I’ve written, ad nauseam, that if companies want to be successful in today’s “Wisdom Age,” they can’t afford to be internally focused – they must be focused fanatically on their customers. This thought isn’t new. Experts such as Seth Godin, Tom Peters, Jack Welch, and Clayton Christenson (to name a few) have been preaching this gospel for quite some time.
In my consulting work, I’ve learned that while there is nearly universal agreement that this customer-centered approach is a great idea, most companies don’t really get it. Far too many of them only pay lip service to focusing on their customers. They’ll start trying out a lot of customer-focused language, but in the end, they still cling to the kind of industrial-age thinking that puts the product or service (with all its wonderfully complex features and benefits) at the center of their universe.
Here is a simple question you can ask to determine whether you are internally or externally focused:
Does my company spend more time working to understand our products or working to understand the issues facing our best prospects?
If you spend more time training your salespeople on how to sell your offering than you do educating them on the business issues and challenges your prospects face, you are an internally focused organization. It will only be a matter of time before commoditization erodes your profit margins (if it hasn’t happened already).
In far too many instances, salespeople and executives are stumped when I ask them to tell me which critical business issues they impact. In my work with salespeople, I spend 75% of my time helping them understand the issues their prospects really care about.
What else can you do if you find yourself with an internal focus when what you want is an external one? Try this: At your next four sales meetings don’t spend any time talking about product/offering issues. Instead, have your salespeople interview their five best clients beforehand to find out the challenges they are facing (whether those challenges have anything to do with your offering or not). Discuss the results of those interviews at the meetings.
Bottom line, if you want your sales and marketing efforts to stimulate business, then your sales and marketing people must understand the issues that keep your prospects awake at night. By the way, the definition of “understand” is: “To know thoroughly by close contact or long experience with.” If you want to really be customer-focused, anything less than that won’t work.