We see it on most websites. Companies are customer-centric, customer-focused, and the narrative states that customer relationships are key. There’s a reason they call it a CRM system! However, do the leadership teams really deliver on their website promises? Last year the WSJ ran an article about the WSJ’s Management top 250, a ranking compiled by the Drucker Institute covering the most effectively run major U.S. companies. The top 7 were examined in more detail to determine a killer DNA – one thing that made them special relative to others. The answer was customer satisfaction.

Does this achievement happen by chance? I don’t think so.

At 3M, a scientist embedded in a hospital noticed that nurses frequently removed bandages to inspect wounds. That observation led to an obvious new product – transparent medical dressings. How are your products, machines, software, and services actually used and executed by your customers? Really understanding your customers, and building deep relationships with them are clearly key. However, we see one simple flaw in approach over and over again – the belief that a salesman’s job is to sell products! A salesman’s job is not to sell products. A salesman’s job is to improve the performance of their customer. This allows leadership teams who are armed with that mindset, to adopt a comprehensive set of policies that will drive relevant product road maps, more engaged employees, stronger financial performance and of course to sell more relevant products to more relevant customers.

The following examples will help you review your current policies to see where you fall short in your journey to deliver a customer-centric business:

  1. Marketing Communications – overall messaging needs to talk the language of improvement. Customers need to understand almost immediately as they read your “branding, about us, big-picture story” – why does this improve my company’s performance. Don’t make the customer work to understand how your business, your super power transforms her world. This communication needs to address various levels. Let’s say you are selling automation technology to transform the performance of a production line. There will be a C-Suite messaging level that encapsulates improvements that are possible at the factory level and global supply chain levels. There will be sector messaging level for say the automotive sector leaders who see compelling value in your products for them. At the product level, the messaging will talk to mid-level managers, translating your features into compelling competitive value propositions to improve their world. Messaging sets up all your customer-centric policies for success. All of this messaging work needs to be built into all collateral including sales decks, trade show banners, brochures, and website copy.
  2. Sales Training – it starts with how you onboard new team members.
    1. Teach deep product knowledge
    2. Teach how you improve the performance of your key customers in each sector
    3. Teach a sales process that priorities diagnostic questions to understand your customer’s problems and why your products are competitively the best to solve those problems
    4. Teach how to use your CRM system to improve their sales performance.
  3. Sales Process – To understand your customers better, to build trust, to move people requires leadership skills. The best sales process I’ve discovered in the last 20 years that achieves that is Jeff Thull’s Diagnostic selling model. It works. Like all great processes, it pushes the most important driver to the top of the agenda. How will you improve the performance of the prospect in front of you? It doesn’t matter whether it’s an inbound, positive lead from a trade show or a long shot but well researched cold idea. You need to be clear on the delta, the difference you can make to that company’s performance and the little secret they don’t teach you at business school, you need to articulate how you will improve the person’s performance in front of you. Sales professionals are in the career-building business.
  4. Voice of Customer – it’s called many things but it is vital that your CRM systems allow all customer-facing staff, sales, marketing, engineers, customer support, field service professionals to trap their customer interactions in a standardized format. This allows knowledge to be built over time and insights into your customer to be shared with the whole team. Classically we create around 30 key questions worth answering over time from perceptions of our competitors to product improvement ideas. These are created in your CRM system and answers can be populated in real-time. It has to be easy to trap thoughts so plenty of free text fields are required.
  5. Customer Support – Assuming you’re servicing a global audience, the system needs to 24/7 responsive. Support desks need to have customer details at their fingertips. Escalation policies need to be in place to allow speedy resolution of specific types of problems whether size or complexity driven. Promises made in service contracts need to be clear and executed. Metrics need to be measured that demonstrate continual improvement.
  6. Customer training – Comprehensive training should be available in person at your facilities or your customers’ facilities and online. Video training should be available on all aspects of using your product. Training is often a missed opportunity to discover the real issues on the ground facing your customer and to gain competitive information in an open environment.
  7. User groups – The opportunity to learn from each other in a community setting is invaluable. This can be structured to be an internal group for Company X or a multi-user community involving many companies from around the globe that use your products and services. These can lead to mini-workshops or events to promote knowledge and insight.
  8. Strategy customer workshops – As deep relationships are formed across an organization at multiple levels from the C-Suite to the shop floor, leaders should consider organizing strategy workshops. These can be a great opportunity to share thoughts on the future state of the customer’s business and how together we can form a partnership model for both parties mutual benefit. Assuming NDAs are in place, it’s possible to share product road map ideas to review potential alignment. These types of discussions will validate your assumptions on your Global Engagement Strategy with that customer.
  9. Big Picture ideas – Finally it is so important to review every department’s priorities (especially during the budget process season) and ensure they are aligned with a customer-centric approach. Companies spend millions on systems and processes to create stronger and bigger departments but do the customers notice? Always be asking the fundamental question of all departmental managers whether in finance, engineering, production, marketing, HR, sales etc – are these proposed investments going to improve the customer experience and improve the customer performance? If the answer is no, then let’s be very careful that it’s an investment worth doing. Not every investment can benefit the customer directly but it’s a great filter to prioritize expenditure.

I hope these ideas help you consider your own approach to creating a customer-centric organization.