During the past few weeks, I have attended a number of events: APPNATION, BEA, Digital-day, FundraisingNYC 2013, MarketplaceLive and many others. The purpose of my program of cross-visitation is simple. I wish to understand how other verticals have adapted to the nearly-universal change in process, procedures, sales and marketing that are running rampant. I am a believer, a true believer, in media convergence. I am also a true believer in vertical convergence, meaning ideas that originate in other related and non-related verticals can cross-pollinate, appear and assist in other verticals.
Here for your review are my three key findings:
1. Technology is not the always the key to additional sales and success. Basic concept yes, but how many within our vertical have looked to technology as the "solution" to a service, skill set or sales issue? Recently, a print salesperson told me he had changed jobs due to a lack of "new" technology. I am a firm believer of new technology but, by the same token, weighing the odds, risk versus rewards, may override any purchase or technological-based expansion. Most of the other verticals I visited have taken the approach to outsource their new technology needs via “like firm” partnerships, JVs and enterprise-linked partners. On a broad scale, Xerox, HP and others in our vertical have adopted this concept; they seem to be offering this type of co-mingled or bundled “enterprise-based program,” as well as business support programs. My observation, not a fact!
2. You may be looking for sales success, but you are really looking for more profit or in some cases any profit. As you all know, profit is a component of a multitude of line items. Other verticals seem to be bundling their line items with external vendors, redrawing the supply chain model, rethinking the supply chain cost model, reducing internal/external costs, combining expenses and establishing a new view of what is cost and what is profit. Why? They see and live in a world of reduced or very carefully allocated expenditures. To stay profitable and, perhaps more importantly, continue to grow their brand, they need to make significant changes in ALL aspects of their business model. This strategy makes a lot of sense.
3. You know what you want, your sales team knows what it wants, and you have defined the production, management and sales team expectations, right? When was the last time you asked your customers, "What are your desired expectations?” Any answer but “just this morning” is the wrong answer.
All of the firms at these events stated that, at the end of their day, their moment of change, their defining business moment was the realization that their desired expectations had or were being met. Many assumed that their customers’ expectations were also being met. Guess again: in nearly ever study they developed, these firms within many verticals discovered that they had a long way to go to achieve a passing grade. Nearly all stated that they are profitable and growing. Could they, and you, grow faster if you just asked the single most important and correct question to your customer:
"What is your desired expectations and are they currently being met?"
A hint...the way and method you ask this key question can affect the answer, as the Romans once said, "cave ne emptor.”
I know of a few print providers that have combined all three findings and are in the black, gaining new business and growing. One print provider even moved to new space based, in part, on following their version of these three findings.
Listening is critical, understanding what you heard is also critical. But asking the correct questions, and understanding the needs of your customer and prospect base on a regular basis are the most critical of all. We live in a world of second-by-second updating of information and data. Why don't you live in a world that updates your clients’ desired customer expectations on a regular timeline?
You may not like what you will hear, but at least you will be advised of any concerns before you discover that your customers have left the building.