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

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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.

 

 

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Winning the Sale Requires Marketing

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To win a sale requires a number of factors all aligning properly at the right moment.  The buyer’s need, a good story, the right product, and of course, an easy fulfillment (sales) process.

I’ve led marketing and sales teams for more than 20 years.  Neither could win without the other, yet each feel confident they reign supreme when it comes to closing the business.  However, there is an increasing body of work that suggests the role of the sales person, relative to closing the business, is decreasing.  Buyers are self-educating themselves all the way through fulfilling their own purchase.  Think Amazon.  You sign in, check out the product your interested in, perhaps read some reviews, and into your cart it goes straight through to check out.  If you’re Amazon Prime, 3 days later it’s in your hands and ready for use.  As the buyers journey continues to change, it’s up to the sales leader to adjust and learn new strategies that will increase their effectiveness; adding the right ingredients, at the right time, to achieve the desired outcome – a sale.

Nothing gets sold without a product, price, place or promotion.  I’ll add process in there as well as the 5th “P” of Marketing.  Combining these 5 P’s into a single offer that results in a sale is where the true beauty, art, and science all come together with marketing and sales.

Marketing is the lead function in any organization that is charged with providing an end-to-end view of the buying process.  Beginning with product development and ending with the sale, Marketing’s role is one focused entirely on creating a remarkable experience for the buyer on his journey to the cash register.  Much like a cardiologist confers with an anesthesiologist prior to surgery, a sales person should consult with Marketing.  No matter how great a heart surgeon is, she would never go into the operating room without the help of a strong and competent anesthesiologist.  If she did it would be disastrous.  If a sales person meets with a prospect without understanding the marketing behind the product the outcome can be quite disappointing.  And while I’m certain egos exist in the OR, I’m equally aware of the egos that exist within Marketing and Sales.

So here’s my challenge to Sales leaders interested in improving their team’s results…

Partner with Marketing to truly understand the offer.  I’m sure some heads are shaking right now and perhaps worse tempers are flaring.  Sales leaders by nature are confident with Texas-sized egos.  But the great sales leaders know it’s all about being a continuous learner.  Without learning you can’t be strategic, and without strong strategy skills

you’ll never improve your results.  You’ll simply go about doing things as you’ve always done, getting what you’ve always got.

Instead, I’d suggest sales leaders meet with their marketing peers.  Ask them questions surrounding the 5 P’s.

  1. What are the 3 most important features of this product and why?
  2. How did we arrive at those features?
  3. Tell me what went into our pricing for this product?
  4. What’s the impact to our brand if we discount the product?
  5. Are there any unintended needs that our product addresses? (think Post-It notes)
  6. Where in the process would my help and involvement, from a sales standpoint, yield the greatest end result?
  7. Where in the buying process do you feel there is room for improvement and can I help?

Questions like these will accomplish several things including: establishing trust between these two functions, educating each other by expanding insights and perspectives, fostering collaboration, and most importantly, if done right, this interaction will keep the conversation, efforts, and resources focused on the customer.

So to all the sales leaders out there, open your minds, focus on the customer, and be excited about the possibility of learning something new and connect with Marketing today.

Customer Journey Mapping:  If you ask, be ready to listen and act

I’m attending a Marketing conference this week in Chicago.  Much has been said about the importance of undertanding the customer buying journey.  CMOs, SVPs of Marketing, and in some cases CEOs are talking about how much time and money they are spending to better understand their customers.  Yet nothing is happening.  Why?

Most companies fall into two categories:  those willing to change how they go to market, and those that “say” they’re willing to change buy are simply not capable.  The latter is not because of a lack of intellect or knowledge.  Instead, companies not “capable” of change are typically those that are emboldened to the way they currently do things.  It’s easier.  It’s more comfortable.  It’s familiar.  Changing how you do business, and the interaction you have with your customer is scary.  It’s unknown.  As such only the most brave and courageous make the jump.

For those proposing or leading customer journey work consider the following:

  1. How involved has the current management/executive team been with customers?  Are they speaking directly to customers?  Are they in the field meeting with customers?  Do they attend industry events and speak directly to customers and prospects?  If the answer to any of these questions is “no” it’s likely you’ll struggle implementing the changes required to address your findings.
  2. What major changes have taken place over the past 12 months that affect the customer directly?  Did you launch a net promoter measure?  Is there a customer service center, and if so how is their success measured?  What communication has been sent to your customers over the past year?  Is it all sales related, or educational in nature?  Have you been surveying for customer satisfaction?  What have you learned?
  3. What’s the background of the CEO, COO, and President?  If you work in a small organization those roles may all belong to the same person.  That’s okay but the question still pertains.  Does he or she have any customer experience?
  4. Your sample pool should be diverse yet random.  Meaning, if you sell multiple products through the same sales and service channels you should look for customers with varying tenure with your firm, as well as different volumes of business.
  5. Have a project manager.  You may not have that luxury…it may be you.  How are your excel skills?  How do you manage projects, timelines, deliverables?  What’s your releationship with senior management to whom you’ll have to present your findings and recommendations?

