a referrals sales strategy? Referrals are a highly, if not the most effective way of generating sales, and there a number of ways in which referrals operate. However, the most effective one is the personal referral. Here are just a few statistics related to the subject

83% of consumers are willing to refer after a positive experience—yet only 29% actually do. (Source Texas Tech University)

92% of respondents trusted referrals from people they knew. (Source Nielsen)

People are 4 times more likely to buy when referred by a friend. (Source Nielsen)

Every referring customers makes an average of 2.68 invites. (Source Referral SaaSquatch Data Science)

For many small businesses, referrals are the only way they do business. Irrespective of the size of your business, a referrals strategy is a must. Click here for The SalesPulse Academy’s referrals introduction.

Another customer activity which can inform strategy is the “voice of the customer”. For this to be successful you need to collect feedback after each interaction, even if it is as simple as “Give me a score out of ten” for this service or sales meeting. It is very illuminating how something this simple can give you enormously valuable strategic input.

Moving on now to the topic of company culture. In one or two words how would you simply describe yours? Do any of these ring a bell? Hierarchical, autocratic, siloed, controlling, internally focused, technically led, unempowered, customer centric, engaging, family values, entrepreneurial and I am sure there are a lot more. These adjectives are the ones that sprung to mind, they are conditioned, not from a Google search or from a management book, but from experience. What struck me about them, was there were more negatives than positives, but perhaps I have had a lot of bad experiences!

What is the most important asset most companies have? I would say customers. Where on organisations charts are the people who deal with these valuable assets? Unless you are Timpson’s or a few other empowered, engaging and customer centric companies, the customer facing staff are at the bottom of the chart. The key point in this is; if you are changing a strategy or implementing a new one, will your culture facilitate it? For example the most common cause of failure in mergers and acquisitions is conflicting cultures. Going back to our example of sales effectiveness, if your culture is controlling, your non-sales customer facing people will not go the extra mile, do the unexpected, or bend a company rule to ensure the customer is totally satisfied. In this case your sales effectiveness improvement strategy will be impaired.

Your new strategy is important. Inspect every one of your resources because each one will have an impact on its success or otherwise.

The SalesPulse Insight

What is the main reason that you lose sales campaigns? Do you lose on price or features or service or some other reason? Let me say, in my opinion these are not reasons, they are excuses. There is only one real reason, and that is you were outsold. Understand the reasons for this, improve your win rate and make selling your competitive advantage.

The SalesPulse™ Blog, February 2017

IMPROVING SALES EFFECTIVENESS IS NOT JUST A SALES STRATEGY

I closed last month’s issue by saying that improving sales effectiveness is not just sales strategy. If you treat it as this it will not generate the results you hope for, or expect, and you will miss out on a vast improvement potential. Just in case you didn’t read last month’s issue, below is set out a sample menu of actions the sales department could undertake to improve its effectiveness. It is not intended to be comprehensive and I am sure you could think of many more.

1) implement a CRM/sales automation system aligned to a new streamlined sales process

2) identify skills and product training needs and define and implement training plan

3) buy and implement a (new) sales methodology/system

4) train sales managers in coaching

5) optimise sales time utilisation by segmenting customer base and deploying best resources to service major accounts and scarce resourcing others

6) identify and monitor a set of relevant KPIs, take appropriate remedial action should failure to meet them arise.

The point I was making is that you need to muster all your assets to improve sales effectiveness, or indeed any other business strategy. Let’s look at people first. I said last time that “people make things happen” and that if you empower them they will make the right things happen. This referred to salespeople but the same applies to people in other functions. If you take customer service and support, motivated people empowered to “go the extra mile” for the customer will have satisfied customers, and these positively impact business results and sales effectiveness. There is no point implementing a sales effectiveness improvement programme if your customer service sucks! Similarly, other well motivated and engaged people who have customer contact will leave a positive feeling. There are plenty of scholarly and practical papers available on the subject, here is one from Forbes.

