“Voice Of The Customer” Increases Profits…Lesson From A Christmas Ham

“Voice of the Customer” Increases Profits…Lesson from a Christmas Ham

 

 

 

There is strong power market leaders leverage in understanding the current voice of the customer and voice of the market. As markets change the key buying criteria may change and or change its priority in the buying decision making process. In this post I will share how understanding the voice of your customer and market will help your team better understand and prioritize key buying criteria and how this will result in increased sales and profits.

 

I heard a fun story a few years ago. It seems this couple recently got married, bought a home and wanted to have everyone over for Christmas dinner at their new place. So they went out and bought a huge ham and all the fixings.

The guests arrived and everyone was seated around the dining room table for the holiday feast. Much to the husband’s surprise the wife brought out two Christmas hams, or to be more specific she had cut the ham they bought in half. As the dinner went on the husband had to ask: honey, why did you cut the ham in half then cook it? She quickly replied well that’s how my mom always cooked it, Her mother chimed in, yes and that’s how grandma always cooked it. Grandma smiled and said: I had to cut the ham in half because our oven was so small, but with that huge oven of yours there is no need…

 

When I work with teams it is not unusual to find “Christmas hams” being cut in half when they no longer need to be.

 

Does your team clearly understand the buying criteria your buyers must have today to make a buying decision?

 

Of the criteria buyers are asking for, do you know the most import to least important?

 

Sales teams often make the mistake of assuming they know, based on how buyers have always bought.

 

If that is the case in your company, one of two things is happening;

 

  • Sales leads with a dated value proposition and the buyer does not buy

 

  • The buyer buys and the rest of the team scrambles to execute on something that is no longer a key criteria costing your team frustration and margins.

 

I was asked by a private equity group to help one of the companies in their portfolio struggling with both sales and profitability.

The first step in my business development process is establishing market truth. So I joined this companies’ salespeople on four legged sales calls with key customers. For the most part I was pleased the customers were happy with the products’ performance and (being the new guy) I asked a lot of questions.

 

One common sales approach all their salespeople were using was promising two week delivery. In this market the competitors typically delivered orders in 8-10 weeks but the company I was helping was offering two weeks. So I had to ask the buyers:

 

When you decide what vendor to order from, how do you make that decision? Or put another way…what is important when you pick a supplier?

 

I heard things like;

 

Quality Products

Good service

Do what they say they will do

Ship products on time

Reports from our engineers the product solved the problems I bought it for

Competitive price

Service after the sale

Warrantee policy

Payment terms

 

So I asked: if you had to rank the top three, how would that look?

 

 

#1 Reports from our engineers the product solved the problems I bought it for

 

#2 Do what they say they will do, I trust them

 

#3 Ship products on time so we can meet our commitments on time

 

What I kept hearing was: “ship on time” but not ship in two weeks.

 

So being the new guy in the room I had to ask:

 

How important is it that we ship our products in two weeks?

 

The buyers all consistently replied that it used to be really important 8-10 years ago when they lacked the buying planning systems that they have today. “Back then we were kind of ordering blind based on the past, however today our systems give us buyers a look into what production plans in the future and we order appropriately.”

 

How far out of a view are you able to see?

 

I can see as far into the future as I want, but I typically look 4-6 weeks out.

 

So if we shipped you product in 4-5 weeks you would be happy?

 

Yes, as long as it shipped and arrived on time.

 

We learned other things like new products our competitors were about to launch, problems our competitors were having with one particular product line and so on. We learned the warehouse employees at a number of the OEM accounts did not like the pallets we were shipping on because they did not fit on the common rack designs.

 

After spending over 30 days on the road in front of customers we gathered how buyers were buying today and what they needed to buy today. We gathered very useful information calling on prospects about how they buy, the steps they go though and where and how they search. For example they shared the key words they used when searching for solutions like ours and none of them were on our web site.

 

I presented the findings of our (VoC) work to the private equity firm and the management team.

 

I had to ask: In each of the calls I went on, sales was promising two weeks delivery, but none of the customers were requiring that anymore? When did that start?

 

The previous owner identified our ability to ship quickly as how we could win business from the competitors and that is how we have done things for the last 12 years…. (a Christmas ham , cut in half!)

 

As you can image, operations and quality were thrilled to hear buyers no longer needed two-week delivery.

 

To execute two-week delivery this company had a large amount of inventory and whip in hand since most of their vendors for the electrical components required 6 weeks and the glass vendors were 8-10 weeks.

