Moving Outside-In effects every aspect of how an organisation manages itself. This is especially true at the ‘point of sale’ where we as customers interact with companies selling us product or service. This article explores the shift in perspective and how organisations and sales teams can rethink their role.
The Game is changing, are you?
There has been a perspective shift in sales over the last five years, the 21st Century selling environment has changed drastically. Many businesses are finding it hard to adapt, while others are thriving and achieve record profits. How is this possible?
Let’s go back five years and examine the sales profession. The customer’s desire for knowledge was such that sales tactics such as emails or cold calls were reaping benefits hand over fist and were considered key in the sales process. Many a time the customer would not know what they wanted until it was suggested and if they did know and wanted to find out information for themselves, they had to get in front of a sales agent; this allowed for the ‘hard sell’ to begin.
The main goal of many sales agents was to get the sale at any cost. Sales agents were able to say what they wanted in order to close the sale and the customer, none the wiser, would invariably believe what they were being fed and hand over their money.
Companies could be accused of putting many other aspects above a customer’s needs, however five years ago, while not the most effective way, it didn’t drastically effect a businesses success. Customers had money to spend and time to spend it; and sales agents rubbed their hands together, happy to take it from them. Result? Company wins, Customer loses.
Today there is a new breed of customer, a customer who knows what they want, an enlightened customer if you will. The immense growth of the internet has allowed customers to get the information they need at the drop of a hat. The customer’s desire for knowledge is still there, however they now know where to discover this. On average, according to ‘The Bupa Health Pulse’ survey, 58% of patients now go to the doctor after ‘self-diagnosing’. This is largely down to how readily available the information is online. This is the same with customers, they search and gain extensive knowledge around the product and ‘self-diagnose’ what they need and no longer can be told what they want.
In a complete shift from five years ago; customers now have more information yet less disposable income and as a result are now thought on as harder to sell to. What’s the solution? Don’t sell to them; let them sell to themselves!
Let’s look at Apple for example; their sales agents are there to facilitate and support the sales process, taking a more consultative approach. The customer walks into an Apple shop knowing exactly what they want; the sales agent’s responsibility is to make sure the customer gets exactly want they want and that they leave after having a positive experience with Apple. The customer wants to buy, not to be sold to.
If you are a sales agent reading this you may well ask; what can I do to change?
Taking all into account there are many ways to become more effective. To name a few, firstly you need to make sure your product knowledge is faultless; if a customer knows more about the product than the staff, how much confidence will they have in you or the company for that matter? Use their knowledge of the product to support them as they buy.
Never be annoyed that they know as much about your product as you, show that you are impressed and complement them on this, be happy that they have practically done your job for you and given you something in common straight away. Use this to build rapport, get them involved with the product, don’t sell to them; ask them the questions that will make them sell to them self. Focus on making the customer experience a great one and you will outperform any agent stuck in the ‘hard sell’ mentality.
If you are otherwise involved in a company you may well ask; how can we rise above the rest? The best advice I can give is to move quickly, capitalise on other company’s shortfalls during this harsh economic climate, overtake them while they stagnate and become truly customer focused. Remember it’s no longer what you tell the customer about your product that matters to them; it’s what Google tells them, it’s what Facebook tells them, it’s what their friends and co-workers tell them. So leave all customers with a brilliant image of your company and you will grow exponentially more than with a website bragging about your greatness. People’s attention spans are decreasing in the digital age and according to the BBC, most internet users will spend less than one minute on an average website, so make your information quick, informative and user friendly.
You can monitor how far along the customer has taken themselves in the sales process by how specific their search is. Common sense would dictate that the more specific the search, the further along the sales process they are. Make sure everything you do is customer-centric. Result? Company wins, Customer wins.
The planned introduction of internet sales tax, more likely than not, will bring some sales back out into the field, this allows a company’s representatives to interact face to face and deliver a truly fantastic customer experience that will perpetuate growth on all levels, however the amount of information available on the internet is still constantly increasing and is unlikely to stop, so this 21st century sales perspective shift, in my opinion, is here to stay.
To thrive in this environment companies need to take an Outside-in sales approach. Compared to five years ago many people may regard this as an ‘uneven playing field’ however the playing field is just as even as before, the game is changing, are you?