Another of your assets that need to be drawn into such a programme are your business processes. These drive your business. Many of these processes are automated, and as such they are operated by business professionals, rather than admin. people. Here are a few questions (and answers borne out of experience) regarding processes:

– Who are they designed for? – Specialists

– Are they documented? – No

– Are they idiot proof? – No

– Are they internally or customer focused? – Internally

If your processes look like this, they afford every chance of delay and possibly failure. In the context of sales effectiveness, there seems little point in spending lots of money to speed up the sales process if the order processing process/system remains unchanged. More orders means more bottlenecks!

In last month’s edition, we said there were five resources to consider in any business. We have covered, money, people and infrastructure. Next time we will look at customers and company culture. I know that smaller company owners and directors might say, “yes I can see this being relevant to bigger organisations”. Let me assure you though, it is appropriate to all organisations.

 

The SalesPulse Insight – Think before you invest in sales training!

A lot has been written about the long term effectiveness, or more specifically the ineffectiveness of sales training. Training is not an event, but many companies still think it is. The most effective sales training occurs when the delivery, practice and follow up is done over a period of time. You cannot change behaviour in a single course. Behaviour change requires a structured approach and time.

The SalesPulse™ Blog, January 2017

A NEW YEAR, A NEW CHALLENGE, A NEW WAY

We are now well into 2017 and you will have set your objectives for the year or someone will have discussed them with you before you agreed them. I have never come across anyone in sales who at this time of year has said “well this is a doddle”! It is not in the make-up of sales people to do so and while managers, directors and owners might imply it, in their private moments they know it not to be the case. Whether your challenge is growth, improved margins, less churn or new customer acquisition, the resources you will have at your disposal will, by definition, be restricted in volume and limited in scope. So what are they? I would suggest the following.

1) your customers – they are your fundamental asset

2) your people – they make things happen

3) your infrastructure – it facilitates the business process(es)

4) your investment funds – they facilitate your business strategy and

5) your company ethos and values – they are the heartbeat of your business.

When organisations think about addressing their challenges rarely do they consider all their resources and harmonise their activities to ensure success. In this first of a series of newsletters we will look at how decisions taken without considering the whole asset base will fare.

Let’s take improving sales effectiveness as an example and start with the assumption that we know what improving sales effectiveness might really mean. The sorts of things that people do when addressing this as a strategy are:

1) implement a CRM/sales automation system aligned to a new streamlined sales process

2) identify skills and product training needs and define and implement training plan

3) buy and implement a (new) sales methodology/system

4) train sales managers in coaching

5) optimise sales time utilisation by segmenting customer base and deploying best resources to service major accounts and scarce resourcing others

6) identify and monitor a set of relevant KPIs, take appropriate remedial action should failure to meet them arise.

This all seems fair enough doesn’t it, but is it? Will this approach work? I would say it will work in part but not have the desired effect. It is easy to focus on the negatives so let’s examine how it could be made to work. Success will depend not only on implementation but on how the strategy is developed. Classic British management is top down, and this has a number of counter-productive traits. One of these is lack of trust. On the other hand, trust can be a massive motivator and engagement mechanism. It says to the people, you know your job and know how to improve it. Provide the guidelines but let the sales people create the strategy and then help them deliver it. The result is that it will work far better than a top down approach.

Improving sales effectiveness is not just a sales strategy, to make it really work it has to be a company strategy. It is not just the sales force that impacts sales effectiveness; the whole organisation and asset base impacts it. In the next editions of The SalesPulse we will discuss how these can be used to your best advantage.

The SalesPulse Insight – What’s in a brand?

Everything the marketers will tell you, but is it? Let’s consider the impacts of a damaged brand. Everyone is aware of the Samsung Note 7 problem. For example, the airlines will not let you take them on a plane and in the UK we generally rubbish the brand because of it. But what are the real impacts? Markets react differently, and, in the world’s largest consumer market the Samsung brand leads on quality, price and referral, and to complete the picture their quarter four profits are up by over 50 percent. (Source: Economic Times India 25th January, 2017). There must be some lessons for us all in this!