 

As we kept peeling this onion we discovered;

 

  • Over 40 % of orders required overtime at time and a half assembly labor
  • To meet two weeks we were expediting component parts from New Jersey and paying overnight freight charges
  • To make our deliveries in two weeks as promised we were paying for overnight delivery more often than anyone realized
  • Because we worked people overtime we saw a direct correlation to an increase in quality rejects during pre-shipment testing when our assembly workers worked overtime
  • Since we had to order and store the glass components, they were often damaged and thrown away from moving them around the plant
  • We had to buy a truckload of the pallets we were using and we paid a premium for them. It seems the original owner designed this unique configuration to maximize the number of master cartons we could ship per skid and then designed our bin rack system to accommodate them
  • We occupied a large warehouse with expensive rent based on our perceived need for so much inventory, and proximity to the previous owners home

 

As a team we ranked what our buyers valued most today, and we created a number of projects to better serve our customers while reducing costs (and often frustrations)

 

Over 12 months our quality failure occurrences dropped to almost zero and our on time vendor sore cards improved significantly at our two largest accounts. We moved to a much smaller warehouse and we started using standard pallets that fit our customers’ racks. Standard pallets were a much lower cost and we bought them just in time not tying up cash in slow moving pallet inventory. The result of our voice of the market work was sales increased by 125%, but profits increased over 20%.

 

When was the last time you captured the voice of your customers?

 

Could your team be cutting a Christmas ham in half for no reason today?

 

How would your buyers rank their buying criteria? Do you know?

 

Could your team be jumping through flaming hoops customers no longer value?

 

How excited would your owners and investors be to realize a 20% profit increase?

 

Capturing and leveraging the voice of your customer helps your team understand what is important to your buyers, how they buy, what they need to buy and how they shop…TODAY.

 

Sales teams that “assume” buyers are still buying like they have for 10-15-20 years are losing sales they could have won, and or losing margins they could have enjoyed.

 

Market leaders leverage voice of customer to increase sales and profits.

 

Why not understand the voice of your customers today and leverage that information to increase sales and profits?

 

I guess you can “assume” your team knows, but you know what they say assuming makes you and me…

 

 

 

 

 

Increase Sales: Key Buying Seasons Surface In “Voice Of Market” Work

Increase Sales: Key Buying Seasons Surface in “Voice of Market” Work

Market leading organizations understand the power in understanding the voice of their customers and markets. In my last post I shared how voice of the market work helps identify key buying triggers. Understanding how your buyers buy, the journey they take today to a purchase and the criteria they must have to buy is critical to growing your sales profitably. In this post I will share how Voice of your Market work identifies key buying seasons for specific products.

 

I was hired to grow the sales for Gardner Denver in the rust belt region. Gardner Denver is one of the leading manufacturers of industrial air compressors and accessories in the world. Industrial air compressors support manufacturing plants by supplying compressed air to power machines and tools used in the manufacturing process.

 

The first step in my business development process was to meet with as many end customers as I could on four legged sales calls with my dealer distributor salespeople. While the salespeople asked questions about upcoming changes that may require new or additional air compressors, I asked opened ended question and listened for unresolved market problems and buying trigger events.

 

Working with one of my larger dealers: Atlas Machine and Supply we identified a common problem end users have every year from May through August: Moisture in their air. Industrial air compressors compress ambient air and one of the by products of this process is water. Buyers purchase air dryers to remove moisture before it has a chance to damage machines and tools. What buyers shared was during the summer months in the Midwest they experience humidity and it often taxes their compressed air dryers and it is often a challenge to find new dryers when one of their dryers fail.

 

We developed a proactive business development plan based on this common seasonal problem our buyers were experiencing. Our dealer produced a postcard mailer that was sent to all their current accounts as well as targeted new accounts they have always wanted to serve. It was a simple message asking if they would like a free audit for moisture to insure their plant does not have any manufacturing problems when the high humid months hit. We conducted a sales training meeting and trained the distributor sales team how to execute the sales process.

 

Our distributor sales team followed up with each account within seven days of the mailer and scheduled audits to insure their customers and prospects they always wanted to serve would not experience any service interruptions in the humid summer months.

 

Our compressed air dryer sales more than doubled compared to the same months the prior year and new compressor sales increased. Since our dealer sales were contacting buyers about a common seasonal problem and offering to solve that problem, buyers trusted the sales and service people. They demonstrated they knew the industry and common unresolved seasonal problems. The sales and service team was not focused on “selling” but “serving” the market. While conducting audits proactively, our maintenance mangers and plant mangers openly shared other issues they were concerned about. These “other issues” resulted in new incremental compressor sales, service revenue and aftermarket sales increases.

 

Do your end customers have buying seasons for specific products and services?

 

Who on your team is responsible for helping dealer distributors grow their sales?

 

Does your sales team proactively reach out to buyers to address seasonal buying trigger events?

 

Would your team like to double your product sales in key buying seasons?

 

As we approach a new year, there is nothing more strategic than understanding your buyers, how they buy and the criteria they need to buy TODAY. “Today” is the key word. Think about all the changes we have seen over the years in how buyers buy. If you have not adjusted your repeatable sales process in the last 12 months or created new sales tools …I promise you have a broken sales process and you are losing orders you should have won.

