Can You Hear Me Now? – Aligning Your Organization to Serve the Customer
No doubt we all remember this slogan. Used by Verizon to highlight the importance of having reliable coverage on your cell phone, it’s now being used as part of a direct response to Verizon by Sprint. The issue at hand is still one focused on our ever-increasing need to be connected.
For me, this phrase highlights a different issue for companies across all markets. The proliferation of information on the internet is creating “noise” that is making it increasingly difficult for businesses to get their messages to their target audience in ways that illustrate value and differentiation from competitors. “Can you hear me now?” is the cry of many organizations fighting to rise above the noise and be heard by prospects and existing customers.
Armed with (or even over-loaded) with the tremendous amount of information available on the internet and social media, buyers – whether businesses or individual consumers, are prone to move through their decision-making process to a solution vision that is creating commoditization in the minds of buyers in virtually every market.
The Impact of Information Overload
Information overload, a concept dating back as far as the 19th century and made popular by Alvin Toffler in his bestselling book, Future Shock, has become a reality in today’s world that exceeds anything Toffler and others could imagine at the time. Consider this statement, from Bertram Gross in his book, The Managing of Organizations:
“Information overload occurs when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity. Decision makers have fairly limited cognitive processing capacity. Consequently, when information overload occurs, it is likely that a reduction in decision quality will occur.”
This is not to say that information, as part of the decision-making process is not important. The issue is the overabundance of information and the resulting inability for all of us, when making decisions, to sort through and stay focused on information that is truly relevant and helpful to the process. To make matters worse, most companies don’t do a respectable job of explaining what they do in a way that differentiates them in the mind of the buyer.
Try this exercise:
- Look at your website (and/or marketing collateral) as though you were an interested prospect. Try to imagine you don’t know all that you know about your company and your products/services.
- What is your message? Is it compelling? Is it clear? How does it separate you from your competitors?
- Now, look at the websites of your competitors.
- Imagine swapping out the names – put their name on your website or collateral and put your name on theirs
- Would they remain largely the same?
For many companies, the point of interaction with a prospective customer comes very late in the decision-making process, at a point where the buyer has already determined the best way to address their issue; whatever it is they seek to fix, accomplish or avoid. At this point, the focus often shifts to price, significantly hampering the selling organization’s ability to present value or differentiate themselves from the competition. So, what’s a sales person to do? The natural tendency is, of course, to offer concessions and discounts, further diminishing the value of their solution and eroding margins.
This issue is particularly true in B2B sales. This trend, combined with other trends that continue to put distance between the buyer and seller during the early phases of the buying cycle (RFPs, increased power and influence of procurement, etc.), represents a power-shift that handcuffs the business buyer, driving decisions to be increasingly based on price vs. value. And, while companies may see this as great benefit (controlling costs), the reality is it often results in decisions that do not afford the greatest value to the purchasing organization. RFPs are lacking in that they are based on what the buying organization has already learned; what they think they know about the best alternatives.
The trouble is, prospects don’t know what they don’t know. And this makes it difficult, if not impossible, for responsible solution providers to have a dialogue with key decision makers and other important buying Influencers who will be most impacted by the final decision; a dialogue that will help uncover ways in which providers could add value to the buyer’s existing vision and deliver a superior alternative. This boxes everyone into a “bake off” process that often results in a less favorable solution, based on lack of critical information and/or pure price sensitivity.
Enabling the Customer Journey
While the most obvious challenges appear to be shouldered by marketing and sales, the challenge is usually more of an organization-wide problem in terms of overall customer experience (CX) and the customer journey itself. Failure points at any touchpoint along the customer journey can impact your entire revenue ecosystem.
Consider this: According to a study by New Voice Media, US brands alone suffered losses of $41 Billion in 2014 due to poor Customer Experience. Add to this that the White House Office of Consumer Affairs reports new customer acquisition costs, relative to retaining existing customers, is now as much as 6-7X (the impact of the tougher sales environment mentioned above), and the broader impact on revenue and profitability becomes staggering.
Customer attrition significantly reduces the average lifetime value of a customer, cutting into revenues and margins. Just as importantly, it puts increasing pressure on new customer acquisition at a much higher cost. To make matters worse – focusing again on the ubiquitousness of information available on the internet – the resulting brand erosion creates further barriers for sales to acquire new customers (google “worst customer service 2016”).
There are many things you can do to address these complex issues. However it is not a simple shift in marketing, or a matter of training sales people. Thriving in today’s increasingly competitive business environment requires a serious review of the entire organization and how/if you are truly focused on your customers. Beginning with marketing, continuing through the sales cycle and the entire customer journey; legal, fulfillment, accounting, customer support, companies must create a consistent, customer-focused approach that highlights and reinforces their unique strengths. Now, more than ever, every employee in the organization needs to understand the importance of the customer and how his/her job helps deliver value.
It’s time to stop talking about being customer-focused. Indeed, it’s time to consider what this really means – across the organization, and take action to ensure it’s true. Those who are successfuly pursuing this goal; maintaining a relentless focus on the customer, will thrive in coming years. They will find ways to rise above the noise, demonstrate value, create customer and employee loyalty, and outperform their competitors. Those who do not, or who simply “talk the talk”, will continue to decline.
To quote Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, “Customer service shouldn’t just be a department; it should be the entire company.”