The SalesPulse™ Blog, December 2016

newlogoA SPECIAL TIME FOR ENJOYMENT AND REFLECTION

The Christmas and New Year period is fast approaching and it gives us all quality time with family and friends. It also offers time to reflect on 2016, the highs and lows and to think about those 2017 challenges. It is of course the time to make a New Year’s resolution. Some of us make them to address personal behaviours, but we can also make them for business. You may not even make a new year’s resolution but that doesn’t matter as I am sure you will want to improve your business. So here are a few suggestions for you to consider, all of which will have a positive impact:

Put the customer first – lead by example and spend at least one day a week talking with your customers, understanding their issues and opportunities. Ensure your management colleagues have a plan to meet their counterparts in your key customers. Don’t do either in isolation, make sure your, and their actions are in line with your sales plans.

And on the subject of sales plans do you have simple but structured plans for your best customers that are understood by everyone who is involved, or could possibly be involved with them?

Simplify your business – set an objective to reduce, or preferably eliminate the number of the inessential processes (See SalesPulse™ #132) 

Your engine room of growth is your sales team, even if you are the sales team. Work on the basis that “you don’t have to be sick to get better”! Identify appropriate learning and implement it. Don’t waste it; if you don’t embed it, it will be lost in a very short period of time

Review your differentiation strategy and your USPs (Unique selling propositions). Are they as robust as you think they are? When did you last undertake a comprehensive review of your competitors? Early in 2017 might be a good time to do one

On an easy to implement sales initiativehow much of your new or enhancement business comes from referrals? Personal referrals are the best form of sales leads, and the most winnable. The SalesPulse Academy has an online learning module covering this subject. Why not have a look at it. It’s free so treat it as a Christmas present from us.

Business results, customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction are all intrinsically linked. The key driver is employee satisfaction. Ask yourself, “how motivated are our people”? or “do they come to work because they want to or because they have to”? If they are low on motivation and work because they have to, there is either a risk or a big opportunity to improve business performance.

On behalf of us all at Koru, I would like to wish you a very happy Christmas and peaceful, prosperous and enjoyable 2017.

The SalesPulse™ Blog, November 2016

newlogoARE WE GOING BACK TO THE FUTURE?

I was browsing through some articles the other day and came across this quote which I like:

“If you don’t have a heart beat, you don’t have a life. If you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business. But do you really treat your customers like the vital organ they really are? Are all your decisions taken with the customers’ view in mind”?

Also in this article, there were sections on collaboration, speed of change and reaction to it, sales and marketing alignment and where you have the conversations that drive business transactions. This all seems pretty topical and I have heard about them all in the last six months. But the article, from the founder of Selling Power Magazine was produced in 2011. If the article had been written in the 1980’s, it would still be relevant today.

There is no doubt that there has been massive change over the last 35 and probably as much again over the last 5. A lot has been driven by pervasive technology i.e. the internet; by revolutions that caused anything proprietary to be seen as bad; by more demanding customers and more professional buyers; by legislation and regulation; disruptive market entrants and the list goes on and will continue to go on. It brings on that good old cliché “that the only thing that’s constant is change”. But is it?

Having been a sales person, manager and marketer in the 1980s let me comment on the content of the article. Back then we had the sales/marketing divide and recognised then that it was not good for business. The company in which I worked at the time introduced industry marketing to help bridge the gap between the product marketers and the sales people, and it worked. A good customer of ours once said that domain knowledge not products win business, and they were right. On the subject of collaboration, or co-creation as it is known today, it was an issue in the 1980s. But rather than just talking about it we did something and built an industry software portfolio though customer and partner collaboration. I have to say that on the subject of conversations we were very limited as to where we had them, but we did have them where our customers wanted them. We didn’t have social media or even email, but we did have pubs and understood market and customer issues. As for the pace of change and managing it, I am not sure the words engagement and empowerment were known then; but we did have a very motivated and creative sales force which was key to helping us manage through some turbulent times. The final thing to cover is the opening quote; this is all about customer centricity or intimacy. We understood it then and managed it through having good account teams and sales people who championed the customer’s cause.