The voice of the customer, voice of the market work becomes the foundation of your sales, marketing and business development strategic plans.

If you don’t have an understanding how how buyers buy and what they need to buy today…How do you plan to hit your sales numbers next year?

 

 

 

Voice Of The Market Identifies Key Buying Triggers

Voice of the Market Identifies Key Buying Triggers

 

 

Companies who understand the power in the voice of their markets today realize greater and more profitable sales growth. Understanding your market, buyers, and how they buy and what they need to buy is critical to hitting your sales numbers today. One outcome of understanding the voice of your customers and markets is identifying sales trigger events.

 

What triggers one of the buyers in your market to begin the buying journey?

 

The answer to that question becomes a key consideration when developing your business development plan to hit your sales numbers.

 

In a past post I shared the work I did in the accessible van market with VMI. We sold lowered floor mini vans that were adapted so consumers in wheelchairs could drive and or ride in comfort. I launched VMI’s first retail mobility dealership Arizona Mobility Products.

 

Our team spent a great deal of our time out conducting vehicle demonstrations at consumer’s homes and our sales grew quickly. We were constantly asking questions to better understand our customers, how they shop and what triggered them to make a new purchase.

 

Consumers in wheelchairs must have a vehicle they trust and is reliable. You might say: well Mark I need that too. The difference is if our vehicle dies on the road somewhere we can call a tow truck and they will tow our vehicle and give us a ride to a service garage. Tow trucks are not equipped to accommodate a consumer in a wheelchair. Should their vehicle experience a malfunction, they are left at the point where the vehicle failed until they make alternative arrangements to be transported. Reliability is an even higher buying criteria for consumers in wheelchairs. Based on this we should not have been so surprised as we were when we kept hearing how consumers with accessible lowered floor mini vans often start shopping for a new van within three months of their vehicle warrantee expiring. When we surveyed our customers this came out loud and clear in almost every interview.

 

Our team sorted our customer database based on when vehicles were purchased and each month proactively contacted customers whose vehicle was about to lose its warrantee. We established a four-touch campaign.

 

-The first touch was a simple letter notifying them their vehicle warrantee was about to expire, share any current promotions, remind them we sold extended warrantees and suggested we quote the trade in value of their current vehicle.

 

-The second touch was a phone call, ideally from the salesperson that sold them the vehicle reminding them as a service their warrantee was about to expire.

 

-The third touch shared specific dealer incentives, rebates and once again mentioned their warrantee was about to expire.

 

-The last touch was a request for us to book an appointment to have their vehicle inspected by one of our certified service experts at no charge.

 

Identifying this buying trigger and developing a strategic series of communications, a GPS to new sales for our salespeople, helped us increase sales and build customer loyalty. As a side benefit it also provided our dealership with a supply of used vehicles that were in huge demand in this community.

 

What triggers your buyers to start the buying journey?

 

Does someone on your team Know?

 

How has your team used this information?

 

What could your team do to serve buyers who triggered the need to buy?

 

What is your team doing to make lifetime customers for your products?

 

Understanding the voice of your customers and market has many benefits. One benefit is to intimately understand what triggers your buyers to shop, to search for a new purchase. Taking the time to understand your buyers, why they buy and what they need to buy is critical to consistently hitting your sales numbers.

 

 

Who Owns the Voice of Your Market and Voice of Your Customer? ..Hint (not sales!)

 

In my last few posts I have been sharing the power of capturing the voice of your customers and voice of your markets. Understanding how your buyers buy today, the journey they take and the criteria they must have is the quickest way to increasing sales. Who should own the voice of the market and customer? The answer may surprise you: Not Sales! In this post I will share who should own the voice of the customer and share a short video on the impact this information will have.

Who owns the voice of the market, voice of the customer in your company?

Before we unpack this topic we need to understand the differences between the voice of the customer (VoC) and the voice of the market (VoM).

Voice of the Customer

“Voice of the Customer (VoC) is a marketing research technique that encompasses the collective insights of your customers’ needs, wants, perceptions, preferences and expectations.”

Iperceptions

 

Voice of Market

Voice of the Market (VOM) is different in that it incorporates input from the greater market. The market contains not only your customers, but also those who chose not to buy your solution – those who bought someone else’s product and those who just didn’t make a decision.”

On Product Management 

 

 

Capturing the voice of your customer (VOC) is critical to providing your customers the best overall buying experience and growing sales profitably. I also use the voice of the customer to help me understand how customers describe the problems my clients solve in similar markets. The Voice of the market is even more powerful because it not only captures your customer, but it also captures prospects in your market you want to serve as well as customers you once sold. The voice of the Market ( VOM) helps you scale your solutions to unresolved market problems to new customers in the markets you serve.

