What Is Your Sales Strategy?

In a recent Inc. post, Geoffrey James quoted a statement by Gerhard Gschwandtner, publisher of Selling Power magazine, “that within 10 years, as much as 80 percent of the sales situations, currently handled by salespeople, will be handled automatically”. However, he also believes that there will continue to be a need for salespeople in specific situations, where the customer may not be able to identify his own problem, a solution, or an ROI for a purchase.

This means that for the remaining 20%, customers will be looking to their suppliers and sales representatives as resources to assist in providing solutions to help their business vs. just showing up to peddle their wares.  This will require salespeople that can understand their customers’ business issues and objectives, have the ability to be problem solvers, and the capability to build long term, personal relationships that bring value.

While this will be bad news for stereotypical, schmoozing, glad handing salespeople, it will create opportunities for businesses to differentiate themselves in their markets, and generate more profitable revenue.

As technology continues to automate and streamline the purchasing process, and time constraints increase with the pace of business today, there is less and less time for customers interact with salespeople that are “ just visiting”.   In fact, many organizations set specific limits on sales appointments, and only those salespeople that can help solve problems and bring value to the relationship, are invited and welcomed to participate as a partner.

This environment creates the opportunity for businesses to strategically differentiate themselves from the competition.  In many industries, the table stakes of the “game” are price, service, and quality and it is assumed that the majority of competitors in a given space, all have same relative levels of each.

As a result, without differentiation and value creation, the product or service eventually becomes viewed as a commodity, and the primary focus becomes price.  When this happens, price levels and profitability deteriorate, larger competitors take advantage of their economies of scale, and smaller competitors get squeezed out of the market.  A primary example of this evolution is the commercial printing industry which is now considered a commodity, and has become dominated by larger and larger organizations.

Those businesses that are able to differentiate themselves as solution providers, and can bring value to their customer relationships, will separate themselves from the competition, and as a result, create the opportunity to maintain, and possibly increase, their prices, profitability, and market share on the basis of that value.

Is your business considered a Solution Provider you your customers?  If not, now is the time to review your sales strategy and direction, training, and market message, and make the evolution from product peddler to a valued solution provider to protect and grow your business for the future.

If you have any questions, or would like to discuss your organization’s specific issues, please call us at (727) 637-4666, or email me directly at Don@HuttlinAssociates.com.
“A strategy delineates a territory in which a company seeks to be unique.” – Michael Porter

A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all. – Michael LeBoeuf

Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different. – Michael Porter

Trying to do what your competitors are doing but basically a little bit better is probably not going to be the winning strategy. The problem is finding what your competitors wouldn’t even consider doing. – Jamais Cascio

Are You Taking Care of Your Customers?

As we work with our clients, many of them believe, rightfully so, that their particular organization is unique, and requires a number of complex processes, procedures, and reporting for their operation to work efficiently.  However, while there is nothing wrong with being unique, too many organizations make their operations much more complicated than they need to be.  As a result, the organization gets bogged down in the process, procedures and reporting, and loses its focus on the most important goal of any organization – Taking Care of the Customer, in the most cost efficient way.

Let me give you an example from my sailing days.

Tacking a sailboat is basically a four step process including turning the boat to the new course, releasing the sheet on one side, pulling in the sheet on the other side, and trimming for speed.  All a straight line process to accomplish one goal.  Yet, I have seen this simple process become very complex when there are too many hands involved, and/or too much talking and direction, resulting in a very inefficient process and a bad tack.

If we apply this straight line concept to an organization, there are really only three major steps for the entire customer fulfillment process, regardless of the organization, service or product lines.  These steps include:

  • Receipt of a customer/client order, or request
  • Taking action required by that order or request, which could include:
    • Ordering material
    • Processing that material
    • Performing a service
  • Delivering that product or service, cost effectively

That’s it.  Now I realize that the list is oversimplified, and that there are a myriad of details and actions required for each step, but the question is – Are all of those details and actions required to fulfill the customer’s request as efficiently and effectively as possible?  Probably not.

As you look at your organization, ask yourself some key questions:

  • Do you have processes and reports in place because this is the way it’s always been done, or just in case?
  • Is your organization getting bogged down following the processes and procedures, or filling out reports?
  • Does your customer see value in all of your processes and reports?  Are they willing to pay for them?
  • Can you fulfill their request in a straight line, or have detours grown up over time that are inefficient?

Depending on your answers, you may need to take a hard look at your operation, and update the processes to make them more efficient and effective.

Successful organizations have the following attributes:

  • Processes move in a straight line, with as few steps as possible
  • Processes, procedures, and reports have perceived value for the customer
  • The processes and procedures are cost effective, and efficient
  • The client/customer experience is the best it can be

It all comes down to just two objectives:  A great customer experience at the lowest cost.

