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Jun 9 21

What If We Started With A Blank Sheet Of Paper?

by David Brock

Buying is changing profoundly. This impacts everything we do to try to engage our customers, creating value through their buying and usage journey. To effectively engage our prospects and customer, we have to rethink all our strategies and approaches in working with them.

Somehow, our engagement strategies are less and less effective. Marketing (and sales) inundate customers and prospects with endless emails, texts, phone calls. The majority of these go into “spam buckets.” Customers increasingly choose to minimize sales involvement in their buying process, seeking digital and other sources to support their buying journeys. Social channels are increasingly cluttered and ineffective.

With all the channels becoming less effective than they have been in the past, our responses seem to be to do more—which, inevitably, exacerbates the issue.

Everything that used to work, no longer seems to work–at least as effectively as it used to. Yet we persist doing the same things (upgraded with a veneer of technology.)

Part of our problem in figuring out how to respond to these changes is that we continue to start from our current/historical models of marketing, selling, customer service/experience. We always think in terms of “marketing has always done these things…. sales has always done these…..”

What if we rethink how we engage customers? What if we weren’t bound by the way we have always done things and designed the engagement process from a “blank sheet of paper?” What if we leveraged our customers in understanding how they want to work and buy, designing our engagement processes?

Some examples:

Traditionally, we have always thought of marketing driving the creating awareness and demand gen process. We look to marketing to create/drive leads. Marketing continues to optimize SEO and traditional/technology enables channels.

But if a customer or prospect isn’t thinking of making a change, if they don’t know they might/should change, they don’t leverage search. All our outreaches to provoke them to consider change falls on deaf ears. What if we had a group of people trying to engage customers and prospects provoking change, inciting people to think differently? They might be speakers influencers, or even current customers. We might have a specialized group of people who reach out to customers proactively. But instead of trying to qualify and opportunity, their only job is to incite people to search. Today, we talk a lot about inciting people to change, but perhaps we need to, first, incite them to search.

Once we incite people to search, how do we engage and teach them, leveraging digital first, supported with selective human interventions (today, we do the reverse, sales led, digitally supported)? Traditional content at our websites and downloaded white papers might not be the most productive way to engage people. We might look at the digital channels that tend to engage people most effectively and deeply, modeling and adapting them to get people to think about their business differently (after they have been incited to search).

We’d see on-line gaming, streaming/interactive content, content oriented to shallow learning–but which captures attention. We might start modeling our engagement strategies around those concepts.

We might discover there are times when these prospects and customers might need deep, specialized interventions that our interactive content might not address. The customer might want to reach out to talk to someone about that issue, then revert to their digital journey. Or, we can prescriptively reach out and intervene based on what we’ve learned from their journey. But these might be point interventions by specialists, not people that manage the engagement process.

We might learn about where customers struggle the most with their buying journey, where specialized help and support is needed to help them succeed. We might put resources in place, strictly to help them successfully manage that process.

We might learn that we have to develop new alliances/partners to help the customer address their total problem. Today, we tend to leverage partners as channels to sell our products. But customer problems go much further than our products. Perhaps we can discover ways that we might work with other suppliers, together helping the customer with their problem, not just with buying our product.

In looking at this, we will, inevitably, see that most of our tools and processes are based on old models of customer engagement, and we have to reinvent them. We may find we need completely different sets of skills and talent to help the customer solve their problems. While our goals remain the same–generating profitable revenue through customers buying our solutions, the process, structures, and people through which we do this may change profoundly. The progress metrics, may be profoundly different.

Perhaps we limit our ability to think of new ways of engaging our customers and getting them to buy by using the old models of marketing, sales, customer service. Perhaps it would be useful to reinvent the process without using those terms and structures.

When we look at other functions in the organization, many have changed profoundly. At one point in my career, I worked with engineers and manufacturing organizations. While these organizations are still responsible for developing and manufacturing products, the methods, tools, skills, organizational structures bear little resemblance to 30 years ago. Yet, we still use the same models, structures, processes, methods, people–perhaps technology enhanced, that we did when I first started selling.