The issues raised in this article are all basic, so my question is why are we still having the same discussions today as we had 35 years ago?

I have my views, but they are not important. Yours are and I would be grateful to hear them. I will though give you a summary of my 1980’s experience. The company that I, and most of my Koru colleagues worked with had great foresight and leadership. It created massive market share because it faced and managed the issues that this newsletter identified at the start. We had no Customer Relationship Management system, we had people who managed customer relationships; we had no expensive sales methodologies like SPIN or Miller Heiman, just well managed competent, engaged and entrepreneurial sales people; we had no sales or marketing automation tools, no customer experience software or any of the many so called productivity tools available today. But maybe that is part of the reason. It was simple and we could spend the maximum time with customers and not be tied to computer systems that add work but little value. We lived for and with our customers.

The SalesPulse™ Blog, October 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

newlogoTHE MOST WIDELY USED WORD IN SALES

In the last edition of The SalesPulse I talked about simplifying your business by looking at your processes. In this edition I am going to build on that by looking at a crucial aspect of the way we generally work and find a better way of doing it. I am using sales as the example but it is relevant in all aspects of business.

Over the last couple of months, I have attended two conference, four webinars and read many articles, all of which were sales related and one word was common to all of them. It wasn’t customers or clients; it wasn’t benefits; and it wasn’t solving their problems. The word is “Review”. It came up in many different contexts and from my own personal experience as a sales manager/director I too used it many times, (far too many times). One finds that the bigger the company the more reviews there are of sales people. Sales people know about reviews and in general terms they know how to manage them; they give away the minimum amount of information but enough to get the reviewer off their case. Those people who are not sales people but who have to sell are far more open which is good, but they can be that way as they have lots of other things to do. Their reviewers are generally not that saes savvy so it’s a more  relaxed affair.

I have looked up the dictionary definition of “review” and nowhere does it state that the person being reviewed should be beaten up for not getting an order on the date they promised, nor does it say that people outside of the sales discipline should tell sales people what to do and how to do it. So we need to ask the question why are people constantly reviewed? Because there are very few accepted sales qualifications (I know of one degree level course), sales is part of the curriculum in no more than two per cent of Business Studies degrees and there is no sales module in any MBAs, I put it down to poor education. While this is a deplorable situation (watch this space for a quantum leap in formal sales qualifications) sadly this is not the case. The truth of the matter is the dominant management style in Britain is CONTROLLING; micro management or command and control is the way most managers work. To quote one of the most successful managers in English football, the late Brian Clough. “We’ll discuss it for five minutes then we’ll do it my way”! Hold on I hear you say, Clough was really successful and that is true, but he was not a manager, he was a leader. And he had a right hand man, Peter Taylor who was an exceptional coach. It is the coaching approach that will obviate the reviewing culture that is so common in sales.

I can hear the next question now. “How will I know what is going on if I don’t review my people”? As I said earlier reviewing is a flawed process, so start to concentrate on the “hows” of the job rather than just the “whats”. Spending time with your people understanding their issues, helping them to find solutions, helping them to develop their own performance improvement plans, supporting them through their development process and trusting them more will create a peer to peer relationship, rather than one of manager/subordinate. As the relationship develops the coach will become trusted and will gain more insights into the exact position in sales campaigns. The person being coached will become more engaged with their manager and their organisation. The outcomes will be better motivated, higher performing and loyal sales people. This is not theory as I did it for several years as a first line sales manager and never held a review of any sort. However, I will admit it was a case of unconscious competence.

How is it applicable to other parts of a company? Those of you in manufacturing will know and many will understand continuous improvement. At its heart continuous improvement (CI) is based upon mutual trust, employee engagement and empowerment. The removal of unnecessary work, that we discussed last time, is also a key component. Not only does CI work in manufacturing but it is deployed in many types of business including the public sector. If you would like to know more about CI, contact me through Linked In.