James Dodkins, Head Coach, The Alexander John Group
Sales and Business Performance Transformation Coach specialising in the development of individuals and organizations.
James has a proven track record of success working with over 700 business professionals across the UK within award winning FTSE 100 companies.
He has been largely involved with high priority contracts with approximate contributions of £10.4 million a year, while continually demonstrating a high level of performance motivation. James is currently looking to work with individuals interested in goal realisation and implementation to bring about immediate changes and long-term results towards business and life success. As a field innovator, James has contributed regular development of coaching methodology aids to enhance effectiveness for positive client results.
Are your processes reactive or proactive? Do you exercise control through process, or is the process managing you? What role does the customer play in your processes – passive onlooker or active participant? Do you have a plan for maturing your processes in order to significantly reduce costs, enhance service and grow revenues?
In the ground-breaking book “The principles of Scientific Management” (published in 1911) Frederick Winslow Taylor observed “The first step in gaining control over an Organisation is to know and understand the basic processes.” One hundred years later this has never been more important and is a central theme for progressive organisations i.e. getting and maintaining control of all activities and tasks that contribute to the delivery of a Successful Outcome.
1.Are your processes reactive or proactive? For those familiar with the ‘Moments of Truth’ concept (see here) we understand that all work is ultimately caused by customer interactions. Frequently negative and often unsatisfactory interactions create the work we see every day within our companies. If we examine the Moments of Truth we understand the very nature and shape of work that will result. Will the process be simple and create positive outcomes? Does the process appear convoluted with many checkpoints and possible errors? There is a secret known to leading companies such as Apple, Bestbuy and Google.
2.Who is in control – or is the process managing you? With all the talk in the process world of ‘process owner’ you could believe there was a science to identifying, managing and maturing processes. Is this so? Some would claim to have process repositories with well documented and indexed processes accessible at the touch of a button. Process ownership and records do not mean control. Consider this as an example. Customer Call Centre processes are to a very great extent initiated and pushed by customer interactions. We track calls, measure cycle times, identify waits, reduce talk time, optimise scripts and try to answer queries. All this activity is driven by customer behaviour. There is an illusion of control because we measure, some would say excessively, everything that moves. Gaining control of a process involves more that measures acted on retrospectively. True process control involves a series of specific and easy to apply techniques that transform and redefine the process landscape.
3.What role does the customer play in your process (and is it important)? “My job isn’t the customer. That is for the guys in sales and marketing and customer service and collections. I do the accounts/program/manage people/motivate/create strategy…” This is an accepted reality for many. It appears to be true that the customers do not figure directly in their work. However the only reason the job exists is to contribute to product or service bought by customers. Through that we collect revenue that ultimately results in profit for the share-holder. It is therefore logical to suggest that everything the organisation does should be explicitly linked to a Successful Customer Outcome. Accordingly you should be able to articulate what contribution any activity or task makes to the ultimate outcome. If you can understand the role of the customer in every process you can eradicate all that stuff that doesn’t contribute positively. There is a systematic way to do this with immediate positive results for the people, process, enterprise and customer.
4.Do you need to improve your processes and if so how do you? All work is process. Whether we have a structure or means of capturing activities and tasks it comes down to the same thing. Creating a picture of what is happening and then managing that picture to a better place than now. Is that part of your process world, and how do you approach it? Are all processes viewed as virtual productions lines trapped inside functional specialist silo’s. How many processes cut across the organisation and extend to the customer experience? Where does the process start and end? When the phone rings (reactive) or at your initiation (pro-active?). Developing a process maturity model aligned to your business can deliver quantifiable results quickly. After all you don’t want to leave it to chance.
I will have the pleasure of sitting on the judging panels for each event and naturally we want to encourage you to share your stories of Process change, BPM, Lean Six Sigma and Outside-In. Visit the conference sites above to find out more and we will hopefully see you receiving an Award or simply joining us to witness the advancing trends towards the Customer Oriented business.
Our team of BP Group Executives working and delivering across the events, and very much welcoming questions, observations and hot topic suggestions includes:
The most recent event was in the US during January. 800 people participated with the IQPC at a splendid annual get together which showcased the leading global process companies. The IQPC team are leading the global conference circuit with well organised and encouragingly interesting sessions.
If you need to make a choice then our recommendation, based on direct feedback of the membership, is to book for one of the above events. You will never think of process in the same way again!