Companies used to compete on operational execution and driving efficiency to out-maneuver the competition. The quest was for better manufacturing capabilities, higher-quality products, and better/faster distribution networks. Now, thanks to emerging business models built on technology, those capabilities are table stakes.
Since the economic reboot of 2008, the new source of competitive advantage is customer centricity:
deeply understanding your customers’ needs and fulfilling those needs better than anyone else.
While this may sound cliché, routine, or even mundane the quest for customer-centricity is anything but. Thousands of sales leaders, sales enablement professionals, and salespeople world-wide, have come to realize that most companies (and the people in them) don’t understand their customers like they think they do. Today's business models are built on an outside-in view of their customer are thriving. For example:
Amazon can deliver a fuchsia bike helmet on the same day it's ordered,
Many salespeople are able to take three Uber / Lyft rides to get around a city they have never visited without worrying about air conditioning, smelly car interiors, or arriving late for meetings (sorry NYC taxi drivers), and
On-demand services like video conferencing and website design are accelerating knowledge transfer and ability to collaborate on more complex problems.
These examples of customer-centric models are now becoming the norm.
But, just a few short years ago, when these businesses first launched they were considered “disruptive” instead of “customer-centric.” There are many companies looking to make the pivot from legacy industrial age thinking to more customer-centricity (research what GE did to "re- launch" their 124-year-old start-up)
The challenge that many leaders face today is their company probably has out dated processes, not enough skilled people, and can’t seem to build a technology system that increases agility. In short, they struggle to "get it all to work together." This is especially difficult when all three of these areas (people, process, technology) have to all work together to solve customer problems.
It’s interesting that after years of process improvement, TQM, six sigma and industrialized approaches, years of predominate management theories that “people are your biggest asset,” and 20-years into the information/technology age of human history that 85%-90% of companies going to market don’t understand how to align to their customers.
That's the Reality: Most don’t even know who their customers are!
Maybe a critical ingredient that new businesses like Amazon and Uber had going for them at the time of their launch was they didn’t have to re-engineer, rewire, or re-align their legacy company to a more customer-centric business model. In short, they could simply just build them that way from the beginning. After working with 20-30 companies and talking to hundreds of leaders across many markets over the past 5 years, we find that very few mid-level managers and below outside of sales functions truly understand what’s at stake (they focus on making incremental improvements) while senior leaders (like Sales VPs and above) are looking for transformation and breakthrough performance to drive business results.
In reality there is a huge chasm between the top-down leadership view of what needs to happen vs. the bottom up reality from the trenches. They simply don’t line up – at all. There are a lot of things that managers can focus on and work on tactically from the bottom up. And there are a lot of actions, activities, and approaches that leaders can take to work strategically from the top down. The challenge is more than just aligning strategy and execution. What about aligning strategy AND execution to the customer? Shouldn’t both strategy and execution align to the customer’s problem? Shouldn’t both strategy and execution create both strategic value and tactical value for the customer? Sure. then, why is it so hard? What would it take to accomplish this seemingly simple truth? For one thing, if you’ve already provided the “Answer” to the puzzle created, you’re probably a bigger part of the problem than you realize.
There isn’t a simple solution to this challenge.
There is no one thing you can buy or technology you can implement that will suddenly help your company become more customer centric. The bottom line is, bridging strategy to execution and aligning people, process, and technology to the customer takes a lot of coordinated thinking, re-alignment of processes, up-skilling of people, and incremental technology advances. And it takes a healthy dose of humility to realize you don’t know your customers like you think you do.
... becoming more customer-centric is a journey.
And, the journey to becoming truly customer-centric also takes a new way of working. For example, to become more customer-centric, here are a few of the challenges you and your team will need to address:
How will you measure success? Revenue growth and profit margins are great measures of success, but what are you going to measure to get there? How will you know you’re making any progress? What are you going to do when you find out that there are 15+ definitions of “customer” in your organization and over 100+ different definitions of “sales and marketing” roles? What are you going to do when you discover that the P&L view is broken out across departments and functions (that your customers don’t care about) and your solutions cut across those P&Ls but nobody thinks that way (and they certainly don’t want to work that way)? What does success look like and how would you measure it then?
How will you operationalize the strategy? Embracing a customer-centric strategy is a no-brainer for most people. If you were to ask operations, sales, marketing, finance, and HR about the importance of a customer-centric approach to achieving the company’s growth strategy they would all agree. But, what happens when you put them into a room together? What are you going to do when people push for their initiative over someone else’s because it’s their pet project? What happens when people are saying the same thing with different words, and yet you’re unable to move forward? What will you do when the blend of process, organization, people, technology, measures, and company capabilities have to align to the customer’s problem-solving journey? Who’s going to align every functions value contribution to that journey?
How will you work? If you’ve had any measure of success in your personal life, you’ve undoubtedly built a lot of knowledge and understanding about your field and your profession. How will you personally use that knowledge to help your customers be more successful? How will you identify your own gaps in understanding based on what the customer’s journey is? What are you going to do to augment your thinking with the perspective and knowledge of others who have an important customer-centric impact to make? This is easier said than done. Read my blog on my own journey to “make the pivot” if you want to see what I had to do to become more customer-centric.
How will you humble yourself before your customer? When we work with salespeople, we ask for volunteers to take on a simple challenge. This challenge is universal and we have used it around the world. We ask for a volunteer to talk about their customer’s world, their customer’s reality, and the way they work for more than 3 minutes. That’s right… 3 minutes. We sweeten the deal by offering $100.00 to the person who can do it. Want to know what the average is? 90 seconds. They can go 90 seconds before they bring up their company, their solution, their product, their jargon, their strategy, their company, and their companies “big plans” for their customers. We do this with salespeople because they are the most customer-centric group in any company and we find they can talk about 90 seconds about their customer’s reality. Sales Managers are humbled with they juxtapose that with the fact that most customers talk 50-70 hours a week about their world and their reality. That's a HUGE gap -- and it's getting wider.
If you’re in a support function responsible for supporting sales and helping them get better, you’re partially at fault -- it's not just on the backs of salepeople. Many companies spends a lot of money with the goal of you helping sales teams have better conversations than that.
Could YOU take that challenge and talk about your company’s customers? How long could YOU go?
Very often, the single-biggest problem that leaders face when rolling out new customer-centric strategies is simply a lack of willingness to confront reality. Knowing that a customer-centric strategy is important is different than understanding how to work differently to achieve that strategy. Knowing that customers are critical to the growth of your company is completely different than understanding how to “work back” from those customers by bringing the customer’s reality into your conference room.
And certainly knowing that customers exist and that they pay for solutions is a far cry for understanding how they make decisions, and how they identify what problems to solve in the first place. Perhaps the first step to becoming a customer-centric company should start with you.
What if you’re the problem with customer-centricity, not everyone else?
So now what?
Help your sales team by asking them about this reality. Then take action to HELP them close the gap. Simple, but hard.
About Growth Matters Growth Matters is a international business founded in 2011. This consulting and services organization is focused on the development and practice of sales management and sales enablement, our team of world-renowned experts spans the globe enabling businesses to improve sales conversations through services and solutions aligned to sales strategy. Our Americas operation is headquartered in Charlotte, NC (USA). With dedicated offices in South Africa (EMEA), and Sydney (APAC), we regularly facilitate senior-level workshops in 17+ cities in countries. For more information on equipping sales managers, and aligning to sales leadership, contact the Growth Matters team at http://www.growthmatters.today
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