Thursday, April 30, 2009

Will Your Supplier Still Be Here Tomorrow?

For regular readers of this blog, you know I've been evangelizing rich collaboration and expressing concern about the health of the Supply Chain. If you want to re-read the post: If Your Suppliers Are In Trouble, Then You Are In Trouble.

I'm not the only person concerned about this. Today, I read an interesting article in CFO Magazine:
Will Your Supplier Still Be Here Tomorrow? The article focuses on the supply chain in the automotive industry, but the issue applies to all industries.

Why write about this in a blog that focuses so much on Sales and Marketing? It's easy, the issue to me, as a sales professional, is: If I don't have great products, if I can't fulfill my customers' orders on a timely basis, if my product quality starts to decline; how will I be able to achieve my sales objectives.

I'd like to get your views on this issue and what your companies are doing. I welcome your comments, but on Monday, I will be publishing a link to a survey. Anyone who participates and completes the survey will get a copy of the results for free. Stay tuned, in the mean time, please provide your thoughts.

Selling Through A Slump

This new ebook from 11 top sales professionals and bloggers (yes, I'm putting myself in that category--at least for the moment) focuses on simple advice on Selling Through The Recession.

Sponsored by the folks at TheCustomerCollective and Oracle CRM, we look at 11 industries, providing the top 10 tips, in each, for identifying opportunities, supporting your customers and growing the business. It's simple and pragmatic advice for every sales professional.

In addition to the great advice, the eBook is Free! How can you beat that?

Download This Free eBook

Selling Through A Slump: An Industry by Industry Playbook brings together sales strategies and best practices from 11 top sales experts from 11 distinct vertical market sectors, ranging from retail to health care to telecom—because one size doesn’t always fit all. The practical tips and experience-based wisdom here aren’t just limited to any single industry, though. Regardless of your market sector, you’re bound to find value in this arsenal of great sales ideas.

Just imagine, getting advice from:

  • Charles Green, Founder and CEO,Trusted Advisor Associates writing on Selling for Accountants and Consultants
  • Skip Anderson, Founder, Selling to Consumers Sales Training writing on Selling for Retailers
  • Mike Kujawski, Founder, Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing on Selling to Public Sector Clients
  • Mike Wise, VP, Insurance Technologies, IdeaStar Incorporated writing: Selling for Insurance Agents
  • Matt Homann, Founder, LexThink LLC writing about Selling for Lawyers
  • Anneke Seley, Founder and CEO, PhoneWorks LLC about Selling in Health
  • John Caddell, Caddell Insight Group on Selling in Telecommunications Markets
  • Dave Stein, Founder and CEO,ES Research Group, Inc writing about Selling Technology
  • Jill Konrath, Author, Selling to Big Companies writing about Selling in Services
  • Anne Miller, Founder,Chiron Associates on Selling Media
  • and last, but not least, me, Dave Brock, President and CEO, Partners in EXCELLENCE on Selling to Manufacturers .

I've found the advice from my peers useful---I've been reading and applying lessons from a pre-release version of the book.

Download This Free eBook Now!

You'll find it a worthwhile resource.

Finally, thanks to TheCustomerCollective and Oracle CRM for sponsoring this!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Blogger Of The Week - Dave Brock, Conversation Starter

Thank you to the folks at Social Media Today. I've been selected as Blogger Of The Week. They are tremendously generous---both in selecting of me and the flattering profile. They are a great team to work with.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Sales Managers Must Set The Example To Drive Change

We read everyday about organizations not achieving what they want in leveraging sales training, implementing CRM, implementing Sales 2.0 tools, new processes--whatever. While it may sound surprising, one of the key reasons organizations don't get what they want from these programs is that managers, at all levels don't set a visible example in utilizing the tools, training, or processes themselves. Somehow, they become things that the sales people must do, but managers don't.

If managers are not committed to set a visible example in any initiative, the organization is probably better off not doing it--saving the money and time.

