May 2010 Archives

Most B2B companies strive to build an intimate and trusted relationship with their customers, at least that's what they say they want. They expend a lot of energy educating their sales professionals to work in that space thinking that this is the area most in need of help. After dedicating considerable resources and time on sales training, most find that it's unfortunately not the panacea they hoped it would be.

As we've stated on this blog several times - Customer Intimacy is a business model change, not simply a series of training session for customer-facing employees.

Customer Intimacy: Business Model Elements

As the diagram shows us, customer intimacy business model re-invention is more than just a sales approach. It is literally a new way of thinking and executing work.  Let's save that discussion for another post.  For now, I'd like us to examine the plight of the sales organization

How does your sales organization meet the challenge? How does your customer relationship become an intimate one?

Often, we find that a major stumbling block is that the "solutions" the sales organization take into customer discussions are  in fact little more than a bundling of products - which tend to emanate from a single product family, business unit, or process.

True, they may make a larger sales - but the customer does not engage in a meaningful way.

At other times, we see companies selling the "solution pricing" premise, that is, "buy this bundle of stuff and get better pricing." Finally, we sometimes see an effort to refocus the discussion around the products as a driver of savings - this approach will be of some interest to the customer, but it does not differentiate your offerings from the competition. In fact, it can spiral into destructive price warfare.
All these and many other approaches are tried every day and then foisted upon the sales organization with little more than sales training, which, let's face it, does not change the central problem - are you really solving your customer's most strategic problems?

Your customer executive still does not engage, and your solution pitch is still viewed as just another sales pitch. 

After literally over a thousand discussions with key executives, I can state that they are tired of this approach and don't want to solve your problem: finding out what's important to them so you can pitch your products to that issue or topic.

So what does work? Equipping your sales talent with True Solutions™ - that is to say, accept that you must create and offer things that create a true partnership. 

You must develop a portfolio of intimacy driving things that the executive truly cares about - for example, hospital executives are more interested in patient safety than the name on the MRI; food and beverage companies are more interested in getting new product ideas and out in the market, then what copier is used.  This does not mean that your current products don't need to be sold. But, if you want an executive to sit up and take notice, you must equip them with the right True Solutions™. 

I know this sounds impossible (you ask: how can we have anything to offer that would fit the bill?) and its sounds impractical (how does this sell my products?).  In answer to both questions, I hope you have been reading this blog and are gaining an understanding of the power of the Customer Intimacy Engine™.  But let's be logical for a second; if the customer executive wants to meet more often with your team because they are truly helping they will be more sympathetic to your products and services.  Also, many times a section of the portfolio can directly pull through products and build intimacy.  My empathy is always with the people on the front lines - those actually helping your customers. 

We need to accept that it is asking a lot of sales people alone to carry the weight of building those key relationships. In addition to the right solutions they need a support organization that can come into an account with the type of vertical expertise and specific solution knowledge to convince the customer that your are for real and can/will implement appropriately.  Building the right kind of expert consultancy internally is crucial.  That is no easy task, but it can and must be done.  These experts will have experience talking "straight" to executives and holding their own when tough information must be delivered.

Finally, "solution selling" by itself is not enough to equip the sales talent to be successful in this new and different landscape.  We must equip them to leverage the power of ideas and consultative help available through team selling. This is a large conceptual change but once they are doing it - almost all can become proficient in this type of leverage - they can go to any executive with confidence that they will be well received and well thought of.

In summary, the notion that solution sales training will get us into an intimate executive relationship where we are providing that proverbial "trusted-advisor" impact is just not true

We need to equip ourselves in a much more serious manner - and it's worth it because owning the customer's mind share always leads to wallet share. 

These include:

  • True Solutions™ - ones that meet the executives needs not yours,
  • Consultative Support - people that can dominate the intellectual issues of the industry and the solution in a "doctor-patient" relationship
  • Training on how to master idea-driven relationships, and
  • Leveraging a team selling environment.
I'm often asked by senior executives about how they should assess their company's progress on the Customer Intimacy Journey.
A quick Customer Intimacy Assessment can be done by answering the following set of questions. Executives should be familiar with the key milestones for each phase, and, most importantly, they need to be as objective as possible in order to come up with their next set of actions.

Getting Started

  • Does your organization understand that this is a business model and not a sales technique?
  • Does the executive team understand what it takes to be successful?
  • Do you have buy-in for the long term transformation?

