Defining and executing a selling strategy that supports highly innovative and complex solutions is perhaps one of the most overlooked areas of a business. It is often lacking in both a process to connect the value of the solution to the customer’s business, a process to ensure the customer achieves the promised value, as well as creating a systemized execution plan to ensure profitable growth and loyal customers. Over-stretched leadership teams often perceive selling strategy as the “black hole” of the organization. They tweak many areas of the organization and achieve some level of operational excellence. They implement the latest ERP systems, Six Sigma, Supply Chain Management…all noble pursuits… however, too frequently the customer is nowhere to be found in the equation. While these are very valuable tools, they often fall short in the customer’s world. We find that “Customer First” in reality often is “Customer Last.” What’s the point if execution and connecting to the customer fall short?
What is overlooked is that it is all one process. You can’t stop the innovation process at your own front door. It’s risky to treat innovation superiority, organizational excellence, customer centricity, or sales performance in separate compartments. Those best at leveraging their innovation asset have created one integrated process, encompassing all functions of the organization, and constantly ask the “so what” questions. How will this move the customer forward? How will this drive our customer’s customer forward?
We recently engaged with a Fortune 100 company and examined an exhaustive value chain analysis they had just completed. They are well known for their innovative solutions. Incredibly, their analysis literally stopped at their front door. Not surprising, their field organization was having difficulty connecting the value to the customer. There were two fundamental disconnects in their analysis: first, some of the value was not relevant to the customer, and second, because the value chain analysis stopped at the front door, the sales organization was left to translate the value to the customer’s world on their own, putting tremendous responsibility and burden on the shoulders of sales professionals who are ill equipped to do so. Do we ask each person on the plant floor to figure out the final steps of the manufacturing process on their own? Why do we think each salesperson will carry out this incredibly critical step?
Innovation must be one continuous process that is strengthened with input from all disciplines within your organization. By all means, don’t let it stop at your front door. Ask the “so what” questions, complete the process with an integrated execution strategy, and always keep the customer’s best interest in mind.