Many years ago, I was brought into run a troubled sales organization. We had to go through a major reduction and completely re-examine everything that we were doing. We instituted new sales processes, brought in new training programs, and implemented a CRM system (almost before CRM was CRM). As we made these changes, I started getting push back from the managers and sales people---it was natural, change is tough for all people and there is a natural tendency to resist new initiatives and change--even when what you have been doing doesn't work.

Managers came to me and said "We don't have time to do these things, we just need to get out an sell." Sales people said, "You don't understand, I've been selling for years, planning is bureaucratic and wastes my time." There were lots of excuses, some legitimate, most not.

I decided to simplify things. I told everyone, they were accountable for making their numbers and achieving their goals. I told them they could do whatever they wanted, that they were responsible for their own success.

There was one big caveat: While people could do whatever they wanted, when they engaged with me, they were required to do things a certain way.

I told people I was available 7/24 to make sales calls with them--my highest priority was to be with customers helping them close business. However, in order to get the most out of the customer's time and my time, I said I had the following requirements: I wanted a written sales call plan--using the tools we had introduced in the sales training. I wanted a decision process map, and I wanted an opportunity plan. I told people that if I didn't have those before I jumped on the airplane, I would personally call the customer and reset the meeting, apologizing because we were not prepared to use the time well.

I got some grumbling. It only took two cancelled customer meetings to get people to realize I was serious. They started completing the plans---though only for me. For every plan I got, I would take the time to call the sales person review the plan, we would revise it and come up with a stronger plan---all using the tools and processes we had invested in. It didn't take too long before people started seeing that using these produced results. Soon they weren't using them just for me, but they were using them to improve their own productivity and effectiveness.

We did the same thing with funnel, account, territory and opportunity reviews. I told the management team they could use whatever process they wanted, but in doing the review with me, they had to use the tools and processes we had invested in. In the first few review meetings, people would try to avoid this, I stopped the meetings, sending them out of my office to do the work the way we had agreed. Over time, people started seeing the value of this. Our meetings were shorter, much more productive. We had common languages, processes and disciplines. We were becoming more focused, more efficient and more successful in building the business.

None of this would have happened if I hadn't set the example of using the tools and processes myself. If I hadn't cancelled meetings, thrown people out of my office, we never would have made the changes necessary to achieve our goals. There were some painful times, there was some grumbling. I had to invest a lot of time in coaching people in how to use the tools and explaining why they would produce result----but in fact that was my job!

My responsibility was to set an example for my team. To demonstrate my confidence in the tools, training, and processes by using them every day. To develop my people and their people, showing them and working with them in how they could improve their performance with the tools.

Over the next 12 months, we were remarkably successful, we took a terrible situation and turned it into a great success. We were benchmarked as "best practice." The team was positive, they used the tools, not because I required it, but because they produced value to them and improved their results.

Change is difficult. It's the manager's responsibility to lead people in change and to set a personal example. When are driving change in the organization, it's not them that we are changing, it's us.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Secrets To Losing Customers!

Yesterday and today, I've had to restructure a lot of what I had planned to accomplish. Our email server and our websites are hosted by Earthlink--everything went down yesterday. Late yesterday, email came back up--but we got bits and pieces of queued up emails delivered over several hours. Our websites are still down and we had planned to launch some major new things through the website at this time---clearly all of that is on hold, because we can't start pointing customers and prospects to a website that is not operational.

I hate to use this blog site as a bully pulpit to express my dissatisfaction with specific suppliers, but given my experience and Earthlink's handling of this situation over the past 36 hours--also given the idle time they have handed me, I have decided to use them as a case study for terrible customer service and sure fire examples of how to lose customers.

Many of us have become dependent on the tools and services provided by organizations like Earthlink. Disruptions in service cause disruptions in our business, consequently we tend to be hyper sensitive to service disruptions and outages.

Most of Earthlink appeared to be down yesterday. Thank goodness for Twitter, posts by other people in the same situation let me know that it wasn't my problem, but a major Earthlink outage. Apparently Earthlink did not think it worthwhile to find alternative ways to let customers know about an outage. For instance, I could get to the Earthlink sign in screen, but I couldn't get further. It would have saved me time and frustration if they had posted something on the opening page, outlining the problem. While frustrated, at least I would have known and they could have set a level of expectation: Lesson 1: When you have problems, let your customers at least know something is happening so you can set their expectation. Try to reach out to them proactively to alert them rather than catching them by surprise.

