Is different enough?

Without a doubt there is a conversation happening with marketing teams around the globe as I write this post trying to nail down differentiators. The more aggressive marketers might even be searching for “core differentiators” as if being different isn’t enough. Now we have to be different right down to our core.

Different is not good or bad. It’s not valuable or invaluable. Different is just, well, different. Who places a value on whether different is worth something extra, or worth something less?

Identifying your differences – or core differentiators – is a complete waste of time, money, and effort without first truly understanding your potential buyer. After all, who are you trying to appeal to with your differences?

Instead companies tend to begin on the inside rather than outside. Meaning, we tend to take the path of least resistance. Sitting in a conference room pontificating on why we’re different, and how much better we are than others does not get the job done. No. In fact, putting yourself in the market to truly listen to your buyers, and becoming vulnerable is what leads to innovation and disruption. Companies that do this well have no interest in being right….just in getting it right.

Does your buyer want different? What if all they want is better? Perhaps no one wants to relearn something entirely new. Perhaps all the buyer wants is for the “thing” they are currently using, to work better, or perform better. How do you know? Have you asked them? Have you asked enough of them to have a dependable sample size? Have you truly listened or did you embark on that research with a predisposition or set of biases? Were you tempted to skew the results to fit what you have in place?

In my book The Customer Mindset; Thinking Like Your Customer to Create Remarkable Results, I share an easy to implement process to map your buyers journey, starting with engaging your buyers and ultimately solving for the “so what?”. Yes, different can be better. The question is how much better, and does your prospective buyer care enough to pay for it?

When you look at your core differentiators, don’t forget to ask yourself (and your team), “so what?”

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Talent and Innovation

Everyone says they want to innovate. Every company talks innovation. We’re now seeing innovation as a core value for many companies. But are they really innovating?

Innovation is about talent. In the absence of talent there can’t be innovation. The first step to innovation is recognizing the two types of talent required to be innovative.

The first type of talent required to innovate is visionary talent. This is the talent, skill, or competency to see things others cannot see, or are unwilling to accept. Visionary talent is often related to first-movers. Many of the products and services we use on a daily basis started first with a vision. A mobile phone, a smart watch, wireless headphones (or ear buds), technology in the cloud versus a mainframe. These inventions, or innovations, required visionary talent. How do you spot visionary talent? Individuals that possess an insatiable appetite for learning, dreaming, and pondering not what is, but what could be.

The second type of talent required for true innovation is technical talent. This is the talent that is required to bring the vision to life. Think of Steve Wozniak to Steve Jobs. Technical talent tied to visionary talent. Or Charlie Munger to Warren Buffett. Technical talent is what enables our ability to bring dreams into our daily reality.

In 1899, Charles Duell, then Commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, said, “Everything that can be invented, has already been invented.” While I personally don’t believe this to be true, let’s for a moment assume it is. If this were to be true, then arguably technical talent would be far more valuable than visionary talent. Why? Because the focus would be on incremental improvements of things that already exist. However, this raises a thought provoking question. What’s invention versus innovation.

In 1849, Italian inventor Antonio Meucci, invented the telephone. It wasn’t until 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell won the first U.S. patent for the device. Fast forward to 1973 when the first phone call was made on a Motorola mobile phone. Was the mobile phone an invention or simply an improvement on something already invented? Remember, it was 50 years after the phone was invented that Duell said everything that could be invented already had been invented.

Regardless, visionary talent and technical talent combined are required to innovate. Combining the creator of dreams with the builder of those dreams allows us to improve our lives in meaningful ways.

What’s your talent pool like? Who are your visionaries and who are your techies? How often do you review your organization for these two types of talent? Your answers to these questions will be the proof point for whether you are building and living an innovation culture.

Applying Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits to Your Buyer’s Journey

Proactive-not-Reactive

In his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey presents seven habits (and one bonus habit) that he observed made some people more effective than others.  Since his passing in 2012 I have revisited my copy of this book on a number of occasions.  I have found overwhelming similarities between how these 7 Habits, if practiced consistently, not only produce more effective people but also more effective companies.  Over the next week I will highlight each habit and how it can translate into helping you understand your buyer’s journey.

