What If We’re Not Important? Part 2


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As I mentioned in the previous, What If We’re Not Important post, it’s always difficult to imagine what we sell and do may not be important.

Don’t get me wrong, what we do is important to someone–after all if we were truly not important, then our companies would be out of business. The issue is are we important enough for the customers to invest in now? We may have great business cases, but regardless how compelling the business case, if we aren’t at the top of the hit parade of our customers’ strategic initiatives, we won’t get the order.

In the last post, I suggested we address this by trying to align ourselves with one of the top 2-3 strategic initiatives. If we can do this and become part of something important to the customer, that’s ideal. However, try as we might, sometimes we just can’t do this. How do we move forward? How do we continue to sell and grow?

While it may seem an unusual strategy, perhaps we can win by making ourselves “unimportant.” Yes, I know, it sounds weird, if they won’t buy because we’re not important, how are we ever going to convince them to buy if we demonstrate that we’re unimportant?

Here’s the thought. There are lots of things that have to get done within organizations to make them work. They may not be important or strategic initiatives, but they have to get done because they can impact the ability to execute strategic initiatives. Executives can’t ignore these things—but they shouldn’t be spending their time on these things—and that’s the “in” we have to exploit.

With due respect to some of my followers who provide Janitorial services or Waste Management services (actually every sales person can learn a lot from these businesses), clean offices and empty trash cans shouldn’t be on our customers’ minds. Clean offices and empty trash cans are unlikely to ever be part of a strategic initiative in a company.

At the same time, it’s important to have clean offices and empty trash cans. Without these, it could impact the ability of people to execute their strategic initiatives. (Remember for the lack of a horseshoe, a kingdom was lost.).

I’m doing the people who sell these services a disservice–their strategies in dealing with this reality are quite sophisticated and successful. Mostly because they don’t let their egos get involved in their self importance.

But for many of us, it’s difficult to put our solutions in the same category–even though our customers already have done that.

The opportunity here is to make it so unimportant to the management team that they just don’t have to worry about it or deal with it. They should be focusing on the execution of their strategic initiatives–not worrying about if the offices are clean and the trash has been dealt with. A very powerful sales strategy is to take the problem off our customers’ already overloaded plates. “You shouldn’t have to worry about this or deal with it, let us take it off your hands so you never have to be concerned.”

Our customers want to and should be focusing only on their strategic initiatives. Unfortunately, there are a lot of other things that may consume their time–making sure the offices are running smoothly, the cash is collected, the machines are operating, the computers are working, we can make copies of documents, payroll goes out, and the list goes on and on and on. If our products and services fit in those categories, our value is “the customer just doesn’t have to worry about it, they don’t have to spend a nanosecond thinking about it, they can spend all their time dealing with the important issues.”

Once we start thinking about things this way, it opens new ways of thinking about our products and services. Some impact our sales strategies, some impact our overall business and solutions strategies. We see so many companies defining what they do based on being “unimportant” to the customer. While the folks at Xerox may quibble with me, document production, copying is really not mission critical for most of us. Xerox and it’s competitors used to sell copiers–but the company still had to worry about it, they had to make sure to order paper and toner. They had to have people capable of dealing with simple problems like jams. It’s not really on the critical path to anything at a company, but it’s something that has to get done. So Xerox and it’s competitors are adopting new strategies–they’re not just selling copiers, they are selling managed print services. They are saying, don’t worry about it, don’t invest any time in thinking about it, don’t train your people on how to fix jams, we’ll manage all of that for you.

Being “unimportant” to our customers opens a whole new range of opportunities for us, new problems to take off our customers’ hands, new things they don’t have to or want to worry about. We can redefine our offerings and services to exploit this–in fact creating powerful relationships and solving important problems — giving management more time to focus on what’s really important. (Isn’t it funny how this works?)

So maybe we should stop pushing ropes uphill. If we can’t be strategically important to our customers, if we can’t be on their critical growth path, perhaps we should focus on being unimportant to our customers. There are more opportunities than we realize to make money by being unimportant.

(By the way, if you are struggling with these issues, call us up. We’ve been working with lot of organizations on strategies to overcome this. We’d be glad to explore these with you.)

Do you really understand how your customers make decisions? Do you know how to map their process, who to call on next, what to talk about–to have most impact? For a free eBook on Understanding Your Customer’s Decision Making Process, email me with your full name and email address, I’ll be glad to send you a copy. Just send the request to: [email protected],

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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