When Earthlink came back up, I immediately went to support and to Network Status. You can see it here. Basically, this has remained unchanged for the last 18 hours. When you look at the "Issues in Some Areas," they show very limited outages and never show the problems I and the rest of the world have experienced. When I went into Get Live Help, then I discovered virtually everything was down and they were working to address it. Lesson 2: When you have a problem, own up to it, don't hide it, you'll be found out.

This morning, email seemed back to normal but our websites were still down. I contact customer service, and the initial response was, "everything is working, it must be something with your site, let me look into it." Upon looking into it, the response was: "we are still having troubles with our website servers, so many organization's web sites are not working, we are working as hard as possible to correct the problem." Lesson 3: When you have a problem, don't lie to your customers about it, they will catch you in it, it makes them more upset.

When I asked them, "I've had to waste a lot of time signing into support, to find out this news, you could have saved me a lot of time and frustration by posting this at Network Status." The response was, "we will update network status." 4 hours after that call, the same static screen appears, there has been no update. Lesson 4: Read Lesson 3, also, when you make a commitment, be sure to fulfill it.

As I mentioned, I keep going back into the system to see if something has changed. I have learned that Network Status is a static screen that does not change and really does not show the real situation with the network---I guess it's there because you are supposed to have one of these screens when you are an ISP, I was under the mistaken impression that it was supposed to be operational. As you might guess, contacting customer support caused me to go through the same loop again.

So I'm stuck, all I can get is a response, "we are working on it." I've searched Earthlink's site, I've gone to their corporate site, there is no status update, no explanation of the outages they have experienced. I have not received an email explaining what happened or what is happening--though I do get their newsletter informing me how I can buy more stuff from them. Lesson 5: When you have had a problem and you have fixed it, get to the customers impacted, say you are sorry, and explain what happened and what you are doing to minimize recurrence.

While this may be counter intuitive, often, I have found companies that manage problems and communications with customers proactively, actually emerge with stronger relationships with customers. Most customers know problems happen. What customers want is to be informed and to see the problems resolved. Customers aren't interested in excuses and react negatively to attempts to hide the problem. Lesson 6: While you want to minimize problems for your customers, properly managing the problems, keeping your customers well informed can enhance your relationship with the customers.

I don't want to be unreasonable. Problems happen, while I might be upset, at if I am at least informed, kept up to date, and not lied to, I might be more sympathetic and patiently impatient. Cancellation of our accounts won't even be a rounding error to Earthlink, they will never notice we are gone. We are a very small customer.

So I've finished my venting, our web sites are still down. Have to look at revamping more of my day. I still have no idea when the problem will be fixed. I just went into network status and it still shows there are no problems.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sales Managers, Use It Or Lose It.

I work with sales executives and professionals everyday. Many of the organizations have invested millions of dollars/euro/yuan/yen in tools (CRM, Sales 2.0) and training. Yet the results aren't there. The expected improvements in productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness just aren't there. What's wrong, why aren't organizations getting the results? What does it take to get real performance improvement.

At the risk of biting the hands that feed me, the problem is not with the vendors, it's even not with the sales people themselves. The problem rests with sales management.

Let me give an example. Just a couple of days ago, I met with several sales leaders for a Fortune 100 company. Over the years, they had invested millions of dollars in several sales training programs and a coaching program. I knew these programs well, they are truly outstanding programs (second only to those we offer----sorry, I had to throw that in). Yet in meeting with these leaders, they said the sales people weren't performing, they weren't spending enough time planning or in front of customers, they weren't getting the expected results from what they had done.

I expressed my surprise. I asked them: "What happens when you review opportunity, account, or territory plans with your people? What are you seeing on the templates your training company provides?" Their response, "We don't look at those, we trained the people and hope they use them, but we don't use them in our reviews."

