In developing your strategy, don’t think about your customers! Instead, think like your customers. Focus on what you think they want. Develop a specific list of what you think they are concerned about and the problems they would like to solve; then ask them. Don’t do it with surveys or even focus groups. Meet with them one-on-one in informal settings. Ask for their blunt comments, but gently “push” them, following the Five Whys model developed by Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Motors. With that technique, iteratively ask “why” up to five times in response to their answers to uncover the root cause or fundamental issue that they initially mention.
It is remarkable, but most customer “wants” can be divided into a few basic categories as follows:
- Develop your offering so that it is clear that you can help your customer increase their revenue, increase their market share, and/or reduce costs. The order is important; too often, vendors focus on helping a customer reduce costs, not realizing that there is an overlap between the existing and new approaches in which costs increase. Helping your customers achieve top line, profitable revenue growth in an expanding market is the key to long-term success.
- Position your offering so that it is likely to help your customers retain their customers (reduce churn). Acquiring new customers is always more expensive than retaining existing customers. Make your offering easy to implement and avoid making your customer or their customer revisit their fundamental buying decision.
- Provide more functionality at a new lower price. Virtually every organization is constantly in search of ways to reduce their operating costs. Offer more for less to help them meet their goals without uncomfortable negotiations. Attempting to extract incremental margin at the risk of alienating existing customers can quickly unwind years of good will.
- Provide a product that requires minimal integration changes to their other existing systems. If at all possible, take on the integration responsibility burden. Remember the often-quoted adage in this collection, “Operations personnel are rarely empowered to say yes, but are always empowered to say no.” Difficult or time-consuming integration efforts that impact the normal flow of business is an argument that is hard to overcome. You, as an outsider, will have a difficult time overcoming the opinion of someone within your customer’s organization regarding their operational concerns.
- Provide a product or service that will excite your customer’s customers. If your customer’s customers are pleased, your customer will be delighted.
- Provide tools, techniques, and explanations that can help your customer justify the purchase of your offering to their colleagues and their management. Do not expect them to be as proficient as you are in explaining your offering to others. Provide them with short and concise talking points and material that they can comfortably share.
- Develop plans to share risk with your customer. Although money back or delayed payment terms are usually associated with risk sharing, there is a more basic and important aspect that should be built into your plan. Even if you offer full return privileges to a customer, there will still be an internal stigma within your customer’s organization about the decision maker’s apparently “bad” decision that resulted in the return of the system. Formulate your offering in such a way that it provides “cover” to the individuals that championed your selection.
- Provide your customer with some features or capabilities that will help them to distinctively differentiate themselves from their competitors.
Any and all of the above points can be summarized as providing the customer with a clear, compelling reason to buy now, from you, as fully explained in the article in this collection, titled “One Question to Answer.”