Guest Post courtesy of Bob Thompson
In 2012 my research found most B2B sales and marketing professionals agreed that understanding the buyer experience was important, yet precious few had any clue about it. That article referenced a Forrester study which concluded: “The traits in a salesperson that executives find valuable and strategic, namely focusing on solving a problem (13%) and on driving an end result for them (8%), were the least common traits perceived by buyers.”
In this word cloud you’ll see what today’s buyers consider to be key differentiators, including knowledge of their business, listening skills, responsiveness, and flexibility.
Sadly, the situation has not improved. Forrester’s 2013 update found no real progress in the three years since the last study. There is still a “significant gap” between what buyers want and what they get. That’s unfortunate, because studies by McKinsey and the Corporate Executive Board both concluded that the quality of sales experiences (as buyers perceive them) was a key driver of revenue growth.
Forrester’s research found that, all too often, reps deliver slide decks instead of conversations, lead with products and not industry insights, and waste time in meetings because material hasn’t been customized for the buyer.
A recent Forrester Sales Enablement conference featured several excellent cases to show that a “customer first” approach can work. My favorite was Motorola Solutions, a big provider of first responder mobile solutions to government. According to SVP Eduardo Conrado, company leaders decided to take a step back and develop a customer-oriented mission of “helping people be their best in the moments that matter,” rather than more of the usual technical blah blah blah.
Conrado says they are progressing well on their journey from a product provider to a solutions provider, with the goal of being a trusted advisor to their customers. A deeper understanding of their customers drove development of new marketing creative, along with tools to help reps find and use the right content based on the customer, situation and sales stage. He said the most popular and useful assets were “point of view” white boards, solution briefs, and presentations that covered industry trends and customer issues.
In other words, marketing and sales content that speaks to customers, not products. What a refreshing change.
Of course, Motorola still sells products, and sometimes a more tactical approach is appropriate, says Conrado. To put it differently, you can’t always “challenge” your customer to think bigger and more strategically. But it’s worth questioning whether you’re selling tactically because of the customer’s priorities, or your own limitations.
Fixing a broken “selling system” – Forrester’s term for “all activities that are performed by employees in your company to generate revenue” – is a big job. Elay Cohen, former Salesforce.com executive, co-founder SalesHood, and author of a new book of the same name says that sales managers must cultivate a collaborative, team-learning approach that will adapt the strategy and “playbooks” authored by HQ. Otherwise, sales reps won’t “own it” and institutionalize the right behaviors.
This is exactly what I’ve found more broadly in my research on customer-centric success. Leaders must figure out how to create and sustain the right set of “habits” — routine behaviors engrained into the culture — to execute the company strategy.
Bob Thompson is an international authority on customer-centric business management who has researched and shaped leading industry trends since 1998. He is founder and CEO of CustomerThink Corporation, an independent research and publishing firm, and founder and editor-in-chief of CustomerThink.com, the world’s largest online community dedicated to helping business leaders develop and implement customer-centric business strategies. His book Hooked on Customers (April 2014) reveals the five habits of leading customer-centric firms.
For more information visit http://hookedoncustomers.com