I went on and asked, "What about your coaching? That program has some guides and templates, aren't those working for you? Are you using the review process they recommend?" I got the response I expected, but hoped not to hear, "Those are too time consuming, we squeeze coaching in when we can, but the business is too hectic. The program gave us some good concepts to think about when we do talk to our people."

These executives were seeking my recommendations about how to improve performance---and as part of that they wanted a training program and some tools that would fix the performance issues.

As much as I wanted to propose a program to them, I had to tell them, "You don't have a training problem. No training program I could recommend will address the issues that you raise. The 'fix' to this problem is easy---it's you. You need to change your behavior, you need to change how you conduct reviews, you need to start leveraging the tools you have invested in, and expect the sales people use them as well. Use what you have or lose it!"

This isn't unique to this company, I see it in too many organizations. If management isn't using the tools that have been introduced to the sales people---tools intended to improve productivity and results, why should we expect our people to use them.

Management and executives have the obligation to use and reinforce the tools, training and processes put in place to improve performance. If you don't use them, your people will never use them. It's not their problem, it's management's problem. If you don't integrate the tools, processes, training into the fabric of your business; if you don't make it a part of your daily management process, you are wasting your money and your people's time. You will not get the results you expect.

I feel bad about this opportunity, I hate turning away business. But they already had solutions in place, they just weren't using them. The 'fix' didn't require time or investment, it just required a change in management behavior.
Tomorrow, I will give another example of how easy it is for management to set a tone to drive major changes in results and to get the most out of your investments in tools, training, and processes.

Friday, April 17, 2009

In Times Like This, Our Blemishes Are More Apparent

Yesterday afternoon I ran out for a haircut. I always hate this event, the problem is my ears "kind of" stick out. My dad used to say I looked like a car going down the street with its doors wide open. When my hair gets longer, this "problem" is not as apparent, I even fool myself into thinking there is no problem. The longer hair hides this blemish. I always hate getting a haircut because I'm forced to look in the mirror and see those ears sticking out.

This is what's happening with many organizations struggling in this economy. Down economies, tough times, make it impossible to hide our blemishes. They stand out, not only for us to see, but for everyone else to see----and exploit.

One of the important things for organizations to understand, the blemishes have always been there, they've just been disguised or a little less noticeable in robust times. The inefficiencies, bad strategies, dysfunctional behaviors have probably been there but now we cannot hide them or ignore them.

High performing organizations are always inspecting themselves for blemishes. They are constantly seeking to improve. The mirror that high performance organizations use is their customers,employees, markets, and other stakeholders (in that order).

These are exciting times, not because of the economy, but because it has made our organizational, strategy, and other blemishes visible to all and is forcing us to address them. The trick is that as we recover, we must continue to inspect ourselves, constantly refining what we do and eliminating our blemishes.

I can't do anything about my ears---short of plastic surgery (they do provide some lift when I run fast enough). But the things we have been hiding --- or not recognizing --- are staring us straight in the face. We can't ignore them, we have to do something about them.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Shooting From The Lip, Just In Time Sales Call Planning

I love hanging out with sales people. Most of the sales people I've met are very bright, personable, and very fast on their feet. All of those are characteristics of great sales people. They also represent a critical weakness. They make us sloppy or in the pressure of time, we tend not to prepare, relying on our experience and ability to think on our feet to make sales calls. After all, we've made 100's of calls over our careers and we're successful. We can just shoot from the lip.

Too often, planning for a sales call goes something like this:

  • I'm in an elevator, thinking about the meeting I'm going to. Thank goodness it's a skyscraper in Manhattan---gives me a little more time to plan my call.
  • I'm meeting with Ms. Smith at XYZ company, we've been talking about a deal, I think I'll focus on these things.
  • I might stop by and do a "Howdy call" to a few people while I'm there.
  • I've got a briefcase full of the latest brochures, so I can talk about anything.
  • I know that Angel Cabrera won the Masters in a 3 way playoff on Sunday and that Tiger's putting was really off.
  • In the worst case, we can always talk about how bad the economy.
  • Elevator doors open, I'm ready for anything. I can talk my way out of any objection.
Over the years, I've interviewed thousands of sales people, inevitably, planning for most of the sales calls is pretty much like that. I talk to these same sales people after their call.