Forming the Business

  • Do you have ideas that are strictly applicable to the niche (vertical market) you want to compete in?
  • Do you have proof points to differentiate your company?
  • Are you selling to the key executives in your target market?
  • Can you upsell more solutions to the executives you currently serve?

Commercializing the Business

  • Can you save disaffected accounts?
  • Do you add new accounts through solutions?
  • Are you pulling through significant product deals?
  • Do you have a portfolio that touches several key executives in the vertical?
  • Can you grow rapidly?

Scaling the Business

  • Do you have integrated verticals where key accounts are run by a Customer Intimacy business model?
  • Do you have large transactions sold without sales activity?
  • Have you eliminated some corporate cost by leveraging solution teams to do them?

Dominating the Market

  • Are you running the company/business in a new way?
  • Have you changed your performance metrics?
  • Are you still running to business models - old and new?
  • Are you promoting Customer Intimacy leaders to top leadership jobs?

At McMann & Ransford we guide our clients throughout the Customer Intimacy Journey - from getting started to dominating the market. Do you know where you stand?  

We work with many new practices that include people from our clients' legacy businesses, consultants with vertical expertise that are recent hires, and other new hires that might sell solutions.  While they each have been successful in their own careers and think they know how to build customer intimacy, in practice it is often a challenge to get the group to work together effectively.

This can be especially challenging for management consultants hired into the practices - they have done billable work before, sold consulting deals, and managed clients and they don't readily see the difference between selling services and customer intimacy.

The effort of getting everyone performing in a fast-growth, repeatable, Customer Intimacy Engine - that pulls through products as its primary goal - can be very frustrating for our clients and they often find this part of the journey the most surprising.

I wanted to walk through the steps we believe are best practices and what effect they have during this part of the journey.  Please keep in mind that each time you move to a new practice area you will experience many of the same issues, so the ability to get this right and do it again and again becomes a key skill in taking you company into and being successful on the journey.

Complete Integrated Training Program
This seems to be an area that most major companies have trouble adapting as necessary.  You need to know you are building an entire business model that works differently.  You must know what skills and competencies are needed for each job category, and you must be able to deliver the skills transformation and be able to hold your people accountable. (We'll take up this topic in detail in a future entry.)

I will say that we have been doing this for 17 years and the amount of IP and transformational education materials required are immense.

On-boarding begins During the Interview
From the first time an internal or external person is introduced to the business - they should begin the education on the business model and how the role they are considering fits in - some use extensive materials even video vignettes.  This opens a question I often here - sharing methods - I am asked why we openly share on our blog and elsewhere how to make the journey.  I like to use the Toyota story - Toyota has always opened their miracle of manufacturing for inspection by other car companies. They are asked why they do that - my understanding of their answer is - it is not knowing what can be done but having the discipline, fortitude and guidance to do it.  That is the way we feel - we want companies to make the journey and if sharing helps them get going great - but we know that it requires more than a cursory knowledge to make it through the journey.  Anyway, every discussion with a candidate should reinforce and question their understanding of the model and role.  This also helps determine who should join the business.

The First Six Months
We think of this as the time members of the business go through a personal understanding and skills transformation.  It includes a great deal of training and role playing - only by doing do they begin to see the differences. Also as the business grows you can have your own clients come in and play their roles in this effort.  Further, each newbie gets a coach that rates their adaptation to the new skills - intellectual, emotional, and demonstrable - this can go directly into their review.  Further, they need to do fail-first learning (harsh, perhaps, but effective) they must be pushed into client situations - this will begin to dispel the false idea that "I can do this my own way."

On-Going Learning
Usually the members of the organization are now hungry for the continued learning aspect of the roles and the roles they aspire to.  They embrace the training/role playing activities they will experience over the coming years.  Please remember this is like the army: the action is on the ground not at headquarters - people must know what to do in client situations and feel free to take action. They cannot take problems back to senior management or cut prices to make things work. 

The final support for the people is that everything works like a project and they are always on teams - although the teams are different.  On a close knit team, day-to-day coaching and feedback become the norm.  Think of a family - you don't wait till the end of a review period to tell your kid that they did something wrong or great.
I hope this entry helps you get an introduction to the breadth of the issues and some best practices to drive the change using the Customer Intimacy Engine.

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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