I’ve conducted numerous customer journey mapping over the past decade.  The customer is always changing…evolving.   

 The impact of social media has become a catalyst for this change and will likely expedite it in the future.  If you’re interested in learning more about conducting customer journey mapping send me a reply/comment and I will be happy to provide additional insight and guidance.

5 Ways To Make Your Meetings More Effective

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Another meeting?  Most days start with meetings and end with meetings.  We spend our days running from one to another, whether in person or via the infamous conference call.  Some companies can’t operate without having a meeting to discuss even the smallest of decisions or topics, while others work hard to minimize the number of meetings they schedule. It’s not that meetings are bad, it’s just that most of them are an ineffective use of time. Little is accomplished during these meetings other than wasting the time spent being in the meeting itself, as well as the time spent preparing for that meeting.

So how can you increase your level of meeting effectiveness?

Here are 5 things you should do before scheduling a meeting:

1. Create and include a clear meeting objective. Provide a brief summary of the purpose of the meeting. Be sure to state whether this meeting is meant to inform, solicit feedback, or make a decision.
2. Invite the right people. The key word here is “right”. Don’t get caught up inviting the entire company to make sure you’ve CYA’d yourself. Have the right people there. The type of meeting you have set will determine who you should invite.
3. Be clear on your time. If you need an hour then schedule an hour. If you believe that your topic may go over an hour then plan accordingly. People hate to attend meetings that consistently run over. You don’t want to create the perception that you’re a poor planner.
4. Provide materials in advance. Many people feel that meetings should be somewhat of a surprise. I can’t stand that approach. Time is valuable for everyone. Why wait until the meeting to drop a 20 page deck on people. Give them time to read through it and absorb it. Having the ability to formulate questions, thoughts, and opinions prior to the meeting is key to running an effective meeting.
5. Schedule critical meetings during the day before 4 pm. The fact is that human nature is such that most people find getting invited to a meeting that starts at 4 pm to be annoying. Hey I know you have to be in the office until 6 pm anyway but still in all, people look to the end of their day to wrap up items that were opened during the day. Many 4 pm meetings become nothing more than place holders to reschedule another meeting when people are prepared, ready, and engaged.

Try taking these 5 actions before scheduling your next meeting and see how much smoother your meeting runs.

Stop Trying to Fit In and Start Being Remarkable

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Everyone wants to fit in. To be a part of the crowd. Some people go to extremes to remain invisible whether at school, the office, the gym, or anywhere else in pubic. Blending in is part of our culture. Why do you think brand names like Nike, Levi’s, Coke, Asics, Hollister, and Target are so valuable? They represent the main stream. Sure they offer quality and value but they also offer a strong emotional connection to safety. I’m safe if someone sees me wearing Nike, shopping at Target, or buying a Diet Coke.

But success doesn’t come to those who play it safe. Success isn’t for the faint of heart, or those who want to be part of the crowd. No. Success usually comes to those willing to take chances, to challenge the norms of society, to stand out and be remarkable.

Are you remarkable? Do you stand out at work or are you one of the crowd? Do your co-workers look at you as a thought leader? A progressive thinker? Or are you one of the many doers that get things done but not the one “cutting the edge?” Do you invest in building your personal brand? Are you working to create awareness around your ideas and opinions or are you silent, laying back, waiting for the next set of directions to come your way?

History is a great teacher of the correlation between remarkable and success. Thomas Jefferson, Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, and The Beatles all were remarkable for their time. Dimon, Reagan, Lincoln, and Gates made bold decisions, often unpopular, but remarkable in ways that led to great discoveries, financial stability, and peace through power.

We all have the ability to be remarkable. We may not all be Thomas Edison’s or Michael Dell’s but we each possess unique characteristics that if amplified make us remarkable. A great sense of humor, the ability to provide calm during turbulent times, or being able to rally people together for a common cause can be remarkable characteristics. What makes you remarkable?

The Ivory Tower Vs. The Customer

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Throughout my career I have observed a significant disconnect between C-Suite executives and the customer. I have often wondered why the people with the most power to influence change seem to go to extremes to avoid direct contact with their customers. Meetings are held, strategies are developed, and plans are made all in the name of doing the right thing for the customer – responding to their needs. But how do these executives know what their customers want? They haven’t talked to their customers, met with them, or corresponded with them. They gather input from their key lieutenants, assuming they know. But have they met directly with their customers? No. I have found this phenomenon quite intriguing and have developed some insights as to why this happens.