Dave: How did the call go?
Sales person: Great, we really bonded, I told them about our new products, gave them some brochures, talked a little about the deal and what they needed.
Dave: Did you accomplish all your objectives?
Sales person: I did pretty well, they really understand our product.
Dave: Did you accomplish all your objectives?
Sales person: I did pretty well. I wanted to learn if they have gotten the budget for the project, they're working on it. I'll call back in a couple of weeks and check again.
Dave: Could you have accomplished more in the call?
Sales person: (Pausing for a moment) Well we really are bonding, I can always call and arrange another meeting to get more information.
Dave: Did you forget to ask them anything?
Sales person: Well now that you mention it, I wanted to find out what they thought about the competitors. But I can always call and ask them again.
Dave: How many weeks did it take to get this meeting?
Sales person: Well Ms. Smith is very busy, it took a couple of weeks to set this meeting.
Dave: So it will take you at least a couple more weeks before you can move to the next step?

And the story can go on. Many of you may think I'm exaggerating, but think about the last 10 meetings you had---not the one's that were the final presentation to close the deal, but the meetings you have to get to that point. Do they look something like this?

In our research, we have found sales people tend to make almost 2 times the number of calls they need to make to close the deal. Lack of good planning, preparation, and poor execution lengthen the sales cycle. They cause us to make more sales calls because we forgot to get critical information, we didn't accomplish all our objectives, we could have accomplished more in the call, we were blindsided by something the customer asked.

In the example above, the failure to accomplish all they could have accomplished---because of lack of planning has caused the sales person to make at least one more call to accomplish what should have been accomplished. It will probably take at least another couple of weeks to arrange the meeting.

It's easy to see--the number of calls that are required increases dramatically. The time it takes to close a deal stretches out. This puts the deal at risk---the competitor may be moving faster, the project may be cancelled, the longer it stretches out, the greater the risk is of losing.

Imagine your own personal productivity. What if you could reduce the number of calls you make by as much as 50%? What is you could reduce the sales cycle by months? How could you use that "new found time?" To sell more? Spend more time with your family?

Before I wrap up, let's look at it from the customer point of view. They've probably had a pleasant meeting with the sales person. They may think not much was accomplished. They may think, the sales person keeps coming back to me for endless meetings.

Customers are busy people. They don't appreciate having their time wasted. One of the reasons sales people have such a difficult time getting meetings with customers is sales people waste the customers' time.

Improve the results you produce. Improve your win rate. Improve your customers' perception of you. Spend some time planning your calls. Write the plan down and use it as a guide during the meeting so you don't forget anything. When you finish the plan, ask yourself "What value am I creating for the customer in this meeting?" If you can't answer that question, you aren't prepared for the call. Cancel the meeting until you can answer that question.

A good friend of mine Dave Stein (ES Research Group) is a great fan of checklists (as a pilot he understands their importance). I am too. I've put together a call planning checklist to help me improve my results with each call. I'd be glad to send you a copy of it, just email me.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Lost Opportunity --- It Takes Courage To Say You've Made A Mistake

Yesterday, I wrote an article about my experience with a Sales 2.0 tool and the lost opportunity the company had in not trying to learn about why I was cancelling my subscription.

My friend,
Jill Konrath, saw the post and knew the company I was speaking of. She went to the CMO to make him aware of what had happened. He immediately recognized the lost opportunity and contacted me--not to try to win my business back but to learn so they could improve the product and experience. He said they were a young company, growing and learning to be better. Next week we have some time set aside to talk about my concerns and what they might do in the future. I am appreciative they are taking the time to listen to me.

However, the point of this post is not to give you a status update, but to comment on the courage it takes to stand up an acknowledge you have made a mistake. Too many times, we ignore it, we try to push the blame somewhere else, or we make excuses.