It’s all about the customer.  How does your organization compare?

If you have any questions, or would like more information, please give us a call at (727) 637-4666, or email me directly at Don@HuttlinAssociates.com.

“Reduce the layers of management. They put distance between the top of an organization and the customers.” –  Donald Rumsfeld

“Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it.”Peter Drucker

“The single most important thing to remember about any enterprise is that there are no results inside its walls. The result of a business is a satisfied customer.” – Peter Drucker

What Does Your Customer Want?

In last week’s post, we discussed the importance of an effective communications process to your organization’s success.  The next logical question is –  “How effective are your customer communications?”

Good customer communications are the key to building a solid base, retaining customers for the long term, establishing strong relationships, and making their experience the best it can be.  Organizations that communicate well are generally rewarded with loyal customers, and steady and consistent growth over time.

Most successful organizations generally know and understand what their customers want.  However, in his recent article in Inc. magazine, Geoffrey James listed six attributes that every customer wants, regardless of the organization:

 

  • Preparation –  Doing Your Homework
  • Simplicity –  Making it Simple to do business with you
  • Creativity –  Identifying New Solutions
  • Loyalty – To Their Organization and Requirements
  • Accessibility – Making Them Feel Special
  • Accountability –  Not Passing the Buck

I’ll add two more to his list:

As you look at the list, note that many of these issues revolve around communications in one way or another.  Regardless of the form, all customer communications should meet the following criteria:

  • Clear and Simple
  • Build trust and confidence
  • Emphasize their importance to your organization
  • Demonstrate your understanding of their need
  • Timely

To do this well, however, requires discipline, focus and being proactive.  Too many organizations, however, either don’t understand the importance of this communication, or pay lip service to this process, and don’t make it a priority throughout the organization.  As a result, they are surprised when a customer leaves after feeling ignored, or taken for granted.

In my opinion, there is one final part of the process which is to establish and maintain a regular and consistent dialogue with your key customers.  This dialogue will build strong relationships, trust, loyalty, and credibility as a valued supplier, leading to an increased share of their business, where possible.  In addition, you will want to expand your relationship to as many levels of the customer’s organization as possible to reduce the risk of losing business if your key contact leaves.

By having this regular dialogue, you accomplish several objectives:

  • Build strong, long term relationships
  • Demonstrate your understanding of their business and requirements
  • Promote the value that your organization provides
  • Identify areas for improvement in your performance

Customers are the sole reason for the existence of most organizations.  If you communicate clearly, simply, and timely, throughout your customer’s organization, and make their experience that best it can be, you will be well on your way to having both long term customers, and consistent growth.

“Every contact we have with a customer influences whether or not they’ll come back. We have to be great every time or we’ll lose them.”  – Kevin Stirtz

“Spend a lot of time talking to customers face to face. You’d be amazed how many companies don’t listen to their customers.” – Ross Perot

“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.” – Mahatma Gandhi

 

Change Is Constant – Get Used To It!

Most of us don’t like change.  In fact, my guess is that the word itself makes you uncomfortable.  So maybe we should call it something else – how about Shift? or Transition? or Adjustment?

Why do we “fear” change?  Generally because we’re comfortable in our present situation and maintaining the status quo, and things seem to be working just fine.  Some of the comments I hear most often include:

  • “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
  • “This is how we’ve always done it”
  • “It’s working fine, why change it?”

In these uncertain times, however, these approaches, and doing nothing, may actually risk the future survival of your business.

When you really think about it, most of the issues and challenges that you face, or objectives that you want to achieve in your business, require a change.  Call it whatever you like, “Strategy Development”, “Revenue Growth”, “Performance Improvement”, “Cost Reduction”,etc. etc., it is still a change from what you are doing now.

The fact is that the pace of business today, and the uncertainty of the current environment requires continuous adjustment for a business to grow, remain competitive and relevant to their markets and customers, and ultimately, achieve sustainable success.

Why do we need to constantly make these adjustments?

  • Market and customer requirements are continuously moving
  • Customer expectations keep increasing
  • Costs are rising
  • Prices are under constant pressure
  • Technology continues to change the way we do business

Sailors know the need for continuous adjustment better than anyone else.  On a sailing vessel, the wind is constantly changing velocity and direction, and the sails must be adjusted consistently to maintain course and reach the destination.

Change is inevitable and required to keep pace with the changing conditions.  Organizations must constantly review, evaluate, and adjust their business and operations to new conditions in order to grow and be successful.  They need to be prepared to learn new skills, take advantage of new trends, and adapt to unforeseen circumstances.

While it may be uncomfortable, those organizations that choose to make these adjustments will be successful.  Those who choose not to will be left behind.

“We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.”  –Bertha Calloway