Television shows like Undercover Boss highlight the disconnect between the Ivory Tower and the customer. The CEOs, COOs, or Presidents go “undercover” to see how things are really working in the field…which is a technical term for real life. My only hope is that most of what is seen on television programs like this one are fiction, to at least some extent. If not, we’re all in big trouble if our executives are that disconnected from the real world.

I believe there are 3 reasons many executives avoid meeting or interacting directly with their customers preferring to take refuge in their Ivory Tower. These reasons tend to be driven more by the executives emotions that tangible difficulties of scheduling time to be in the field. My observations of why these senior executives avoid direct customer interaction include:

1. Already paid dues
2. Fear of not being able to solve the customer’s problem
3. Fear of embarrassment in front of sales or service representatives

Some executives feel they’ve paid their dues and spent enough time in the field as they built their careers creating an imbalance between these aspirations and being truly customer-centric. I’m not saying that focusing on building a career is wrong. What I am saying is that as long as you maintain a genuine focus on the customer career progression usually follows. Once the focus on the customer is lost, in favor of  bigger and better executive perks, an attitude of entitlement develops.

Another reason executives keep out of the field is their fear of not being able to solve the customers problems. Your product isn’t working as advertised, it costs too much, your service is terrible. These are all real life comments I have heard when in the field. They are not easy to deal with especially if the complaint is focused on an area of the business outside of your control. If the Sales executive receives a complaint about service they may feel helpless in providing a satisfactory resolution. But why? One way to eliminate this fear is to build strong relationships with your peers across the business. A simple call to the head of Operations – providing there is a strong and trusting relationship – can quickly provide the resolution necessary to save a client. Many times however these relationships are overlooked or get sidelined in favor of other activities. Life and business are all about relationships. No matter what your level, take the time to foster good relationships at work. You never know when you’ll need them.

Finally I’ve seen first hand how many executives seem to “freeze” when they are in the field with a sales or service representative. Because of the disconnect that exists between the executive and real life, they lose touch with the customer and their ability to empathize is impaired. This impairment becomes visible to the customer and the sales or service representative creating an awkwardness during these encounters. The key to a successful executive field visit lies with the executive’s ability to blend humility with a genuine focus on learning about the customers wants and needs. Showing the sales or service person respect in their arena creates an environment that fosters trust and allows for learning to take place.

How often are your executives in the field? When was the last time your CEO, President, or head of Sales went on a customer visit with you? What do you think the right frequency is for executive field visits? Let me know.

How well do you know your customer?

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One of business’ golden rules is to know your customer. What exactly does that mean? How well can you, or do you, really know anyone let alone a customer? How far do you go to know your customer? What can you ask or should you ask? What’s off-limits? How much information is too much?

Many businesses stop short of really understanding their customer. Perhaps that’s the key. To understand someone is often times different from “knowing” them. Think about it. Many relationships fail because one person can’t understand why the other says what they say or does what they do. Friendships, marriages, partnerships, and relationships often end, not because people didn’t know the other person, but because they could not understand why they did what they did.

If you have a customer who has done business with you for 10 years, do you really know them? Does the length of time you’ve known someone really mean anything? I’d propose, only if you’ve invested in getting to know them deeply enough to understand them. Many businesses lose customers who have been with them for years. They leave to go to competitors who cost less and, or, offer more. Perhaps if you understood them you’d still have them. So what’s the dividing line between knowing and understanding?

I’d propose that understanding someone requires far more work than knowing someone. How often do we say we “know” someone simply because we had the same class together, worked in the same building or department, or went to the same SPIN class for years? Think about how often you say the words “I know him/her”. But do you know them well enough to predict how they will act or behave? Having that level of insight requires a deep understanding of the person relative to a specific set of circumstances. How will they act if they can save a lot of money? How will they act if provided something for free? What will they do if presented with an opportunity to try something new and unproven but interesting?

Gaining customer insights is a tricky business. You need to ask enough of the right questions that provide you with the appropriate level of understanding but not too much where the customer feels exploited. So where’s the line?

Asking your customers’ how satisfied they are, or how willing they would be to recommend you is just a piece of understanding. Someone can be completely satisfied and recommend you within a given set of circumstances, but change those circumstances and their position shifts. So in addition to asking those questions, I would suggest adding the following:
1. If you lost your largest client what would you do?
2. If sales increased more than 15% in a year what actions would you likely have to take?
3. If overall sales dropped significantly what actions would you likely have to take?
4. What level of savings would interest you enough to perpetuate a change in vendors or partners?

These “what-if” questions will offer insight into how your customers may act when faced with certain situations. Of course no one knows for sure how they will act until they’re faced with specific challenges but these questions can provide insight into their possible actions. Beyond your employees, your customers are your most important asset. Take the time to get to know them…understand them. Make sure they know that you have their best interests in mind and at heart.