Are We Creating The Value Our Customers Value?

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Selling is about creating value….

Well, yeah, … but we have differing views of value, which often focuses on us and not the value customers need….

To most sellers, it’s fitting the customer’s budget and winning because we might have a few more features than the alternatives, or are cheaper. The customer is very knowledgeable, they know what they need and want, our goal is to get them to choose us.

To some, it’s creating a business case that meets the customer goals. We may demonstrate the ROI or some other business case, focusing on justifying the purchase of our products/services. Then, hopefully, we make sure the customer realizes that in their implementation.

For a small number, it’s recognizing how customers struggle in their buying process, how frequently they get lost and abandon the project–failing to address the issue they originally sought to solve. Helping the customer successfully navigate this process, making a decision, and achieving their goals.

And for even fewer, it’s inciting the customer to think differently. It’s helping them realize they may be missing something. Or helping them respond to changes (for example the recession). Or helping them recognize a new opportunity. Change is tough, but recognizing the need to change is even more difficult. But this is where some sellers have great impacts, transforming their relationships from vendors to strategic partners.

When we look at it from a customer point of view, there are differences in the value needed.

For very simple decisions, where they have deep knowledge and experience, where they may have bought frequently, where the risk of failure is low, the help they need may be minimal. They can navigate their buying process very easily. In fact, sellers may slow them down. There is an abundance of information, they have a rich experience, they are just focused on the efficiency of the process. And we see data where customers, increasingly, prefer “rep-free” buying experiences.

If I look at our own small business, many of our purchases, particularly of technology, are relatively low impact, risk free. We buy computers and other devices, most of our software , many of our support services with little or no seller involvement. Yes, sometimes, we make mistakes. Recently, we subscribed to a certain software platform. It was a disaster, we were unhappy. We discontinued it, finding a better solution. But we didn’t spend a lot of time on it, because wasn’t a huge impact on us.

There are sellers who want to “create more value,” but we don’t need it. In fact the more they try to create value, the less value they create. They slow us down, take too much of our time.

In some way, I look at this as B2B “retailing.” I value sellers in stores–they answer a few questions I might have, even just, “can you tell me where I find the speaker section?” But I’m not looking for much else.

But when customers are involved in bigger changes. Things they do rarely, things they may not understand well, things where the risk of making an incorrect choice. Some of these involve coordination across different parts of the organization.

The help they need is less about what we sell, but how they successfully do their job manage this project, how they navigate their buying process. They want to know what others have done, where they have run into problems, where they have made mistakes. They want to know what questions they should be asking, what they don’t know but need to know. They may need help in coordinating their own project and helping align everyone on the team. After all, they are inexperienced in this and don’t know what to do or how to do it.

The value they need, is not about our products, but about their problem and process. The way we are most helpful is through teaching them and supporting them on these things.

Sometimes, they may not recognize that need for help. This is, often, a challenge for sellers. We have to, somehow, disrupt their thinking, we have to help them recognize they need may need help. But we can’t do this, if our focus in engaging them, is all about what we sell, not helping them with what they are trying to achieve—we are not creating the value they need. We have to figure different ways to engage them and to help them learn how to ask help.

And, as I’ve discussed earlier, some don’t recognize the need to change, and we have to find ways to incite them to change. We have to engage them in thinking differently, though they may not recognize the need to do this. We have to get them excited about something new. We have to tap into something that captivates them, personally, getting them to think, “What if….”

This post is not one to discuss how we do these things, I’ll cover this in future posts. But it is to help us think around value alignment.

If the value we want to provide is not aligned with the value our customers want/need–we fail our customers and ourselves. And this, I think, is where most organizations struggle and fail.

In essence, there are different “swim lanes,” for the value customers want and need, we have to make sure we are in the right swim lane for the value we want to provide.

This leads us into thinking about our own strategies, being very clear about what we where and how we want to play. There’s no single superior strategy. To a large degree, our products and solutions provide a framework for helping us define our swim lanes, ICP, and value alignment strategies.

We need a much richer perspective of our ICP. Industry, firmographic, demographic, personas within those enterprises is no longer a sufficient definition, and the problems they have that we are the best in the world at solving. We have to expand our thinking of ICP to include behavioral attributes, and value expectation characteristics. In doing this, we have to align all our strategies to align around these. This ranges from our digital engagement strategies, the skills needed to create and deliver the value, the engagement strategies, processes, tools, content we leverage to create that value with customers who need that value.

As an example, the Sony TV division doesn’t pretend to disrupt customers in thinking about new applications of TV technologies. They position themselves for knowledgeable buyers who know they need to buy a TV, their problem is, which brand and which model to purchase.

Likewise, McKinsey, doesn’t position themselves to attract customers who want to buy two sales projects, a marketing project, and an HR project for good luck, entering their orders for these on a website.

They, each, optimize themselves around the markets for their solutions, how their customers buy, the value that’s important to those customers, and how they most impactfully deliver that value.

How are you aligning your value creation strategies around the value your customers need/want?

Afterword: My apologies, this post is even more wandering than my normal wandering posts. As you can see, I’m just starting to rethink these issues of value creation and alignment. I’d love your comments to help flesh out the ideas.

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