 

Who owns the voice of the market and customer?

 

Marketing!

 

Why?

 

A few reasons I have experienced over the years:

 

First, you want sales selling. I don’t mean to sound trite but this is about focus. You want your sales resources selling and not conducting market research. You do not want them doing any behaviors that do not align with their specific objectives and hitting their sales numbers. They need to be driving to serve their customers and solve their unresolved problems.

 

“Diluted Sales focus causes diluted sales results.”

– Mark Allen Roberts

 

Second, you want unfiltered feedback from your customers and markets. What if the reason why buyers don’t buy is the most common reason: the buyer-felt sales did not adequately understand the problem to be solved so they did not trust their proposal to fix the problem. Will sales tell you that? Maybe but it would be a difficult thing to share. For example, what if “the why “your customers do not buy more is they were unaware of the new products you introduced over a year ago?

 

Third, your customers have a relationship with your salesperson. It would be very difficult and uncomfortable for them to share concerns directly with the salesperson that calls on them. However your customers will share feedback if asked correctly to give them a better overall buying experience.

 

Forth, your salespeople are trained to sell. Great right? Not when it comes to understanding your buyers and how they buy. Your sales people may hear something then start selling instead of actively listening and capturing the entire thought. The quickest way to shut down a good voice of customer, voice of market conversation is to try to sell through objections the buyers shares.

 

Marketing owns the voice of the market and voice of the customer.

 

If you are like a number of companies you may not have marketing team members experienced conducting interviews. If that is the case I highly recommend you hire a 3rd party to interview your customers and markets. This is by far the best method of gathering what your buyers need and how they buy today. The outside 3rd party will interview your customers, customers you lost, and prospects you always wanted to be customers. Another approach would be to have a senior member of the leadership team conduct these interviews. As VP of sales and marketing I would often conduct this research.

 

The only companies you  should never interview are new companies who are currently at some stage of the sales process. You do not want anything to interrupt the flow of the sale through the funnel. I have seen companies inexperienced with this process call prospects they are quoting in an effort to help close the sale faster and lose the sale entirely.

 

Make sure when working with a 3rd party you are clear about the deliverables.

 

Possible market work deliverables include:

  • Present raw data
  • Map buying journey
  • Identify buyer personas
  • Prepare a summary report / Identify shifts and trends
  • Prepare a summary report and recommendations based on the raw data

 

When I conduct customer and market voice research I present a summary report and recommendations for a specific project fee based on the number of people interviewed, the time to accomplish the project, and how the customers and markets are interviewed. Some clients ask I personally meet with 2-5 of their customers so the cost is higher than a phone interview due to travel expenses.

 

I feel I need to warn you at this point: In this capturing voice process you will hear a number of great things, things that will make you proud of your team. You will probably also hear things your customers believe to be true (their perceptions) that may or many not be true. Keep in mind your customer’s perception is their reality and that is what you must use in your strategic adjustments.

 

After the market work your team will be nervous. Sales, marketing, operations and even quality will be nervous about what your customers and markets share. As the leader in the organization you must set the stage for this exercise. When I work with teams I have four meetings:

 

  • Project launch meeting with senior management team – I share what we will be doing, how we will do it, who we need to speak with and what some outcomes may be. I emphasize this is not a witch-hunt, but an opportunity to learn how to make strategic adjustments that insures we all hit our numbers. This meeting is about education and expectations

 

  • CEO/President/VP of marketing/VP of sales – In this meeting I share my summary report and some specific customer interviews with raw data and recommendations, adjustments to sales process and needed new sales tools. This meeting is about understanding opportunities not finding a throat to choke. We decide what we will share with team and in what depth.

 

  • Senior leadership team – present summary of finds and recommendations without specific customer interviews. I ask the CEO and other leaders to prioritize the action items and commit to investment if required in this meeting. This meeting is about gaining team understanding and commitment tied to outcomes and shaping a plan to meet what buyers need today.

 

  • Sales VP, Marketing VP, sales and marketing teams– present findings and design a new sales process and list new sales tools needed. Conduct 3-4 sales trainings over 6-8 months and provide coaching as needed. This first meeting is about applying the work your team has committed to do and reinforcing new behaviors. This is a great team building exercise to tear down any silos that have developed over the years. Following trainings are to reinforce new behaviors and coach team members through any difficulties they are experiencing.

 

The number and severity of the adjustments needed will depend upon the market and customer feedback as well as the senior management team’s prioritization; most teams learn a few opportunities, misperceptions of customers and make 2-5 strategic adjustments and add new sales tools. It is not unusual teams create a project roadmap with phase gates to tackle findings. You can have a senior manager lead the project internally or I have been hired to hold team members accountable to their assigned deliverables.