What if we started with a blank sheet of paper, whiteboard, screen and re imagined everything? What if we did it, ignoring traditional structure like marketing, sales, customer service? This would free us up to completely reinvent our customer engagement processes. We might see new Once we did that, we can map our own journey of getting from where we are to where we need to be.

Jun 8 21

“How Are We Doing….”

by David Brock

We’re all used to the email surveys, usually following some shopping or customer service experience. “Tell us how we did…” They ask a series of questions asking us to relate our experience. Inevitably, one of the questions is the ever present NPS question, “Would you recommend us to someone else.”

Usually, these survey’s come after we have completed something, we’ve bought something, we asked for some sort of customer service. Whatever the case, the survey is about something that has happened, but now is over.

Perhaps, organizationally, we assess the results from a collection of surveys, theoretically using the results for changing and improving the customer experience in the future. (Though honestly, I’ve never gotten the question, “How do we improve our NPS scores?” I suspect we use these more for marketing purposes than for real improvement..)

My friend, Hrvoje Gabelica, came up with an interesting idea, What if we found a way to assess our performance in real time, adjusting what we do to improve or better address customer expectations? What if we could, somehow, ask, “How are we doing,” as we move through the customer’s buying process? What if, based on their feedback, we adjusted our next steps to create a better experience, in real time?

Some students of NYC history will remember Mayor Ed Koch always asking, “How am I doing.” Some years later, I met someone who had served in his administration. While it was a somewhat promotional catch phrase, this friend said, they would get lots of feedback, in real time, to that question. He said, Koch would listen, probe, and immediately take some sort of action based on the response. They believed, that if one person had a response, others might have similar thoughts.

Hrvoje suggested something similar. What if in every meeting, we were able to get feedback from our customers, adjusting what we do to respond to what they said? What if we could get feedback:

  1. Was this interaction a good investment in their time?
  2. How might we improve for our next discussion?
  3. Are we addressing the things most critical to them, at this moment?
  4. Are we really hearing what they are saying?
  5. Did they learn something as a result of this interaction?
  6. Is there something, important to them, that we may have missed and should be addressing?
  7. …and so on….

Not only would this feedback shape our future discussions with these customers, we can also leverage it in our interactions with others. We would constantly be able to improve our value and relevance with customers by asking them, “How are we doing?”

Hrvoje wrote a fascinating post on the same topic, be sure to read it: “The real feedback can only come from the buyers.”

Jun 8 21

How Value And Value Creation Evolves

by David Brock

It’s imperative that we continue to evolve our thinking on value and value creation.

Way back, in the old days, we created value for our customers by educating them about new products and solutions. The way customers learned about new things and how they might solve problems or addressed new opportunities was largely interactions with sales people. The value we created was educating them about products and services. Sales people used to be the primary source of information and learning, offering customers a view of what was going on both in and outside their companies. Customers didn’t have the web back then, search was a foreign concept. Perhaps they learned some through trade publications or trade shows, but when they really wanted to learn about products and solutions, the sales person was the source of that information.

Those days are long gone, with the overwhelming availability of information about products and services through any number of channels, largely digital. These channels, because of their easy access and richness become the preferred channels for learning, creating more value than the sales person in trying to understand new ways of doing things.

In those times, great sales people created another type of value. They focused not just on educating the customer on products and services, but they helped identify the results a customer could expect in the implementation of the solutions. These sales people created business cases, helping the customer articulate how much they might grow revenue, how they might decrease costs, how they might improve quality or customer service.

These sales people helped the customer understand and articulate the business case or value created through the implementation of a solution. It was expressed in financial terms like ROI, Payback, and so forth. These justifications, also, looked at risk assessments. The solution justification analysis was often accompanied by an implementation plan.