Habit 1 is about being proactive and taking responsibility.  In business, the leader’s job is to provide the vision for where the company is headed, and is the owner and nurturer of the company’s culture.  Many companies delegate cultural ownership to the head of HR or some other executive.  But culture is much deeper than simply finding a champion or cheerleader.  Culture is about setting a tone, establishing expectations, accepted behaviors, and perhaps the most difficult ingredient of the culture, which is the creation of confidence.  The ultimate leader of the company sets the culture even if he or she doesn’t want to “own” it.  It just happens.  Employees look to THE leader as both watchers and witnesses to behaviors. How THE leader acts and behaves is how the entire organization will act and behave.  If the leader is proactive, the company will be proactive.  If the leader hides behind walls, doors, and desks, the entire company will hide from its customers’ behind walls, doors, and desks.

To be proactive requires a great degree of curiosity.  It’s the ability to wonder what if, what could be, or how could we?  The ultimate one word that demonstrates just how proactive someone is – “why”.  When you ask “why”, you’re being proactive. Think about it.  If Thomas Edison never asked why, would we have lights? If Steve Jobs hadn’t asked why, would we have many of the modern-day conveniences and access to information that we have today?  There are thousands of examples of how asking why delivered major inventions or innovations to our society.  If no one took the time to ask why, we’d simply all be sitting around, idle, stagnant, and unchanged.

As you look at your buyer’s journey ask why?  Be proactive.  Don’t wait for a major disruption or crisis to force your evolution.  Get out in front of it. Take every opportunity to talk to your customers and ask questions, get their ideas, opinions, emotions.  Don’t rely on paper, or automated survey’s.  Engage them live, in real time.  Be bold, brave, and most of all be proactive in understanding what’s important to your buyer.

 

 

5 Things To Prepare For Before Mapping Your Buyers Journey

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It doesn’t matter if you’re a start-up, or a business that’s been around for 50 years, your buyer has changed. He changed last month, last week…he even changed yesterday. Thanks in large part to Moore’s Law (technology doubles every two years), we know that his access and availability to information is endless.  Today’s buyers are more connected, more savvy, more social than ever before.  In fact, it’s likely your buyer will know more about you than you know about him before you ever meet one another.  That is if you ever do meet one another.

We have all heard the statistic that 92% of all B2B purchases begin online.  That means that 9 out of 10 prospects will be checking you out well before any meeting ever comes to fruition. We also know that many sources report that at least half of the buying process is complete before the buyer ever meets a sales person.  For some companies like Amazon, Apple, and Tesla, they thrive on this disruptive buyer.  The buyer who shops at her own pace, educates herself on what she wants, with the content she wants, and from the sources she wants it from.  For other companies perhaps not as sophisticated in their understanding of this evolution…this buyers journey…the need to gain this understanding is critical.  It’s urgent.  It’s truly about survival.

To map your buyer’s journey requires time, access to customers willing to participate and answer questions, and likely the most important requirement being the business’s willingness to listen and change based upon these findings.  This is critical work, not easy, but certainly doable.  The rewards of understanding your buyers are many. The risk of not understanding your buyer is simple…irrelevance that leads to extinction.

Here are 5 things you need to prepare yourself, and your company for as you begin to map your buyer’s journey:

  1. Open-mindedness. Start this work with a beginners attitude. If we were launching today, knowing what we know, what would we say to our buyers, how would we say it, when, and where would we say it?
  2. Honesty. If your brand promise is “fast and easy” but your delivery is slow and confusing be honest about it. Guess what, your buyers already know this about you.  Resist the denial urge.
  3. Customer mindset. Our buying habits and expectations as consumers are gradually following us into our business lives. If I can buy a new computer fast and easy at home, I expect to be able to do the same thing at work no matter what product or service I’m shopping for.  My expectations for speed and ease, transcend the business experience.
  4. Acknowledgement and Acceptance. All change requires acknowledging there’s a better way, and accepting the fact that we will have to do something(s) different to achieve that better way.
  5. Action. Be ready, willing, and able to act. Some people, and businesses, are ready for a different outcome, but are not willing or able to implement the change required to generate that better outcome.  Change only happens when a different action is taken.

The age of the buyer is here.  Those who decide to align their business around the buyer will survive and thrive while those who still believe they control the sale will slowly fade away. Your job is to understand how you can best facilitate your buyers process – their journey – not your sales process. Helping and serving have become the keys to success in the age of the buyer. Now you just need to know where to help, and how the buyer wants to be served.

5 Things Social Sellers Do Differently: SCOPE

socialselling

Social sellers are today’s modern day sales people.  They know how to connect, where to connect, and when to connect.  Establishing a personal brand is the cornerstone of today’s social seller.  It’s no longer enough to sell a well-known, or respected product, from a great company.  Today’s buyers want more…they want to buy from someone who delivers an equally great experience…on a personal level…beyond the company brand.