 

Once your team understands the voice of your market and voice of your customers you have the foundation for a strong plan to hit your sales and profit numbers.

 

Does your team understand the voice of the customer?

 

Does your team clearly understand the voice of your market (s)?

 

Who owns the voice of the customer and market in your organization?

 

When was the last time you gathered this information?

 

Are you sure your brand is in sync with your customer expectations?

 

How often do you feel you need to gather this information?

 

Market leading organizations achieve their sales and profit goals on a consistent basis.

They accomplish this by spending time understanding how buyers buy, what they need to buy, and why they don’t buy.

 

They take current market data and adjust their plans to better serve their current buyers and markets.

 

Would your team like to realize a 10X sales increase over the next 6 -8 years, and or a $38 million sales increase in 18 months like the companies I have shared recently? If so, it involves capturing the voice of your customers and voice of your markets which is a key part of the no smoke and mirrors process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leverage Customer Voice Into “Explosive Sales Growth”

Leverage Customer Voice into “Explosive Sales Growth”

Understanding your customers and markets today is the first step in business development plans that result in explosive sales growth. In my last post I shared an example of one company that took the time to understand their market and doubled their sales in 18 months. In this post I will share the same process and how critical it is to understand who your real customer is.

 

After the plastics company in the last post was sold to a private equity firm for a multiple much higher than industry averages I needed to find a new team to serve.

 

A company contacted me: Vantage Mobility. This company manufactures vans with the floors lowered so consumers in wheelchairs can drive again. This was one of my favorite jobs because we were changing lives with each sale.

 

When I met with their owners I heard common pains they wanted solved:

  • Increased distribution
  • Increase sales
  • Increase market share
  • Improve bottom line

After joining the team as the VP of Sales and Marketing I set out to use the same process that helped Alpha Enterprises realize explosive sales growth:

 

Go out into the market and meet customers

Listen for problems that needed solved

Understand how they buy today

What they need to buy today

Then shape a sales process that mirrors what we learned, train and coach sales team on how to use it

 

The leadership team said their customers were independent mobility dealers who bought their vehicles then sold then to consumers in wheel chairs. What I heard was: mobility dealers were their channel distribution partners but the customers are consumers in wheelchairs. This led to some …lets say lively discussions with the new guy “who obviously did not understand the dealer is the customer because they send us checks!”

 

My first objective was to add distribution in markets we were not adequately represented. I conducted a number of four-legged sales calls with my regional sales managers calling on our independent dealer distributors and the dealers we wanted to add. While my regional managers were focused on hitting their sales numbers (as they should) I asked open ended questions to learn more about their business, how they buy, what the buy and why today. They openly shared why they bought from the 800 lb gorilla competitor: Braun. Braun pretty much invented this industry. Their founder, set out to solve a problem: help consumers in wheel chairs drive again. Because he was in a wheelchair himself, he intimately understood the needs of consumers in wheelchairs.

One of the questions I always use that produce great feedback is:

 

What does our competitor do really well?

 

This will produce items that are important to your buyers and key criteria they consider when pick a vendor. What buyers often expect is a competing salesperson talking about how the competitor sucks. (We had a few regional managers who used this approach and that was quickly changed). What salespeople must understand is when you use the approach of “the competition sucks” you are basically telling the buyer there are a fool for the buying decisions they make and really do not know how to do their job. Once this occurs the opportunity to build a relationship with the buyer is over. Once this occurs the opportunity to learn what is important to the buyer and how they buy is over.

 

Another question I always use is:

 

If you were the president of our company, what would you do?

 

In this case you are doing the opposite of challenging the buyers past purchase decisions. You are basically saying…you have been in this business for a while, you are smart, I respect you and I really would like to hear your thoughts because I believe they will help me…

 

After about three months we gathered all the information, grouped it and we prioritized it and offered what we heard the independent dealers wanted and needed. We trained our regional mangers how to present our offerings. I worked in the field with our salespeople making sure they adapted to this new behavior and coached them when they struggled. Our number of distributors increased. This led to increased sales and an improved bottom line.

 

However to solve the companies next three pain points we really needed to understand the true customers: consumers in wheelchairs. (In tech markets we refer to them as end users)

 

  • Increase sales
  • Increase market share
  • Improve bottom line

 

I continued the four-legged sales calls with our regional managers and coaching but changed my focus. Every mobility dealer sold accessible vans. They also provided amazing service for those vehicles and additional products to make the vehicle overall use experience the best it could be. They added innovative products like hand controls and transfer seats as well as conducted routine maintenance. While our regional mangers were calling on mobility dealer owners and helping their salespeople demonstrate vehicles, I sat in the lobby and talked to consumers in wheelchairs. I was amazed how little I knew, how little my regional managers knew, about consumers in wheelchairs and how they made buying decisions and the process they went through. They shared things like:

 

  • On average consumers in wheel chairs make about 25% less than those not in wheel chairs and have less disposable income due to medications and medical devices. “Its hard for us to get new car loans, and these custom vehicles are expensive

 

  • The vehicle’s reputation for quality is is critical. Specifically their fear was should their vehicle break down, the tow truck driver can town their vehicle, but no tow trucks are equipped to transport a consumer in a wheel chair so they could be left in their wheelchair on the side of the road.

