Guest Blogger Craig Nelson: Co-Creating Value With Customers Is Essential

Customer Engagement
Customer Experience
As we begin 2010 we're faced with the reality of lower tides, with less demand for the products we sell -- and, an increase in competition for the opportunities that do exist.

In the not too distant past the addage "a rising tide lifts all boats" was true for many markets. It didn't seem to matter your industry -- incredible growth and expansion meant that many firms benefited from the high economic tides that brought double- and, in some industries, triple-digit annual growth. To succeed, the management team simply needed capital and a plan to expand sales channels to achieve revenue growth. Ah, yes, it was all about the top-line revenue number, the need to increase revenue, just adding "feet to the street." We all miss those high-tide days.

Flash forward to the present. As we begin 2010 we're faced with the reality of lower tides, with less demand for the products we sell -- and, an increase in competition for the opportunities that do exist.
Reflecting on 2009, many would agree that we've learned there's an inherent need, in every customer conversation, to create value, to create a sense of urgency for the customer to do something, anything! This year it suddenly became incumbent on sales teams to build ROI models to help the customer justify the need for its products, for virtually any size deal. From a revenue-growth standpoint, tighter capital markets prevent us from simply adding those "feet to the street" as we did so often in the past.

What all this means is that management must now pay attention to the bottom line -- to profits -- and truly get more from existing sales channels.

So, what does this entail? Marketing and sales management must optimize the way they market, train, package, and enable their sales channels -- with a focus on the basics of selling value. Soon, the holidays will be behind us, and, as we get back on the treadmill (at the club and office), we will need to rethink the way we go to market. Very few market watchers suggest that high tides will return any time soon. What must sales and marketing do to drive growth while retaining customers in 2010? Create value.

There's actually a buzz out there today about the need for vendors to co-create value with the customer. That notion changes the sales game in many ways. Many "old school" sales tactics will simply not work in low-tide days.

An entertaining example comes to mind. I recall being on customer calls with a rep who made it a point to bring fresh cookies on every customer call. The self-proclaimed "cookie guy" was quick to point out that customers remembered him because he always brought fresh cookies to every call. One could argue today that, in virtually any market, this will no longer make a difference. I mention this story to underscore the point that today that same sales rep must bring business value, not cookies, to every customer conversation.

To co-create value in these times, the direct or channel rep must understand the needs of the customer and be able to demonstrate -- or perhaps better said -- communicate the value proposition and prove rapid time-to-value. Slick demos or even giving away the product doesn't work anymore. In many cases proving value will need to be accomplished within months, or even just weeks. Often, only top-priority projects that provide immediate value are implemented in these challenging times. Mapping how your product delivers business value has become paramount to advancing any deal.
Can your sales channel effectively do this today? In my opinion, and I suspect in many others', there has been no other time in the past 20-plus years where the value that a vendor provides has been more scrutinized.

The simple question is this: "Are your sales channels able to provide value in every customer interaction?" Then, once the prospect formally becomes a customer, what are they continuing to do to build on that value?

My advice is to stop waiting for rising tides. If you really want your company and your sales reps to be remembered, and viewed as a trusted partner, rather than as a giveaway person, the secret is to ensure that your sales channels have the information they need at their fingertips that is specific to each discrete customer's needs--information that enables them to communicate how your product or service will deliver value to each individual customer. As your customer finds that their business can't do without your solution, they will return the rep's phone call and, in turn, the passion of your sales reps to sell your product will naturally increase.

And that is a very good thing on all fronts.

+ + + + + + + + +

About the Author: Craig Nelson is CEO of iCentera