This morning, I’ve been having a fascinating email conversation with my friend, Brian MacIver. If you don’t know/follow Brian, you should, he’s one of the best thinkers/practitioners I’ve met in selling.
We were talking, loosely, around the advantages of being customer focused and what that means. He was sharing data that, frankly, wasn’t surprising, but it was stunning. His research showed those being customer focused outperformed those being more product focused by more than 2-1.
It’s not surprising. For decades, we’ve seen data and research contrasting these approaches. The customer/problem focused sellers always out perform the product focused sellers—enormously! Yet, virtually everything we see people doing is product focused.
Some would say, “Dave, we’re hitting our goals, we’re scaling, why change?” It’s a very powerful, actually seductive argument.
In too many sectors, we are able to achieve results, by continuing the product focus. So why change?
However, many segments are having increasing difficulty doing this. Performance and productivity is plummeting. Roughly around 40% of sellers meet their goals. More companies are struggling to meet their goals. Some drive growth, even though productivity is plummeting, simply by scaling–hiring more. But the costs are unsustainable, particularly as their investors introduce the “P” word into their business reviews.
However, the product focus is still the dominant focus. And, perhaps, that’s successful because customers are engaging us later and later in their buying cycles. By the time they engage us, they have defined the problems, defined what they want to achieve, defined the solutions, and defined the products they are most interested in considering.
As a result, the job of sellers is only about the products! We let the customer do the heavy lifting to get to this point. All we have to do is “understand their problem,” and pitch our solutions. Of course, because of where they’ve gotten, they express their problem in the context of “we need a product that does these things.” And because they’ve done their research, they’ve engaged a few others whose products do the things they want.
As a result, the selling becomes product focused, “ours checks more boxes.” Reputation focused, “look at these great logos.” And Price focused, “We’ll give you a deep discount.”
And in a vibrant economy/market, things are great for the majority of participants. There is no reason to do anything except product focused selling.
But in today’s economy, there is a profound change. Not as many customers are getting to the point of asking about products. They are under spending constraints, so all but the most urgent projects are deferred–even though there may be huge value in doing some of them in this tough economy. But to determine this, they need help to understand it. (Hmmm, sounds like an opportunity for those who are customer focused…….)
There’s another perspective, that pervades both good and bad economies. The majority of initiatives that might create customers for us fail–they fail before they even get to the point of considering solutions, or they fail in the process of selecting a solution. All because of our good friend, FOFU!
Then there’s always those who might need to change, but never recognize it, so they never started a buying initiative.
All of this means, in both good and bad times, there is a huge amount of opportunity we miss, simply because the customer never gets to the “buying part.”
In good times, we rested on our laurels, because we were hitting our numbers. But we really could have been doing so much more–we actually under-performed our potential. (Thank goodness the investors didn’t know this!)
Now in bad times, not nearly enough are getting to the “buying part.” So we are experiencing big misses—in spite of the fact this may be the point in the economy where our customers might most need our solutions.
All because we are product focused and have to wait until the customer becomes product focused to identify and compete for an opportunity.
What if we made the transition to a customer or business focus? What if we started intercepting and engaging the customer much earlier in the process, focusing on how we help them more effectively achieve their business goals? Particularly in these very difficult times, they are looking for anything they can do to more effectively achieve their goals.
To take advantage of this opportunity, we would have to engage our customers differently. We would have to meet them where they are at, not where we want them to be. We have to become customer and business focused. We have to help incite them to change, help them understand the challenges both of not changing and of the change themselves. We have to help them redefine their business, engage people in their organization in assessing to and committing to the change, help them navigate the change process and help them select and implement solutions.
There is always so much more opportunity when we sellers are customer and business focused. There’s so much data suggesting how we are more successful by being so. But, it becomes more urgent for both the customer and our success to be customer focused in tough times. It may be what causes both they and us to survive.