 

 

  • The closest relationships they have at mobility dealers is with the people who service their vehicles. “If Frank tells me brand X is the best because they rarely come in for service then that’s what I buy.”

 

  • How vehicle presentations at their home are so valuable for first time mobility vehicle buyers (they may not have any way of getting to the dealer after their recent operation or accident)

 

 

  • One young lady said something that I did not expect: You think consumers in wheel chairs are ugly! What? Your brochure, your web site all uses models who are obviously not people in wheelchairs…I can tell by this woman’s muscle tone in her thighs or this guy here the muscle tone in his legs and the bottom of his shoes are scuffed. (Never expected that concern)

 

  • We learned that all consumers in wheel chairs were not the same. We had four prominent buyer personas: Quadriplegics, paraplegics, some but limited mobility, and caregivers. Each had his or her unique criteria and requirements when purchasing a mobility vehicle or device.

 

 

  • My favorite comment came from a veteran who has having his vehicle serviced at our Akron Ohio dealer’s location: “You folks are not that smart you know? These vehicles are so very expensive when you buy a new van then convert it. If I were you I would buy as many used vans as I could and modify them and bring down the retail price so more people who need what you are selling can afford one…” ( as the new guy why wouldn’t we do this?) 

 

  • We learned a number of our dealer salespeople came from the automotive sales industry and the strategies and tactics they were taught there not only did not work but caused consumers to leave the mobility dealerships. The mobility vehicle sale is a custom solution sale not selling numbers or as one referred to it as “moving iron”. This sale is about serving people with a life changing solution.

 

We brought all the current market data we gathered back to the owners, board and executive team. This is the hardest part of my process because I am often seen as a heretic, not loyal, telling them their baby is ugly, or I just don’t get the vision, you obviously don’t know how we have been doing things around here for the past ___years. (Well if what you have been doing was driving the sales growth you needed you wouldn’t have hired me? ..never said out loud)

 

Over time we made some adjustments based on what we learned:

 

  • We used actual VMI customers in our photo shoots creating an authentic connection in the community in our brochures, marketing and web site

 

  • Our tech services group dug deep into the most common service issues and solved them with engineering’s help, and our dealer’s field tech teams became raving fans

  

  • We proactively offered in home demonstrations when we learned it was a firs time buyer

 

  • We taught our dealers to proactively reach out to every past customer right before their vehicle warrantee was about to expire because consumers valued having the warrantee so much, and it created an inventory of used vans

  

  • We changed our web site. The first step when you entered our site was to identify what buyer persona you were and we took you through products that met your needs and requirements.

 

  • We started buying fleets of used vans from rental companies and converting them driving down the retail price and binging an entire new set of buyers into our dealers

 

  • Our dealer tech training did an amazing job and won the hearts and minds of dealer service technicians, one of the leading influencers for consumers in wheelchairs buying their next vehicle

 

  • We created and trained our dealers in a new way to help consumers in wheelchairs buy mobility vehicles. It was called the Certified Mobility Consultant program and it is still in use today

 

 

Vantage Mobility experienced “explosive sales growth “after tuning in to their distributor partner’s needs and the unique needs of their top buyer personas. We stopped focusing on what the 800 lb gorilla competitor was doing and we started tracking “lives changed” instead of vehicles sold.

 

Today VMI is seen as a high quality conversion van manufacturer and key partner with their dealers. Used van conversions grew to over 60% of the vehicles sold within five years. Because they are a privately held company when I served them ( recently sold at a strong multiple ) I cannot share the specific sales and profits, but I can share there sales today are estimated at 9X-10X the sales they had in 2000. They continued to listen to their dealers and consumers and converted new vehicles like Hondas and Toyotas.

 

How about your company?

 

Are you actively listening to your channel partners AND customers?

 

Are you counting on your distributors to share customer feedback with you? Or is someone on your team asking?

 

When was the last time you asked one of your customers what your competitor is doing right?

 

Is your team experiencing explosive sales growth? Would you like to? 

 

What do your customers need to buy today and what process, what journey are they using to make buying decisions today?

 

Are you interested in 9X or 10X sales growth?

 

Once your team understands your buyers and sometimes channel partners, what they need to buy, and how they buy you can leverage this into explosive sales growth business development plan like VMI executed.

 

There is a power in the voice of your customers, voice of your markets, leverage it!