As the year end is nigh, remember, there are only 40 selling days until Christmas; only do things that help your people sell, a daily review of their prospects does not help!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The SalesPulse™ Blog, September 2016

newlogoIT’S TIME TO MAKE THINGS SIMPLE

In the last three issues of the SalesPulse we have concentrated on focusing efforts on customers and identifying the benefits that accrue from a customer intimate business strategy. (If you have not read these newsletters you can find them here). In this issue we will begin the process of understanding how simplification of a business can develop further benefits. But what do I mean by “simplify”? Here is the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of simplify:

Make (something) simpler or easier to do or understand.

Over time businesses become more complicated. For example:

–  Organisations follow their leaders. Bad management habits such as poor meeting discipline, ad hoc requests for information cascade themselves down the organisation causing more work and job complexity. Quite often WE, and our actions are the hidden cause of complexity

– As organisations grow they become more complex in structure, managerial levels increase and spans of control shrink. In some organisations whole new departments are created to manage some “new” activity. Organisational complexity slows decision making and responsiveness.

– Business processes evolve to cater for ever changing demands, for prevention of problems or for the imposition of controls. Generally speaking something goes wrong and there is an “institutional response” that fixes the problem.

– New and more IT systems are introduced that often generate work, Customer Relationship Management is a good example.

– Products and services become more numerous and complex through the introduction of widgets that offer value added or differentiation.

– I have often found that when you question someone on an issue, there is the classic middle management response “You don’t understand, it’s not that simple”! In most cases it is that simple

– And of course there is all the legislation and regulation to deal with.

Many of our readers are from small and medium businesses and don’t suffer from this complexity issue, or do they? I have a view but I’ll let you decide this once we have examined the nature of work.

In simple terms work comes in three varieties.

– There is work that we do that directly benefits our customers. This includes selling, product development, service delivery, customer services and satisfaction management. This we will call essential work.

– Then there is work which is entirely internal. This includes review processes, business approvals, internal auditing etc. Look at this work from the customers’ perspective – are they interested in what your internal processes are? If they do not benefit the customer they are inessential work

– There is work we have to do because of legislation. We have to do VAT returns for example. They are not essential in the context of these definitions but are necessary work. The same can be said of compliance, but done properly compliance can be a competitive advantage.

All these different types of work map onto business processes, which should be documented; but from my experience are generally not, however that is another debate. As stated earlier processes evolve because circumstances change or more commonly because problems occur or more worryingly people are not trusted. It is often more expedient and less costly, in the short term to add to a process than understand the real reasons causing the problem. This is a false economy because you keep paying through additional work whether the problem re-occurs or not.

So, let’s start making things simple by looking at all the non customer benefitting things we do and as Bruce Lee says in our Quote of the month, hack away at the inessentials. The benefits are lower costs, more “real work” time and better profits. We can help to kick start your simplification efforts by providing you with our “good and bad uses of sales time” report. Click here to download it

The SalesPulse™ Blog, August 2016

newlogoFOCUS ON ONE THING – THE BENEFITS

In the last edition of the SalesPulse we said there is nothing more simple than doing just one thing, in this case it is focusing on your customers and that in this edition we would explore the benefits of this as a business strategy. 

Customer intimacy is the only form of sustainable advantage; it engenders loyalty, positions you as a trusted advisor and helps you avoid transactional selling that professional buyers are seeking to establish as the norm. This is the first benefit of adopting customer intimacy as a differentiation strategy.

Much is made of the internet and how it has changed the world of selling. There is a lot of truth in this particularly in buying and selling commodity products and services. There is also a school of thought that says, when a prospect approaches you for a potential purchase they are already 62% of the way through the sales process and all they effectively want from you is a quotation as they know everything else about you. If this is happening to you, you are not in control of the sales process, the competitive landscape or indeed anything else to do with the prospect, even if it is an existing customer. Customer intimacy allows you to set the agenda and puts you in control.

Here is a quote from Steve Jobs that supports this statement.

“Get close to your customers. So close that you will tell them what they need, well before they realise it”.

This is what professional sales people do. The internet has not changed the world of professional selling, but it has made it easier and quicker to find out about your customers than was previously available through manual research. The second benefit of customer intimacy is that it puts you in control.

