Your sales people own the job of selling today’s products and services to existing and new customers.
As a leader, you own the job of determining what your customers and prospects will want and need going forward. And there’s a classic lesson we can learn from one of hockey’s greats, #99 Wayne Gretzky. The secret to Gretzky’s success is that he was able to see how a play was setting up, and then skate to where the puck was going. I want you to drive top line growth by skating to where your customers are going.
When I present this AHA! Moment in seminars, attendees suggest one of 3 options as the best way to start the play:
1. Conduct a survey. Let me just ask you one question – as a leader, how often are you willing to take your valuable time and fill in a survey from one of your vendors, and how often does it have anything to do with the future? Conventional customer satisfaction surveys based on today’s transactions will not yield the insights you need.
2. Go on a ride along with the sales reps, and try to dig up some new information. The problem with this approach is that the buyer is likely buying the product or service they need today, not looking out into the future in a strategic way.
3. Do a “meet and greet” with a senior executive. In some ways that’s a slight improvement… at least you’re interacting at a more strategic level. But without the right kinds of questions, it becomes nothing more than a time-waster for both sides, with little in the way of real insights generated.
So let me tell you a story. The legendary Sam Palmisano, CEO and Chair of IBM, used to meet with a customer every day. Since Sam retired in 2013, his successor Ginni Rometty has continued the tradition. And you can bet that Sam and Ginni have not been asking customers how many servers they’d be ordering that month. Instead, they’re getting a sense of where the customer is skating to – the big issues that the customer is trying to resolve that just so happen to be a fit for IBM products and services. Palmisano credits that practice with seeing the dead-ending of the IBM PC line long before it happened, and being able to exit that business with a lucrative sale of the division to Lenovo. As we see what’s happened to PC sales since the early 2000s, which company would you rather be? Dell, Lenovo, or HP, still duking it out for a dwindling market share (Sony has recently exited the category, its renowned Viao line now merely a footnote), or IBM, who has reinvented itself as a “big data” resource solving the world’s toughest problems, with the legions of consultants it bought with the proceeds of the Lenovo sale?
Get out there and talk to your customers to find out where they’re skating to. Even though you’re not there to sell, I’ve never failed to see this strategy drive near-term top line revenues, as well as providing you all the information you need to strategically skate in the right direction going forward.
For more information on how to structure the right kind of conversation that’s focused on the customer service instead of “we, we, we” (boy, I’ve seen some doozies of bad interview questions), you might want to pick up a copy of my new book, Profit in Plain Sight, and read the chapter on Value Creation Conversations. It’ll steer you in a value-add direction that serves both you and your customers well.