 

A number of companies tell me they know their customers, we have been serving them for 20 years….you might but don’t you want to be sure?

OK, let me ask you a question: When you buy something today, has the journey you take to the sale changed in the last 10 years? Are there new criteria important to you today that might not have been on your list 20 years ago? The reason why your business exists today is you intimately knew your buyers, how they buy, and what they needed to buy back then. Just as you now may use the Internet today to do research before you buy something today, so too are your customers. I am not trying to be a Heretic, I am working hard to serve your company and help you grow profitably!

Once we leverage the voice of the market today you will experience explosive sales growth!

 

How Yeti Realized Sales Leadership Nailing Their Value Proposition

How Yeti Realized Sales Leadership Nailing Their Value Proposition

 

 

In my last post I shared a process to conduct a value proposition audit. The goal of this exercise is to insure the value proposition your sales team is communicating still resonates with your buyers. Once you understand how your buyers buy and key buying criteria you can shape your value proposition so it instantly connects with the buyers in your market. One company who has done an excellent job of this is Yeti.

 

 

Ryan and Roy Seiders identified a market problem they understood intimately. The coolers on the market were just not holding up for outdoor adventurers. The lids would cave in, handles would break, and latches would snap off and gave them a bad overall experience. Could Colman or Igloo or others owned this market for high-end coolers? Yes…if they were listening to problems their users were having. They both were in the market long before Yeti.

 

Like Gunner Kennels, these two brothers set out to solve a market problem. In 2006 they were on a focused and simple mission…

 

Build a cooler we’d use everyday if it existed. One that was built for the serious outdoor enthusiast rather than for the mass-discount retailers. One that could take the abuse we knew we’d put it through out in the field and on the water. One that simply would not break.”

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The more intimately you understand the problem to be solved the clearer your value proposition will be. Just as I shared how InVue has a simple yet clear value proposition, so too does Yeti.

 

What started out as a quest to make an indestructible cooler has led to other products the market needed when they searched for problems to solve. Each of these products are designed based on customer feedback.

 

“ We decided early on product innovation would come from necessity and first hand experience”

 

Once they solved the problem for outdoor enthusiasts they asked themselves who else might have similar problems and they share this …

 

We are so glad we were not the only ones looking for a Yeti. Today it is the cooler of choice for outdoor enthusiasts, pro tailgaters and back yard barbecue kings.”

 

As the company continues to solve unresolved market problems I believe they will add other buyer personas to their list. For example, my son is a police officer and he and all his other officers use Yeti to keep their coffee warm and their drinks cold.. As my son puts it…

 

“I can put some ice and a beverage in my Yeti rambler and I will have ice cubes in my drink at the end of an 8 hour shift.”

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I now see road construction crew members, firemen and other service professions paying a premium to solve their problems with Yeti products. Knowing Yeti you will soon be seeing other indestructible products for service professionals who work outdoors.

 

When you understand the problems to be solved the burden is on you to communicate how you solve them. Yeti does and excellent job in their point of purchase that only a market leader would do.

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So how about your company and your market…

 

What unresolved problems are your buyers facing today?

 

Are you going to build a category based on an unresolved market problem?

 

What if your competitor finds it before you do?

 

Is there any reason why you would not want to do a value proposition audit to find unresolved market problems?

 

Increase Sales: Do A Value Proposition Audit 

Increase Sales: Do a Value Proposition Audit 

 

 

In my last post I shared how critical a value proposition that connects with your buyers is in today’s climate. Every industry seems to be undergoing some kind of a change. Market leaders are agile and they identify those changes quickly and they adapt.

What kinds of changes can impact your value proposition?

  • Your business was bought or you bought a new business ( buyers will fear the unknown, and your competitors will feed that fear)
  • Environmental regulations
  • New Laws and or regulations
  • New competitor enters the market
  • Technology change- think the impact the internet of things is having on your customers and markets
  • New innovative solution enters the market
  • Market consolidation
  • Major market shift like the impact the low oil cost is having on everything from fracking, trucking, truck building, and all the other trickle down businesses that are touched by oil and gas.

I have a list on a post I did about what causes growth to stall and you can review them here.

 

Market leading teams quickly identify changes, shifts in their markets and adapt their value propositions to what is important for their customers.

 

One thing we can count on is change. As you are reading this I would like you to think about the changes you have seen in the last year, last 3 years, and perhaps the last 5 years.

What changes to you expect next year?

If your team is like most, you have products you launched; services you introduced and your salespeople are diligently presenting those products and services as they were taught to do. Trouble arises when your salesperson uses a dated value proposition.

 

This is a problem for two reasons…

 

First it shows your salesperson and your company do not understand the market of today. This is something your buyer will feel and instantly doubt their ability to trust your team.

