Start With Your Customer’s Customer

April 26, 2012 by Vanessa 

Many people ask: Where do I start my sales enablement initiatives?  Given all there is to do, how do I prioritize?  I need other people and organizations to be successful, how do I get them — and keep them engaged?  How do I communicate and sell the sales enablement vision to effectively manage the change we need to meet our customer’s imperatives? How can I enable my company to meet our strategic objectives?  HELP!

Design Point

In the summary session on Day 2 of the Forrester Technology Sales Enablement Forum 2012 , one theme of the conference quickly rose to the top for me: ‘Start with your customer’s customer.’ Everything else is secondary.  This is a design point that everyone can rally around.  It is what your customer cares about.  If you provide what they require to better serve their customers, they will buy from you.

Information Overload Only Means Noise

Of course for most companies starting with your customer’s customer is easier said than done.  You have 100’s if not 1,000’s of products and services — and many types of sales, channel and support organizations.  Oftentimes there are product managers for each of these lines who are compensated for creating the plethora of selling materials. And then worldwide, regional and local marketing and training groups add their value to create more information, events, trainings and campaigns, etc., all with the goal of helping sales to sell.

For the sales person, it is unmanageable, and it all becomes just noise, according to Daniel West, VP Education and Enablement, Informatica, and from my personal knowledge.  And as Scott Santucci, Principal Analyst and Research Director, Forrester, says the lack of customer focus results in random acts of sales enablement that causes information overload, a lack of accountability, inconsistent processes, wasted time, excess expense and an inability to quickly adapt to changing conditions.

Flipping the Model

If you flip the model it on its head and build a chart each of your customer’s customers business, you will begin to see what they need from your customer to be successful. Once you understand this, map how your offerings help your customer service their customer.  This will be the start of your end-to-end information value chain required to provide real value to your customer. Your perspective will become more ‘holistic’ (the ‘H’ in HERO).  And your view will change from the old product-focused ‘inside-out’ view to the customer based ‘outside-in’ perspective.  And as Brian Lambert, Senior Analyst, Forrester Research, recommends, ‘Build your selling around solving customer problems’, this analysis includes their:

  • Buyer decisions
  • Buying patterns
  • Communication required up and down the buying process

Portfolio Rationalization

This effort could result in a significant change in how product portfolios are designed.  And it was for T-Systems. Tamara Schenk, VP Sales Enablement, discussed how they re-architected their product portfolio to align with their customers’ requirements.  This rationalized portfolio provided a more solid and aligned foundation from which to build their sales enablement tools, processes and content. It takes a strategic view, persistence and executive approval for this significant a change.  Many companies unfortunately need to make do with their Rubik’s cube of offerings, creating workarounds downstream and a less than ideal sales enablement environment.

Information Value Chain and Knowledge Transfer

According to Ken Powell, VP Global Sales Enablement and Marketing, Sungard, ‘Customers only buy outcomes’.  They are not buying your products; they are buying what your products will do for their business.  In order to communicate how your offerings provide the most value, it is imperative that you map your offerings to the customer’s business outcomes.

The next step is to understand the information required to close the gap between sales’ current nowledge level and what they need to know to fully understand – and then explain — the value to their prospect.  This is the information value chain.  According to Forrester, and others, there is a need for knowledge transfer in each step of this chain.  The amount and type of information needed depends on the business strategy and selling model, correlated with the level of complexity of the offerings.

Mapping Offering Complexity and Knowledge Transfer—The Reality of Selling: the ‘R’ in HERO

The reality is that a great deal information and expertise is needed to sell at the higher levels required for the more strategic initiatives.  Many of your offerings are complex and require in-depth discussions and time to be understood by sales and the prospect.  If you have an aggressive quarterly-driven sales model, there will be a mismatch between your business strategy and the selling model.  As a result, the knowledge transfer needed to ensure the prospect understands your value doesn’t have time to be communicated and absorbed.  Sales will not sell your offering effectively, and the prospect who is not receiving value from you, will buy elsewhere or not at all.

On-Going Operations: The ‘O’ in HERO

Complicating the situation is that most companies have a multitude of offerings, some of which are simple to sell, and others are far more complex.  This necessitates multiple knowledge transfer strategies, ranging from the ‘quick and easy’ to more in-depth deep dives.  Scott calls this the multiple levels a ‘hybrid’ approach.  In order for these approaches to really be effective, these process can’t be a one-off, they have to be repeatable and on-going (the ‘O’ on HERO).

Managing Change

In addition it is critical to understand the negative impact of Muscle Memory in these change  management efforts.  People are used to conducting business in a certain way.  Change will only occur if people understand the systemic nature of the issue and how they fit within.  Therefore it is key is for each function in the information value chain to understand their role relative to the customer, as well as their relationship to one another. This is true regardless of whether they are in product management, training, marketing or sales, etc.  It is a selling system. This perspective will help make the quality of their contributions much clearer.  Brian also suggested that certification by customer role would add accountability to the process.

The change management component is huge and its success critical to CEOs who want to reduce risk and create greater adaptability to address their business strategies.  39 out of 40 CEOs agreed with the statement that ‘they are not satisfied that their sales force is getting their company to their strategic objectives’.  CEOs believe that ‘the selling system is not adapting quickly enough to accommodate our business strategy’.  George Colony, CEO, Forrester, 2011.

In Summary

To adapt the selling system, begin with the end in mind.   Start with your customer’s customer requirements and create the organization that will deliver the repeatable knowledge transfer necessary to support the variety of business imperatives for your company.   Build in the change management and communication strategies necessary for success.  Prioritize projects with small but effective wins to build credibility and be a HERO to sales and your CEO.

And don’t forget to have fun!

Your thoughts?

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