My boss was pointing out last week how our industry continues to change and our customers are requesting a very different type of engagement. One company may be very good at designing and building widgets, but not so good at engaging with its customers at a strategic level. Another company may do a great job communicating with customers, but not with other organizations within its own walls.
If this sounds like you, don’t worry — change is possible.
Cultural-transformation efforts — when well considered, carefully planned, and targeted — can make major change possible. You can drive better teamwork, initiative and accountability. I’ve seen cultural transformation efforts enable design teams spread across the globe to collaborate better than ever. I’ve seen that same transformation increase synergy tenfold between engineers and factory operations team.
In my organization we focus on training teams in processes that ensure we engage with customers at a much deeper level. What do we focus on? Clear and transparent communication, faster decision making and a relentless discipline in every aspect of managing the customer relationship (strategic alignment and relationship management).
One key element is to get away from the classic “buy-sell” relationship, where a salesperson simply pushes a finished solution to a customer and hopes it fits. Especially if you offer products that can integrate in a variety of ways to make solutions that fit the customer’s specific infrastructure and workflow needs, it’s important to focus more on collaboration both with the customer and across internal functions, offering innovative supply-chain processes or engaging in technology discussions to develop innovative solutions — with customers, not just for them.
With this approach, a sales team can quickly jump beyond obvious “speeds and feeds” and pricing (your customer gets these already), and instead show customers how a solution is uniquely qualified to solve their big problems — the kind that might be cutting into their profit margins or slowing their time to market.
Help the Customer Solve Their Needs, Not Your Needs
With German server and storage systems maker Rausch, for example, our sales team worked closely with the customer to discover how our Kinetic technology, with its benefits of higher storage density, can help Rausch slash its capital-expenditure costs, reduce energy consumption and lower its total cost of ownership.
Key to this approach is the concept of “shared consciousness and purpose.” Simply put, this means making sure everyone is on the same page by giving them a common set of messages and communicating them consistently. Sounds obvious, but it can be hard for large multinational companies to implement — many sales teams can’t communicate very well with colleagues in operations or finance. Many large marketing orgs still operate in silos, working hard to do what they think is best for the company, but not really taking time with other teams to get their feedback.
Sales teams today must include operations, finance, engineering, HR and others—in planning frameworks, and in regular face-to-face meetings, and across all geographies. It’s important to communicate in a way that will help other teams — all teams — make better decisions. For example, by showing the operations team what your sales team is doing with your customers in one geography, they can make better factory-utilization decisions. By engaging with your customers in forecasting and co-planning, you can optimize the company’s ability to deliver the right products at the right time and become more efficient.
Consider the magnitude of this kind of change — a change in philosophy, in process, in relationships. These kinds of changes allow a sales team, and the company it serves, to become more agile, more responsive, and a lot more collaborative. That can help you serve your customers at a much more strategic level than ever before.