June 29th, 2011
Everywhere I go I see examples of companies that believe and say they are customer-focused. Unfortunately most are not and they don’t recognize it. But I also find companies that are — they do Outside-In® things and truly do think of their customers. It shows up on their employees’ faces and in their actions. These companies are Outside-In® because they do the little things that make a difference.
Recently, I flew to Florida with Southwest Airlines. On my way down, I had nicely settled in on my very full flight when we found out that there were some minor issues with the plane. We needed to de-board, wait for a new plane to be retrieved and then re-board. Frankly, it was quite unpleasant, but what made it better was the way the flight attendants handled the situation. The attendants made jokes and explained what was going on. They showed their human side. They were themselves and it was so refreshing.
I found that everyone wanted to be upset and angry but it was really hard to do so. Any uproar or frustration was simply diffused. It is amazing how by simply laughing at yourself you can make such a difference. How does Southwest do this? Irreverence, humor, not taking themselves too seriously. Somehow they have fit these cultural traits into their organizational plan with ease.
Have you seen the television ads where the baggage guys police the airports for baggage charge violations? Most ads are simply ways to sell a product. But Southwest ads are an explanation of who they are — their culture and personality. Rather than a list of upsold features: baggage check, carry-on baggage, seat selection, printed boarding pass, snack, pillow, extra foot room, priority boarding, headphones, internet, entertainment, they are selling an experience. Their ads are proof that they are listening.
June 23rd, 2011
At CBI Group, we are “defined by three customers.” We believe that there should be equality in our actions and decisions and that we should be balanced between customers, employees and vendors. Led by 20 cultural tenants, this particular one is often debated and argued.
How can anything be more valuable than your paying customer? Only your customer can be called your customer, correct? Sure, but this is a limited view. Others, trust in putting the employee first. Happy employees often lead to productive work environments and satisfied customers. It is really hard to not see the connection between employee commitment and business outcomes!
Being “defined by three customers” requires an honesty and transparency in our actions that are not always considered from the playbook in today’s business world, where short-term survival rules the day. We listen, observe and learn from all the people we interact with, including those that serve us. Specifically, we change and adjust the way we operate based on what we learn from our vendors.
For example, we must add new customers to sustain our business. And based on this we are extremely observant and in tune with how vendors approach us. What questions do they ask? How do they present their company? What are their ideas on how to solve our problems? We learn valuable ways to establish a strong partnership, as well as how NOT to.
From first contact, we like to let our vendors in. We give them full access to any information they will need. We want our vendors to get to know us so we watch to see how they receive the information. Their demonstration in how they get to know us is where we can really learn something about them. We look for whether they are simply trying to get a job done, or if they will bring an experience with added value. The latter are the relationships that become critical to our overall success.
An Outside-In® company is naturally curious and very focused on its customers and their feedback. Most companies get plenty of feedback from their paying customers. After all, survival is dependent on it. Many companies value their employees. When an employee matters, their is voice is heard, their ideas absorbed and rewarded and productivity and happy customers result.
But how many companies value vendor relationships as much as customer and employee relationships?
June 15th, 2011
Last weekend I took my son and some friends on a road trip to Boston to see a soccer game. This was not just any game. This was the USA vs. Spain match. For those of you that do not follow futbol, Spain won the World Cup last year, which is the equivalent of the Stanley Cup, World Series and Super Bowl all rolled up into one. This is the world’s #1 overall sport on the world’s stage. This game was simply a “friendly” match on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, there is no impact on league standings. The game did have a big impact on American viewers, however, attracting the largest crowd in the US to ever watch team USA play.
Spain won. Spain won easily at 4-0. This is like an NFL football team winning 49-0. But the score is only a small part of the game of soccer. There are rare times, the beautiful game, when a team plays a match to utter perfection. Spain played a beautiful game. I heard once that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to approach mastery of a subject. Spain’s club has far surpassed 10,000 hours. USA barely touched the ball. Spain controlled and dominated every facet of the game. They never missed a trap or pass – their mistakes were rare. They controlled the tempo. They spread the field. They were patient. When they tried a play and nothing was there, they simply reset.
What I find interesting in all of this is that winning used to be everything. Winning “ugly” was still a win. Winning with style was just an added bonus. Spain proved to me that there is whole other level for a leader. It made me wonder what a leader’s equivalent is to the “beautiful game.” Some might say leadership is harder than a sport because it is an intangible skill. As a leader, there are some days when I simply get through my day. I plan and ask the right, tough questions. I am engaged and involved. And then some days, it comes naturally and I know that quality time spent one-on-one with my team will carry them right through their week.
Most people that find themselves leading have not approached mastery of the topic. They are lucky to grit out leadership wins. They need to put their time in. This is the way. The beautiful game of leadership is about more than having project plans and meetings. It is more about having a culture and a philosophy as well as followers that identify with them. It is about helping people understand their limits and helping them close the gap. It is not about power and hierarchy but rather one that encourages the heart. It is more than getting things done. The beautiful game of leadership is when your leadership creates an energy source for your business.
Are you leading to impact your league standings or to play a beautiful game of leadership that inspires the heart?
June 1st, 2011
In the ever changing business world, the sales community consistently welcomes the introduction of new sales methods. Each fresh new approach is quite effective for awhile, but without fail, the technique adopts a phrase that becomes trite, contrived, cliche… derived of no unique and specific meaning. Similar to phrases like customer service, value proposition, and features and benefits, Consultative Sales is the latest example. At first, the phrase suggested a partner who would listen, but now it’s overused and lost in the void of any real distinction.
The first sales techniques that come to mind are the used car and the door-to-door sales people. The root of sales success for these sterotypical sales people was all about volume in activity. Make more calls, knock on more doors, and as we’ve evolved, send more emails. — there is a certain base line of sales activity. Like anything, however there is a law of diminishing return. This is what was called “push selling.” It was all about features, features, features — volume begets results. But then the consumer caught on. And it did not work as well.
After push selling, the experts introduced the concept of “pull selling“. The door-to-door vacuum salesperson learned to ask questions of the potential buyer and to speak in terms of benefits, not just product features. The light weight vacuum became easy to maneuver. The long handle enabled the user to get to the top step or to move from room to room with ease. Consumers liked this approach, so selling remained this way for many years. But then the consumer caught on. And it did not work as well.
Somewhere along the line, another expert somewhere revolutionized sales organizations by introducing the concept of consultative selling. The sales process became about establishing rapport, building towards the opportunity to ask the right questions and listening. “Find and probe for the pain” became the mantra — all you had to do to close was describe how your product could solve your customers pain point. And for a long time, customers liked it. And then they caught on. They always catch on. One advancement leads to the counter. One adjustment in technique leads to an adaptive change in behavior by the buyer.
Today everyone sells in a consultative fashion, it has become all about asking questions. But have you earned the right? Are your questions asked a benefit to the prospect, or are they self-serving? I think the problem is one of timing. When you ask a girl to marry you on the first date, it rarely goes well. Good questions can only be asked when the audience is willing and interested in answering them, and that interest comes from some semblance of a relationship — whether you’re dating or selling. Consult Ed Wallaces book, “Business Relationships that Matter.” Ed points out that one must establish technical and soft skills to become a trusted advisor and that one must advance beyond an acquaintance relationship. This becomes the art and science side of relationships.
So how does consultative selling become less commoditized? Less predictable? Less trite? For me, consultative sales must be about:
1. Being a great company, with good products and services.
2. Not being afraid to talk about #1.
2. Making investments in relationships — giving before asking.
3. And asking questions after seeking permission. This is a simple way to differentiate.
But then they catch on…