Here are 5 things social sellers do differently than sales people of yesteryear:

  1. Share.  Social sellers are reading, absorbing, processing, and sharing large amounts of information on a daily basis across their network.  They are both sources, and producers, of content, insights, and information.
  2. Connect. Social sellers recognize birthdays, anniversaries, key milestones, accomplishments, as well as, the periodic “hello”. They are following – not stalking – key influencers and thought leaders and connecting via Twitter, InMail, or directly through email.
  3. Observe.  Social sellers are constantly observing. They are looking at who’s who, what she’s sharing, who she’s following, her ideas, insights, actions. These sellers are constantly balancing the importance of context and content. Content without the right context has as much value as a snow shovel provides to a resident of Jackson, WY, with a hundred foot driveway, where 60 inches of snow each year is the average. Not a lot you’re going to do with a shovel.
  4. Participate. Social sellers are active in LinkedIn groups, tweets, Likes, and Shares.  They raise discussions, respond to conversations.  They have a voice for their ideas and viewpoints and are active participants, not armchair quarterbacks.
  5. Empathize. Social sellers understand.  They relate. They feel.  They empathize.  This ability to connect with others, to “walk a mile in my shoes”, to make others feel valued and relevant are key attributes of today’s social seller. Empathy is what ties the previous 4 items together.  For without it, sharing, connecting, observing and participating would lack relevance, and irrelevance is a manifestation of inauthenticity. Genuine empathy equals authenticity.

3 Big Learnings from the Digital Growth Conference 2016

DigitalGrowthConference

This week I attended the Digital Growth Conference in San Francisco put on by SalesforLife.  It was a remarkable event packed with great content, inspiring and thought provoking speakers and some of the industries most respected thought leaders in the digital and social selling world. The attendees listened, asked questions, pondered, and talked with one another about how to effectively interact with today’s digital buyers, all while grappling with the ever-present challenge of how to transform our sales people into social sellers.

Here are my 3 Big Learnings from the conference:

  1. Today’s buyer is far more disruptive to the buying process than technology. Social selling evangelist Jill Rowley said during her keynote, “The buyer has changed more in the last 10 years than in the previous 100.” The disconnect between our buying habits and preferences as consumers, has not followed us into our businesses. Buyers are hyper-connected, plugged in, educated, informed, and knowledgeable. They are no longer waiting to be sold, but instead, they are controlling the sales conversation and process. This evolution begs a change to traditional sales processes. Your sales people today must be brand ambassadors both for your company’s brand, as well as, their own personal brand. Jill drove this point home by saying, “Your online digital footprint is how trust will be built before you meet your customer, your personal brand is so important.” The modern sales person sees this, embraces this, acts on it, and is constantly working to develop his or her personal brand. The question we should all be asking is, what about those sales reps who are not making the transformation to the modern sales representative? What to do?
  2. Since the buyer is now in control of the sales process, the job of the sales rep is no longer to sell, but to facilitate the buyers journey. Viewing a sale in this different light may be quite stirring…perhaps even provocative to many. However, the digital buyer is here.  There’s no going back. Sales people need to be socially engaged where the buyers are learning. It’s no longer enough to simply know where the buyer is.  The sales person now has to be interacting with that buyer before the sale in the places the buyer is learning and with those who are helping to educate and inform them. Tiffani Bova, Global Growth Strategist for Salesforce said, “How much of the journey they (the buyer) have gone through is irrelevant. It’s where they went in between that’s important.  Who are their advisors, where did they go to get info?”.  The sales rep is no longer leading with the sale, but leading the buyer to the sale. The question we should all be asking is what are we doing to aid in this transformation from a focus on the selling process to a deep understanding and alignment to the buyers journey?
  3. While the buyer has changed dramatically over the past 10 years, business has been much slower to change. Sure, it may feel to many that things at work are changing at light speed, but our sales process is still the same. Fill the pipeline, manage the pipeline, close the pipeline.  We may have changed the words we use, going from prospects, to pipeline, to funnel, but it’s still the same message, and same management. A true transformation to a buyers journey-centric focus requires great preparation, training, knowledge and assets that provide Sales with the tools they need to align with this “new buyer.” According to Sales Enablement guru Jim Ninivaggi, Chief Strategy Officer at Strategy to Revenue,” The #1 reason sales people fail to make a sale is due to their inability to effectively communicate the value proposition.” This reason, and its #1 ranking, hasn’t changed in 5 years. Why? The reason can be connected back to the disconnect between what we expect from our buying as a consumer, versus what we expect as a business person. This has to change.  To make this transformation we need to begin with hiring the right talent, providing that talent with the most effective on-boarding and training, and build a process that acknowledges the buyers journey by focusing on “education, solution, and selection.” It’s all about enabling your sales team to maximize all of their buyer interactions, because what got us here, won’t get us there. The question we should all be asking is what are we doing to better enable our sales teams?

