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Start With The Customer

by David Brock on May 26th, 2021

When we look at our Go To Customer strategies, we make them more complicated than we need to. Our demand gen, marketing, sales organizational design, sales processes, customer experience—all of it are generally designed around us. It’s an internal view, primarily focused on internal objectives and goals.

We may be trying to hit certain spend/budget goals. We always focus on what’s easiest and most efficient for us. We optimize the overall equation on our goals and our preferences–revenue, expense, headcount, productivity, and so forth.

And then we “Go To Customer.” We inflict our strategy on the customer. And it may work, or maybe for some time. Inevitably, it doesn’t work. We discover the customer doesn’t care. They don’t care about our organizational structure, they don’t care about our selling process or strategies for demand gen. They don’t care about our internal efficiencies and costs.

They care about achieving their own goals. They care about their own efficiency, effectiveness, performance. They care about what makes them better or what makes their lives easier.

As we see our Go To Customer strategies aren’t achieving our goals, we reorganize, restructure, we establish new programs, processes. We may change skills, people, talent, all focused on what we think is best to achieve our goals. And it works, until it doesn’t.

And we are reminded, once again, the customer doesn’t care about these things.

It’s become fashionable, recently, to apply manufacturing principles to our Go To Customer strategies. Somehow mechanization, specialization, and efficiency drive our decisions for engaging customers in our selling process. Customers become widgets progressing through our very efficient sales assembly lines. They are passed from SDR to AE to Demo person to someone else until they buy, then they are scheduled on our customer experience assembly lines. All are designed to be efficient, all have numerous efficiency metrics and dashboards, all scale on volume and velocity.

And that may work–at least for very transactional buying. But at some point the mechanization approach in implementing our go to customer strategies breaks down, primarily because it focuses on us and our efficiency, not how the customer wants to buy.

Unfortunately, the people that promote this mechanization of our customer engagement strategies, leveraging manufacturing principles, don’t understand manufacturing principles. If they did, they would know the work of W. Edward Deming and Taiichi Ohno and the Toyota Production System (TPS). Its the foundation of modern manufacturing and lean principles. In their work a fundamental principle for high performance and efficient manufacturing was to start with the customer, working backwards. Each “downstream” operation was the customer of the previous operation.

This principle served manufacturing and lean very well, but somehow these sales mechanization experts miss it.

We always start with the customer!

We optimize our marketing, selling and customer success efforts and impact when we start with the customer and work backwards.

It’s so simple, focusing on what they care about and how we engage them most effectively in those processes. We optimize our organization, processes, tools, systems around that outside-in perspective. Ironically, when we start with the customer and work backwards, we ALWAYS come up with the most impactful, effective, and efficient Go To Customer models. (But if we understood lean and efficient manufacturing processes we would have known that.)

But let’s look at this from another perspective, some of you may, rightfully so, question the manufacturing orientation to designing our go to customer strategies. We might look at the work of Stephen Covey’s Habit 2: “Start with the end in mind.” Or we can go back to the stoic, Seneca, “Let all your efforts be directed to something, let it keep that end in view.”

Inevitably, if we don’t start with the end in mind, we may never reach our goal, or we may reach in through wasted effort and wandering. Now some in sales will say, “But our goal is to generate revenue, how does what you propose apply?” The reality, is revenue is the outcome of successfully helping our customer achieve their goals. As a result, if we start with what the customer wants to achieve, designing our processes to help them to this effectively and efficiently, we will achieve our goals.

And frankly, starting with the customer is so much easier and quicker. We focus only on what’s important to them, eliminating all the overhead we inflict on them because design our go to customer strategies based on what we think is important, rather than focusing on what they care about.

It’s so simple that we overlook it. But if we just start with the customer, if we focus on what they need and are trying to achieve, if we then look at the most effective and efficient ways to support that, we always come up with the most impactful model–and the one that produces the results we need.

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