Have you ever experienced the frustration and high costs of a failed or less-than-successful product launch?  If you never want the wasted productivity of a failed launch again that’s one more reason to get out from behind your desk and in front of your customers.

Your sales people own the job of selling today’s products and services to existing and new customers.  You own the job of determining what those new and existing customers will buy in the future.

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; it resulted in him holding an unbeatable record for the number of hat tricks.  I want you to increase team productivity across your entire organization and drive top line growth by skating to where your customers are going instead of skating all over the ice.

When I present this AHA!  Moment in seminars and ask attendees how they’ll implement it, they usually suggest one of 3 flawed 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.  They steal productivity from your customers; they fail to deliver the insights to increase your efficiency at new product development.  They’re completely ineffective for this purpose.
  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.  This has to be one of the most unproductive uses of time ever.
  3. Do a “meet and greet” with a senior executive.  In some ways that’s a slight improvement… At least you’re interacting on a more strategic level.  However, without the right kinds of questions it becomes nothing more than a time-waster for both sides, generating few real insights.

Here’s the option that will increase team productivity:

The legendary Sam Palmisano, retired CEO and Chair of IBM, used to meet with a customer every day.  His successor Ginni Rometty has continued the tradition.  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 which also happen to be a fit for yet-to-be-developed IBM products and services.  They go beyond the sales call to increase their own productivity and they respect their customers by taking the time to get inside their heads. By doing this, they get to understand their longer-term challenges and issues, and cut to the chase by identifying value drivers so that they can continuously skate to where their customers are going.

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’ve seen with what happened to PC sales since the early 2000s, which company would you rather be?  Dell, Lenovo, or HP, who are still duking it out for a dwindling market share (Sony recently exited the category and its renowned Vaio line is 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 from the Lenovo sale?

Think about this from a productivity angle – by regularly investing a little bit of time to help steer a massive ship away from the time-suck of a dying business model, you will be heading towards a brighter future. This is where the product and service development time, effort, and money invested is relatively guaranteed to pay off, as long as you keep your finger on the pulse of changing customer needs.

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 and it provides you with all the information that 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 instead of “we, we, we” (boy, I’ve seen some doozies of bad interview questions), book a complimentary appointment with me and I’ll share the 7 categories of value drivers you need to ensure you are included in every conversation.