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Sales Transformation–Without The Customer

by David Brock on October 4th, 2011

The other day I was reading a very thoughtful piece, from someone I respect.  It was about critical success factors in transforming the sales organization.  At first, I thought, “This guy is really on target.”  But as I got further, I had an uncomfortable feeling.  By the end, I thought, “This is interesting, but where’s the customer?”

I went back to reread the document.  The word “customer” was never mentioned.  The word “buyer” was mentioned once.  I thought, “How can we be talking about sales transformation—or anything about sales—without first talking about the customer?”

I think this person had fallen into the trap too many of us fall into (including me).  We become so focused on ourselves, our organizations, our goals, that we forget about the most important thing–the customer.  There’s this problem most organizations have–it’s what I call the inward-out focus.  We start from where we are, from within our organizations, and design outward–to the customer. 

Everything is optimized for our processes, strategies, goals, and operational efficiencies.  We design our products without engaging the customer or understanding their needs.  We launch the products, then are surprised when customers don’t rush and buy.  We build our customer service structures around what is efficient and effective for us–forget that the customer has to navigate through so many nested voice prompts, transfers, and other things to get what they want.  We put policies and procedures in place that optimize what we do, but make it very difficult for the customer.  We train our sales people how to pitch our products, but not on the customer problem or needs.

We are surprised when customers call us unresponsive.  We don’t understand why customers complain about being difficult to deal with.  We’re shocked that customers don’t immediately leap to buy our new products–we go back to the drawing board and try again.

An inward-out approach is tough.  You have to continually guess, you have to continually re-do these guesses until you get it right.  By then the customer has changed.  Inward-out approaches are risky, expensive, and time consuming.  We lose opportunity, we confuse our people and our customers.

What if everything we did started with the customer or the buyer?  What if we adopted an outward-in approach?  We can still develop highly profitable products–but by starting with the customer in mind (even involved), the risk of acceptance decreases dramatically.  The likelihood that customers will flock to the products will skyrocket, because we’ve designed what they want.

What if we designed our processes, policies, procedures by starting first with the customers?  We could make them easy and attractive for the customer to use.  We could make sure they were responsive to the customer needs, that they were simple.  We could optimize them and make them more efficient–cutting costs–which is in the customer’s interest anyway.  We  wouldn’t have to worry about acceptance–customers helped us design and build it around them.

What if we designed our sales approach to how our customers wanted to buy?  We could make it easy and attractive to buy, we could design the sales deployment strategies around their preferences–electronic, channel, inside sales, direct, hybrid.  We can develop sales processes that are in tune with their buying process.  We can create value that customers want and are willing to pay for–because they defined it.

Maybe I’m just to simplistic or lazy.  But it always seems, the best place to start is always with the customer.  It seems that we can’t miss if we listen to the customer, engage them, understand them, then deliver what they want, they way they want to buy it.  If we start with the customer, we get it right–every time.  We don’t waste time, we don’t waste money, we don’t waste opportunity–and we just might make them happy!

It seems to me that sales transformation always starts with the customer.  It must start with the questions, who are our customers? How do they want to buy?  Once we understand that, we can optimize everything else to respond to that.

Am I missing something?

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  1. Ivano permalink

    Dave, great post.
    Years ago I was involved in the production area and I studied the lean-thinking, discovering the KAIZEN principle “The energy comes from below”. It helps to keep in mind that results are not reached by management, processes and procedures focused on the company, but by working directly around our first aim: the customer.

    • Ivano, thanks for the comment. It’s always amazing how clear and simple things become by first focusing on the customer–whetther it’s developing your overall sales deployment strategy or sorting your way through a deal strategy. It’s so simple, so obvious, but so seldom done.

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