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Sales Leadership
Are you really customer-focused or just pretending?
Jul 6, 2010 | Adrian Davis lock

If you want a quick way to determine where you fall in the seller-focused versus customer-focused continuum, look at what you pay attention to, and in particular what you measure and reward. 

For example, is your focus all about the numbers - sales volume, profitability, earnings or share price?  Or is it all about efficiency - production costs, price per widget, productivity, leanness?  If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then you are probably seller-focused, not customer-focused.  I'm not suggesting that you stop paying attention to profitability and operational efficiency.  Those are vital to maintaining your business.  I am saying that those things are no longer enough. Such data is important - but only to you, not the customer.  

Operational efficiency is important.  But, customers don't care how efficient your operations are; they only care about the end result - how well it produces the outcomes they want.

Quality is obviously important, but not the quality of the production process.  What's important is the quality of the end result. And, that quality can only be defined by the customer, not by you.

Price matters to customers, but it's not price per se, but value-for-money and cost to own or use that matters to the customer.

Change your focus or become a dinosaur

The seller-focused approach is an obsolete remnant from the Industrial Age, and the post-WWII production frenzy.  Both were times of mass markets when the customer had limited options and no control.  But, that model has already changed.  Slowly over the years, power began shifting from the corporation to the customer, as more choices became available.  But, in the past two years (with the birth of social media) we've seen a radical change.  Power and control have been seized by consumers. 

This fact is evident in the vast universe of consumer-written product reviews and consumer blogs.  The buying public now relies on those sources for information, rather than the one-way sales pitches delivered by the companies.  Strangely, many companies have yet to realize this change.  In order to capitalize on this new dynamic, companies must shift their focus! 

The Risk

Continue to focus internally on production and profitability and you risk finding yourself doing a really good job producing something customers don't want. You'll have great profit margins for a product that no longer sells.

Conversely, when you shift your focus to understand customers and involve them in the design, development and marketing of products, you'll be better positioned to meet current and future needs.  When you proactively measure your ability to deliver what your customers want, you'll be well on your way to becoming truly customer-focused.

What does the customer care about?

Research by Redline Advisors indicates that customers consistently look for four or five specific types of attributes in virtually all products, whether tangible or intangible:

  • Ease of use
  • Timeliness
  • Certainty (consistency, accuracy, reliability, predictability, safety)
  • Cost to own/use
  • Variety/choice

In spite of that research, companies rarely measure their product attributes from a customer perspective. As a result, organizations are unable to proactively address customer wants and expectations.  As those wants and expectations evolve and change, data-focused firms risk losing more and more of their market share. How willing are you to put that at risk?

Revisiting Rewards

In most companies, rewards are focused on production and volume.  The more widgets you make at a cheaper price, the better.  The more people you call on and the more widgets you sell the better.  Again, there's nothing inherently wrong with this approach or these kinds of measures.  It's simply that business has moved on and this type of measurement breeds and rewards goals that are no longer relevant.

Bringing it all together with the customer at the centre

It is unrealistic to expect organizations to dramatically change overnight.  That said, companies that don't begin to shift their focus place themselves at risk of quickly losing customers.  People tend not to buy from firms that fail to solve their problems or meet their wants.

One simple way to adjust your direction is to begin adding customer-focused measures.  Rather than give rewards based on short-term goals, reward sales people based on their network of key relationships, the value-add they provide the customer or their contributions to a customer information databank.

A second way is to begin to think and communicate in terms of outcomes rather than products . So rather than focus on what the product is, focus instead on what it does. As Peter Drucker said "Customers don't buy products, they buy results" or as we like to say - customers don't buy drills, they buy holes.

And, a third way is to refocus marketing so it is accountable for results.  Borrow a page from direct response marketing and continually test to improve results.  What drives results?  Delivering to the target market a product that those people want, and communicating the benefits in a language that they are comfortable with.  Give them choices and initiate a dialog with them. 

Customers are constantly looking for better ways to achieve the outcomes they want. If you as the producer continue to concentrate on the process of making widgets, or the mass marketing of those widgets, rather than on delivering high value outcomes, your future success is clearly at risk. 

About the Author:

Adrian Davis. President of Whetstone Inc.,  is a business strategist and trusted advisor for chief executives and business owners. He is a thought-provoking speaker and is frequently called upon to address senior management teams and sales groups on the subjects of corporate strategy, competitive advantage and sales excellence.  

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