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What are you telling your customers about your company

When the pressure is on it’s tempting to talk about the things we think “really matter” and we end up pushing our products and focussing on our price.  Of course these things are important but they are unlikely to make the difference. They are certainly unlikely to differentiate ourselves from our competitors.

Instead, take a step back and ask yourself what is it about your company that really does matter to your customers. Instead, tell your customers about your company its financial strength, its strategy, its commitment to markets, its leadership, its innovation.

Financial strength

Your financial strength is what will ensure that you are there when they need you.  It may also allow you to offer them better terms than your competitors. Your strategy matters.  It is another indicator that you have a future and they are part of it. Talking company strategy is not just for CEOs it’s for salespeople too.

Your customers need to know that you are committed to their sector, to their geography. When did you last tell this directly or are just assuming that they know this?  Your company’s people matter to your customers. Your corporate leadership, your management, your specialists are worth money to your customers.

Let’s ensure we are talking more about this asset and getting our best people in front of our customers with compelling messages.  And finally we need to talk about the way we innovate. Our customers know the world is changing and they want suppliers who are changing with it maybe even changing before it. Your innovation will underwrite their future.

Customers need to know that you have the strength to survive, that you have the financial muscle to fight your way through.  They want to know that when they need you you’ll be there. They need to be confident that if they invest in the relationship now (committing to your component, entrusting a major project to you, embarking on a long term programme with you), they won’t have wasted their time and money because you can no longer deliver.  That’s why so many RFPs are asking questions about financial strength and exposure to risk. Positive answers in this area can often allow you to defend your price points. If your financial position is one of your competitive strengths then make sure you are communicating this to your customers and prospects.

Strategy

Talk about your strategy.  It’s not enough to have a good product. As a customer I want to know that your company strategy is sound and that it is our aligned to mine.  As a customer I want to know that your top management have thought through the risks and have planned a way to manage them.

I want to work with a winner so I need to know that your strategy is robust enough to keep you a winner or make you a winner.  Strategy is not just a subject for CEOs. Relationship managers and sales people need to be able to articulate their company’s strategy.  Do you know how great the “strategy leakage” is in your business (the difference between what top management know about the strategy and what salespeople are telling your customers).

Research suggests that the typical sales person only understands 65% of the sales strategy and that’s probably a high figure. A third of what sales people are telling your customers about your company may be at best inaccurate and potentially damaging!  Less than half of the companies we asked make sure the strategy is communicated to the sales force on a regular and frequent basis. For your strategic accounts consider increasing the contact between your top management (e.g. the account’s executive sponsor) and their top management to convey messages about strategy.

Commitment to their sector

Communicate your commitment to your customer’s sector, geography etc.  Clearly this is not about bland, empty protestations. But if a particular country or sector is of core importance to you then make sure the customers in that part of the market know it.  It may be obvious to them that you would never withdraw from this or that area but may not be obvious to them. When did you last tell your key customers why they, their sector, their country really matter to your business and that you are committed to it?

Leadership

Leadership matters. The ability, reputation and experience of your top team matter to your customers.  Companies understand that having the right executive directors, non-execs, senior management team and specialists and then communicating this effectively is a vital part of investor relations.

It is an equally important part of relationship management. For your strategic accounts consider increasing the contact between your top management (e.g. the account’s executive sponsor) and their top management specifically to convey messages about strategy.  Look for innovative ways to get your best people in front of your customers. Salespeople and relationship managers need to get the message about the quality of your leadership across to customers creatively, convincingly and continuously.

Innovation

Are your sales people talking about innovation?  Your customers know their world is changing and they want suppliers who are changing too.  They know that past achievement is not enough for them or for you. They need to hear a message about the way you are innovating.  This encourages them that you see a future and are planning for it. It reassures them that you are the kind of organisation that can help them get through today and be ready for tomorrow.  This is particularly true with existing relationships.

It is all too easy for relationship managers to focus on today and yesterday how the current contract is performing against its previously agreed Service Level Agreements, concerns about late deliveries or late payments.  At the same time your competitors who as yet supply little or nothing to your customer are free to talk about exciting new ideas. You seem boring. They seem innovative.

For your strategic accounts consider increasing the contact between your top management (e.g. the account’s executive sponsor) and their top management specifically to convey messages about your commitment to innovation.  Ask yourself what you are doing to get messages about innovation across to your existing customers. After all who is better placed to bring in attractive, relevant new ideas to a customer than you, the supplier who is close to them every day and knows them inside out?

Of course talking about our companies is not enough by itself.  But talking more about our companies must be a significant element of a successful sales strategy for challenging times.

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