If you are a regular reader of The SalesPulse you will have seen this diagram before.

Value Journey-page-001

Produced originally by Cranfield Business School, we use it to describe the value journey. Quite simply the further you are positioned to the right, the stronger your business relationship and the better your margins. This is the third benefit.

Having this absolute customer focus will better inform your product and services development. You will have access to customers with whom you can collaborate on such developments, have ready-made test beds and ease the cost of product and service introduction. In general terms you will have to spend less in these areas and as such improve profitability and reduce the selling cycle by close to eliminating competition. This is the fourth benefit. You will better understand the “customer service” needs and facilitate the delivery of a much better customer experience. This brings with it a host of other benefits which include:

  – customer advocacy and increased referrals

  – improved market share through competitive activity reduction/lock out

  – customer lifetime values will increase

  – customers will seek to expand the areas of collaboration, and

  – customer attrition will be minimised.

And one final point on benefits; the organisation will become more productive and less costly through the reduction of activities not directly contributing to the improvement of your customers’ business. Beware though, customer intimacy is a business strategy not just a sales strategy and if you would like to know more click here.

The SalesPulse™ Blog, July 2016

newlogoFOCUS ON ONE THING – THE ANSWERS
In last week’s SalesPulse I posed a number of questions and gave the results of some recent research. That research is incredibly important because it tells you what the one thing you should focus on, and that is your customers. The questions were there to help you see how customer centric you in your role are, and if you had answered “for your colleagues”, you would have a view as to how customer centric your company is.
If you answered the questions honestly it is possible that they looked like mine in red below. Here are the questions with my answers:
If you are a managing director (or chief executive), chairman (or chairperson), or board member other than sales/marketing director please answer these questions:
 – Write down the names of your top ten customers, when you last saw them, and when you next plan to. Some visits will have been made. No future plan exists or is sketchy at best.
– At your last board meeting how much of the time did you take discussing your customers? Customers are discussed only in the context of the business forecast.
 If you are a sales and/or marketing director:
– How much of your time is used discussing business matters with your customers? Less than 10%.
– When was the last time you spent as much time with customers as you do managing numbers? Some years ago.
 If you are a sales person:
– How much time do you invest in customer research? Less than 10%.
– In the last year how many unsolicited or proactive proposals have you discussed with your customers? One at best.
If you are a business owner:
– How much of your time is invested in your customers? When the day job permits.
– How do you measure customer satisfaction? Informally, or if it becomes an issue.
It could be that I am just a sceptic or wanting to make a point, and there is probably some truth in that. However, my observations over the last ten years support my comments. But why is it important that organisations become customer centric? For a start I  would promote the expression customer intimate which roughly relates to “understanding your customers’ business better than they do”. There are only three forms of differentiation (source Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema) and they are.
 – Operational Excellence (most efficient e.g. Dell, FedEx and Walmart)
 – Technical Leadership (most innovative e.g. Intel and Apple)
 – Customer intimate (customer and market knowledge e.g. PwC, Grant Thornton)
As I am sure you realise the best price today may not be tomorrow, ask any UK supermarket; the best technology today may not be tomorrow ask Apple as Samsung are fast catching up. Aah, but Apple’s brand is stronger you say, and I agree but brands can be easily damaged ask Anderson’s (RIP) and Volkswagon. The only sustainable source of differentiation is customer intimacy. It requires an investment in time to become part of the customer’s DNA.
As far back as 2007, The SalesPulse Issue 15 espoused that customer intimacy was the way ahead as it facilitated proactive value selling rather than reactive transactional selling. The SalesPulse Issue 25 in the same year said that commoditisation was here to stay. There is no doubt that the procurement profession is absolutely focused on commoditising all those things that you believe your customers value and that make you different. There are some things that they cannot commoditise and they are your customer and market knowledge, your business relationships and your ability to generate value that is appreciated by the board.
There is nothing more simple than doing just one thing, in this case it is focusing on your customers. It brings many direct and unexpected benefits which we’ll explore next time.