It takes real courage and character to admit you have made a mistake. We all make mistakes, no one expects us to be perfect. In my experience, while people may be angry for a moment, they most want to fix the issue and move on. Admitting you have made a mistake, taking immediate corrective action and moving forward is a phenomenal way to improve relationships with customers and prospective customers. It demonstrates your authenticity and that you care.

It could have been easy to blow off my complaint. After all, I'm just an opinionated, loud mouth consultant (we all know we are held in close to the same esteem as lawyers). Plus "no one reads that blog."

Kudos to the CMO and to this company for having the courage to recognize the lost opportunity, admit the mistake and give me a chance to express my opinion. We need more leaders and organizations like this. (Also, thanks to Jill for her help!)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Lost Opportunity---Take The Time To Learn From Defecting Customers

I've been experimenting for the past 6 weeks with a Sales 2.0 tool. Today, I decided to cancel the service, I wasn't really getting value from it.

I sent an email into the company asking to cancel the service (I've paid for the full month, so I asked that it be cancelled effective the end of the month). The company's customer service organization sent me a nice note saying my account has been cancelled. Other than the minor irritant of having a couple of weeks that I have paid for down the tubes, the transaction was handled efficiently.

However, the company lost a major opportunity. They could have cancelled the service and asked me why I was cancelling. They could have asked me to take a survey, they could have had someone call me to learn why I was dissatisfied. I would have been delighted to have done any of those.

So what has the company learned about my experience and why I cancelled? Could I have been recovered, perhaps I was doing things wrong and could have been coached on how to get what I done. Perhaps there were some fundamental things about the service that would also impact their potential success or retention of other customers.

Sometimes it isn't comfortable speaking with defecting customers, but it can be one of the most valuable experiences in learning how to improve and grow your business.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Have You Heard The One About The Sales Person Who Recommended A Prospect Buy A Competitor's Product?

There's a great article in today's New York Times, Start-Up Course In Survival. It's a great article, but some of the lessons for sales professional are fantastic.

The article reviews Jive Software's overhaul of it's business and sales efforts to face the new realities brought on by the economy. John McCracken, Jive's new SVP of Sales reinvented their sales processes to improve focus and results.

Previously, the sales people would try to sell to anyone. McCracken put a disciplined process in place, having sales people viciously disqualify customers who didn't fit their sweet spot. "McCracken considered it a waste of time to chase customers who really didn't want Jive."

Salespeople questions and challenged customers on things that didn't make sense. In cases, where Jive's products weren't the right fit, they would recommend other company's products and walk away. Instead of pitching technology, the sales people focused on how the software would save their customers' money and help win deals.

All of this sounds counter intuitive--in this day, when sales people are starved for leads and opportunities, why turn away any opportunity? When you have an opportunity, why not try to find a way to shoehorn your product in? Why would a salesperson ever recommend another company's products?

Clearly, Mr. McCracken recognized the things that drain productivity and profitability from the sales organization and company. Sharply focusing on customers in your sweet spot, viciously disqualifying bad opportunities, focusing on qualified customers that have high urgency and a need to buy, and demonstrating real business value are clearly the secrets to success. These are critical to driving the highest levels of sale performance in all economies.

Jive Software is a great example of high performance. Congratulations to Mr. McCracken and his team.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Designing High Performance Organizations, Designing High Performance Selling Processes

I'm a tremendous fan of Whitney Hess. Whitney calls herself a User Experience Designer. When I look at her stuff, I see principles that apply to successful organizational design and to developing high performance selling processes. Some translation is needed---but really obvious. Whitney gives us important lessons not just for User Experience Design but for creating high performing, aligned organizations.

This is a great presentation on the 10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design. If you are a sales or marketing professional, just do a global replace for User Experience Design With Customer Experience.

Pay attention to Slide 22, in sales and marketing terms, what Whitney has defined is the one of the secrets to establishing a sustainable and differentiated value proposition.

Sometimes All We Want Is Good Customers. Sometimes All Customers Want Is Good Vendors.

With this post, any doubt you may have had about me will be eliminated. You will know that I am schizoid, have multiple personalities, or some other disorder. In the last couple of months, I have written a number of times about establishing rich collaborative relationships and partnering with your customers. In this article, you may perceive me as reversing my position.