As I reflected on my Conference take-aways on my flight from San Francisco to Philadelphia, I found myself thinking about the pace of change in our consumer lives and Moore’s Law – the speed of technology will double every two years. We all use technology to improve our lives, educate ourselves, inform one another, and buy things. The age of the customer has arrived.  They’re looking for an advisor. They want answers. And while today’s buyers conduct much of the buying process on their own, results of an Accenture survey presented at the Conference showed 65% of buyers still want a combination of digital and human interaction when buying.  This requires being there (where the buyers are), and being prepared (talent, training, knowledge, assets). Business needs to recognize and acknowledge these changes have happened.  We all need to begin to let our behaviors and expectations as consumers follow us into our jobs. Those willing, capable, and brave enough to make this transformation will be the companies that become the high-water-mark the rest will be chasing in the future.

 

 

 

Are You a Helper, or a Server? An Important Question for Your Brand.

 

ChickfilA

Have you ever thought about what your company does?  I mean really does?  What is it you do? Why do you exist? What’s your purpose?  Are you a helper or a server?  Is there a difference?  Does it matter?  I’d suggest it does matter…greatly. Are you still wondering why the picture of the chicken sandwich?  Keep reading.

Pay attention the next time you’re in a buying situation.  You walk in a store, a restaurant, or car dealership, and in just about every possible example you’ll hear these four words – “can I help you?”  To help, as opposed to serving, boils down to a mindset.  We are taught as children to “help one another” in school, or to “help out” around the house.  As we get older the concept of helping others is seared into our brains as the right thing to do. Consequently in business, we bring those same thoughts with us, setting out to help someone or some business. But let me propose a different viewpoint; one that supports the benefits of serving others rather than helping.  An unexpected encounter at a quick-service restaurant brought this concept to my attention.

While on a recent road trip, my wife and I decided to stop for something quick to eat. We didn’t want to spend time in a full service restaurant.  We wanted something fast, and as close to healthy as possible given our travel schedule.  We pulled into a drive-thru and placed our order. From behind the audio box came a voice that was filled with energy (genuine) and asked, “How may I serve you today?”  What did she say? How could I be sitting in a drive-thru of a fast food restaurant and be this impressed?  This didn’t make sense.  We placed our order, pulled up to the window where we were greeted by a crisply dressed, smiling cashier who completed our transaction, and said, “thank you for your business and I look forward to serving you again.”  WOW!  That restaurant was Chick-fil-A. 

This experience got me thinking.  Who says “how may I serve you?”  Everyone says they want to help, but do they really?  “How may I help you” is regular, predictable, watered down. And how often have you heard those words knowing full well the person asking couldn’t care less about really helping you? But the question “how may I serve you?”, is a purple cow.  Something so simple, yet so remarkably different relative to today’s buying norms that you notice, and notice in a big way.

I wondered if this was a fluke or if there was something more to this one experience.  I conducted a bit of research and visited 3 other Chick-fil-As in different areas.  Shockingly, all provided the exact same experience as the first location. How can a company whose brand is represented by independent operators deliver such a consistent experience?  I just had to ask…

This remarkable service is the result of many things, but two things in particular: training and modeling.  Training content, material, philosophy, and methods are provided by corporate for consistency.  Modeling is provided by the independent operators.  The owners walk the same talk as all store employees.  One such owner that I had the privilege of meeting, walked around the store refilling customers drinks and asking if there was anything else she could do to serve the customers.  Remarkable.

When being served, you may feel special, perhaps honored.  When serving others you might feel fulfilled, satisfied, humbled.  As a result of this experience I have challenged myself and others in my network to give thought to shifting their paradigm from one of helping to one of serving.  I personally, have found this subtle shift in thinking to be empowering.  It fosters a bond between the one being served and the one doing the serving.  Try it and see what a positive change it can make to your customers’ experience.  Are you brave enough to serve or will you stay in your comfort zone and help?  You decide.