The business case resulting from implementing the solution and risk case is still a critical part of the customer buying and decision process. Sadly, while there are great tools (DecisionLink is probably the most innovative I’ve seen), too often we fail to create the business case–selling only on price. But the customer still has to get this work done, even if we aren’t helping them. We miss an opportunity by leaving the task of creating the business/change management case to the customer.

In the past 10-15 years, we’ve talked about value we create with the customer in the form of helping them think about their businesses differently, bringing them insights, helping them see what others may be doing and what they can learn from them. In this, we help the customer recognize the need to change. We created value through bringing insights and helping them consider changing.

More recently, we’ve learned customers struggle in their buying process. We’ve found 53% of their buying journeys end in no decision made. It has nothing to do with selecting a solution, but more about aligning the diverse agendas and priorities in the buying group. Customers wander in the process, they start, stop, restart. People innovated in the buying process change, priorities change. Other things arise, diverting them to those.

We’ve learned that we create a lot of value with our customers, by helping them complete their process and learn how to buy and manage their buying process through a decision and implementation. After all, if they fail to complete the buying process and actually implement a solution, they will fail to address the problem or opportunity they sought to address.

We’re now seeing another phenomenon arise, creating a new opportunity to help our customers. Where, in the past, they might have lacked information, or missed opportunities to improve; today they are overwhelmed and confused. They struggle with the sheer quantity of high value information, trying to figure out which is most relevant to them.

The customer is, in some form, suffering from insight exhaustion and struggle to make sense of all this information, focusing on that which is most relevant to what they face. We create value by helping the customer make sense of things, narrowing their focus to the things most relevant to what they are trying to achieve.

We, finally, are learning that buying is probably the smallest part of the challenge the customer faces. Buying is just a component of an overall change initiative. Where customers invest most of their time and struggle the most is with these changes. We aren’t helping them on the toughest part of their work when we just focus on our solutions and what they might buy. If they can’t successfully manage the much bigger change issue, in fact they have no reason to buy. So we have to move beyond the problem we solve to the problem the customer needs to solve.

As one might expect the stakes for value creation continue to evolve, or at least our understanding of it continues to evolve. We are moving from creating value with our customers through sensemaking, to looking at decision confidence. The customer have the confidence they have chosen well.

We see other things impacting our customers, which create new opportunities to create value with them. Helping them deal with complexity, helping them understand and recognize the disruptions their customers face and their industry faces. Helping them rethink what they are doing and consider new approaches. Helping them innovate and more effectively serve their customers.

Value and value creation continues to evolve. Sadly, too many sales people aren’t evolving to better support their customers. Too many stop at educating customers about products and presenting the best price. Too many fail to seize the opportunity to create more value with the customer. And customers are recognizing this, choosing to minimize the time spent with sales people.

There is a huge need, there is a huge opportunity. We need to step up our game.

Jun 6 21

How Are You Helping Others Achieve Success?

by David Brock

We are focused on our own success. Striving for success is key to how we grow, learn, develop and learn. Sometimes we fail. But our failures are important to our success. They help us learn, change, improve. As human beings we are driven to achieve.

There’s a funny thing about success, we can’t be successful on our own. We are reliant on others in order to achieve success. It turns out we can’t be successful if those we work with aren’t successful.

If our customers fail in their buying efforts, if our customers don’t achieve their goals, we don’t get the PO.

If your customers don’t succeed in implementing their changes and producing the results they expected; we don’t grow our relationship and ability to earn more business.

We need the support of our peers and co-workers. If they fail, we can’t possibly succeed.

As leaders and managers, we are dependent on the success of our people. If they fail, we fail. As a result, our job is all about helping our people succeed.

Too often, we think of success as win/lose. Ironically, it’s really about win/win. We succeed only if those we work with succeed.

Since our success is based on the success of others, it seems that focusing on their success is a winning strategy.

How are you helping your customers succeed?

How are you helping your friends and coworkers succeed?

How are you helping your people succeed?