I'm reacting to a lot of things I hear sales and marketing people talk about these days. "Partnering" is the "it" word for sales and marketing these days. I've just been watching a marketing campaign and commercials by the CMO of a major corporation, a guy I really respect, announcing some new products. The tag lines focus on "partnering," and "we partner with you, not compete with you." I look at the materials, and they really are a pitch to get me to buy more stuff.

Not being one to pick on just one person, virtually every conversation I have with sales people and managers contains the "p-word." Everyone wants to partner with their customers. They talk about establishing partnerships, yet down deep, all we really want to do is sell more stuff.

Somehow, it seems the "p-word" is better than going to a customer and saying: "I think I understand what you are trying to achieve, your goals, needs and priorities. I think I have a solution that will exceed your requirements and provide you great value. If I can demonstrate our solution produces superior value, I would like you to buy it." I guess that's too sales-y. Somehow, it seems better to say we want to be your partner and to dance strangely around the fact that we just really want them to buy our stuff.

Sometimes---in fact more often than not, all we want to have a great customer-vendor relationship. One in which we provide products/services that solve a customer problem and create great returns for their investment. Sometimes---more often than not, that's all the customer wants. So why don't we just be direct and not complicate what we are trying to achieve with meaningless language, "we want to be your partner." Why don't we focus on providing great customer service, great products, and great buying experiences?

When I speak of establishing deep collaborative relationships/partnerships, I am thinking of relationships in which there is a deeper degree of commitment and interdependency between organizations. Partnerships are tough---70-80% fail. They require deep commitment, strong support at all levels, and lots of work. They can produce tremendous value and returns for each partner. However, no customer can afford to partner with all their vendors. No vendor can afford to partner with every customer. It is simply too expensive, too difficult to manage and does not produce the required returns for each side of the relationship.

Partnering and rich collaboration should be reserved for your most important and strategic suppliers. It should be reserved for the most strategic customers. I believe these relationships are critical to all organizations, but they don't represent the majority of relationships.

Sometimes, all we want is a great supplier, or a great customer. Many of the underpinnings to partnerships also apply to these relationships: creating value, great service, win/win, and many of the other principles.

Sometimes, as a customer, I want to go to people like this CMO, and say, "I don't want to be your partner. I just want to buy good products that meet my needs. Can you demonstrate your products does this better than the others I am considering?" Then I want them to sell to me.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Where You Are Depends On Your Point Of View, A Fragile Sales Ecosystem

I've gotten a number of very positive comments on my post last week: If Your Suppliers Are In Trouble, Then You Are In Bigger Trouble!

I wanted to expand on it, and to see if I could expand the dialog in the community----meaning, Please Send Comments---regardless of where you see this, at my blog site, the Customer Collective, Sales Management 2.0, Top Sales Experts, SalesMarks, or wherever. If you are a blogger, feel free to publish this as a "guest post."

The comments confirm my thoughts in the original post. This is an important issue for all businesses, and sales can take a great leadership position. Within our companies, from the top down, we have great focus on intensifying and deepening our relationships with our customers. The motivation is clear, we want to sell more.

At the same time, the same organizations are putting the screws to their suppliers, tearing up contracts, making very tough--possibly unprofitable demands, and making survival of suppliers difficult. And the sales people for your suppliers are trying to do the same thing as you, they are tyring to establish deeper relationships with your organization.

If we force unrealistic, unprofitable conditions on our suppliers, they can no longer afford to to business with us. We may be left with those that can---and they may not be the best suppliers, you know the old story, "I'd hate to be the astronaut flying in a space vehicle assembled by the lowest price suppliers."

Now that I've teed the issue up, I have some questions:

1. As sales executives/professionals, are your company's actions to it's suppliers impacting your ability to sell and deliver quality products and services?
2. What are you/can you do to change this?
3. As a supplier, are you engaging the sales executives in your customers to help build deeper relationships?
4. Is this helping you achieve mutually beneficial results?

I'd love your feedback and anything you can do to broaden the discussion!