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Helping Our Customers Face Uncertainty

by David Brock on July 15th, 2020

Probably the single biggest issue anyone and every organization faces today is uncertainty. Each of us faces things few have every experienced in the past–at least at this magnitude. We have a global health pandemic, economic, political and social turmoil. We have businesses that are facing massive disruption. We face impacts personally, to our families and communities. We face issues within our jobs, functions, our organizations. They become more complex as we work with our customers, partners, suppliers; just as they are facing the same types of challenges.

We, all, are looking for answers to questions where there are no clear answers or solutions. We may not even know the questions we should be asking. To deal with this, it’s natural to look for cause/effect relationships–yet none exist in this uncertain/complex time.

When everything around us is uncertain and complex, we often become overwhelmed and, ultimately, numb.

We must recognize we face situations that are not completely knowable or predictable. Yet we must act, we must find ways of moving forward. We fail to act, but that becomes a path to failure.

We must develop answers, as best we can, and move forward. And we are obligated, if we care about our customers and want to create value with them, to help our customer navigate this uncertainty and complexity.

A model for dealing with this type of complexity is Cynefin, and we learn that we must probe, sense, respond. Instead of springing into action, we must move more carefully. Rather than look for “the answers,” we start to explore, “what works?” We experiment, but in a way that’s safe to fail. As we find what works, we systematize and scale them, creating new practices and ways of doing things. Some of the experiments will fail, but we want to structure them in a way that makes it safe to fail, and that we learn from them to adjust our next strategies.

Sales people will be the people that can help lead customers out of the uncertainty they are experiencing. We, with our colleagues, see the things our customers are facing more frequently. We see what each customer is experiencing, we see the experiments they are conducting, we see what tends to work and what tends to fail. We can bring that collective experience, collaborating with customers to help them figure out what works for them.

Because our experiences span hundreds to thousands of similar customers, we have the opportunity, perhaps the obligation, to help our customers better understand, manage, and respond to uncertainty, complexity, and risk. We can share ideas, things that may be working, things that don’t.

We can help our customers make sense of what they face, leveraging our experience in helping them identify courses of action. We can help them develop confidence in moving forward–even in the face of many unknowns.

And each of these experiences, enriches our own capabilities to help other customers.

And as we develop approaches to deal with uncertainty and complexity, we create new practices and new ways of doing things. We help our customers become more confident in moving forward in a world that has changed forever.

As sales people, we have a huge opportunity to help our customers change and move forward. We can provide great leadership and create great value.

Are you prepared to do this?

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3 Comments
  1. Brian MacIver permalink

    You raise a great question:
    “Am I prepared to do this?”

    Many of the small family businesses I advise, formally and informally, have asked me “How do I rebuild? My now reply is “DON’T, just survive.”

    I am accustomed to reviewing Products and Markets for ‘FIT’, for growth for expansion. Right now, I’ve turned the binoculars around, and using a microscope, and I’m looking INSIDE their organizations for Product-Market [PM] cuts.

    Products have MANY markets, most just get ‘discovered’ as we ask Customers HOW they use our product to develop markets. Some of these PM are costly and difficult to service. Right now CASH FLOW, solvency is THE most important thing.

    I had to explain to one small business how a FULL warehouse was COSTING money, and selling at a loss would generate Quick Cash, and avoid insolvency. He didn’t like it, but he’s doing it.

    When we get through this, he’ll have to look at WHY a big PharmaChem FILLED HIS Warehouse and left him CASHLESS.

    Inside every Product-Market are Good, and not so good Customers, right now Customers who pay in 30 days or less are Good, those who pay in 90 days or more are bad for YOUR business.

    There are customers asking for ‘help’ or Patience through COVID19, before YOU agree, WHO is going to help you through it?

    Business is not Normal, it’s changing.

  2. Brian MacIver permalink

    Dave, You raise a great question:
    “Am I prepared to do this?”

    Many of the small family businesses I advise, formally and informally, have asked me “How do I rebuild? My now reply is “DON’T, just survive.”

    I am accustomed to reviewing Products and Markets for ‘FIT’, for growth for expansion. Right now, I’ve turned the binoculars around, and using a microscope, and I’m looking INSIDE their organizations for Product-Market [PM] cuts.

    Products have MANY markets, most just get ‘discovered’ as we ask Customers HOW they use our product to develop markets. Some of these PM are costly and difficult to service. Right now CASH FLOW, solvency is THE most important thing.

    I had to explain to one small business how a FULL warehouse was COSTING money, and selling at a loss would generate Quick Cash, and avoid insolvency. He didn’t like it, but he’s doing it.

    When we get through this, he’ll have to look at WHY a big PharmaChem FILLED HIS Warehouse and left him CASHLESS.

    Inside every Product-Market are Good, and not so good Customers, right now Customers who pay in 30 days or less are Good, those who pay in 90 days or more are bad for YOUR business.

    There are customers asking for ‘help’ or Patience through COVID19, before YOU agree, WHO is going to help you through it?

    Business is not Normal, it’s changing.

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