 

Secondly, and even more costly is when your sales team uses a dated value proposition, it will negatively impact future sales. Again, look at it from a buyer’s point of view. You have some salesperson in pitching a solution to a problem you no longer have. If they would have just read your website and or one of your brochures in the lobby they would have known more about your company. If they would have started the meeting asking questions instead of showing up and throwing up you could have helped them understand your current problems.The buyer will create a perception about the sales representative and your company based on this experience and it will hurt your ability to serve this customer in the future.

How do you know if your salespeople are using a dated value proposition?

The first step is to identify the changes buyers in the markets you serve have experienced since your sales team was trained, your web site was launched and your sales brochures were developed.

Second, I ask your VP of sales and or VP of Marketing to travel with salespeople and visit at least 10 of your current large accounts, call on at least 5 of the accounts you want to add and 2 you have lost. These four-legged sales calls as I refer to them are critical in identifying how your buyers buy today, the criteria they are using, and the problems they are solving today. While your salesperson is selling, you are asking questions like:

 

How is your business doing today?

 

Have you seen any significant changes that have impacted your business, how you are buying, your role?

 

I understand you buy some products from our competitors? That is not surprising, …what do you find they do very well?

 

If you were running our company ___________ what would you do to grow sales with your company and other companies like yours?

 

We are thankful for your business. If someone called you on the phone and asked: Why do you buy from ______________ what would you say?

 

(For customers you have not sold yet, or lost)

 

We would like to earn your business. If someone were to call you today and ask: Why don’t you buy from ___________ what would you say?

 

I am sure there are lists of customer questions you can ask, and you should have some very specific questions that illustrate your current market knowledge.

 

A couple of quick rules when doing this kind of a value proposition audit:

  • Ask and listen, do not try to defend or sell through any issues identified. This is the quickest way to end a conversation.
  • Do not have your salespeople ask these questions and report to you. You need to hear the information first hand. Besides, you need your team selling.
  • Do not do this process in a survey. Why? The most valuable part of this process is capturing the current market problems your buyers are having in their voice. A survey will not do this.

Once you have current market data you need to ask yourself one key question…

Based on what we heard from our customers, customers we lost and prospects we want to be customers, does the value proposition and tools we give our sales team match what our buyers told us?

In most cases what I have personally observed is the value proposition sales teams are using is dated and needs some tweaking to reconnect. Those seemingly little tweaks however will demonstrate you understand your markets and what is important to your buyers today. It will make your sales team stand out in a sea of other sales reps saying….

We are the best at….

We have the most….

We have been in business 70 years and….

We have the best quality in the industry…

We have the most innovative solutions…

You get the idea…

Instead, your salespeople will lead with questions that came out of your “value proposition audit” and they will stand out positively in your buyers minds.

Having served company  Presidents for over 30 years I hear that voice saying…” I hear what you are saying Mark but this seems like it is a lot of work and will take a great deal of time…we have numbers to hit…” If that is a concern you are wrestling with let me assure you, this market work should only take 30-45 days and it will make your team more effective, efficient, and become a way your company will be distinctive in your market.

 

What happens if you don’t do a value proposition audit?

 

You will hope what your salespeople are saying is connecting with current and new customers. If what your salespeople are saying, your sales brochures discuss and worst of all your web site says is dated it created a breach of trust with your buyers.

 

My challenge is why risk it? If you feel traveling to your top accounts is too expensive visit your top 2 and call the rest.

 

If you are looking for some great content on creating your value proposition after your audit I recommend the following sites:

 

Useful Value Proposition Examples (and How to Create a Good One) 

 

4 steps to building a compelling value proposition

 

How to write a value proposition that works

 

Three points to create a value proposition

 

How to wire a great value proposition

 

Words that get meetings

 

 

So how about your company?

 

When was the last time you updated your value proposition?

 

Do you feel comfortable sharing the impact that had on your sales?

 

Are you sure what your salespeople are saying is helping your business or hurting it now and into the future?

 

I promise you this value proposition audit is not difficult and can be completed in 30-45 days.

 

If it sounds expensive I want to challenge you…

 

How expensive is it to not be selling buyers you could be selling?

 

How expensive is your travel costs that do not produce new business?

 

What impact would a 20% increase in your sales close rate have on your bottom line?

 

The biggest challenge, if you are the leader of your company is hearing the voice of the customers in some cases. You must have a culture where your team is free to discuss things that may not be politically correct but can impact your business. The comments you are hearing are based on buyer perceptions today. If the value proposition you personally wrote 5 years ago is no longer resonating it is not about you! When you wrote it , it worked! Something changed. This exercise is not about you as a leader, your vision or capabilities. If you are a leader in your organization you have secured that position by making many good decisions over time. It is about positioning your products and services to win orders and growing your business profitably.

 

One last thought, assume you do a value proposition audit and find what your salespeople are saying does resonate with buyers. Great! If sales are not hitting your sales numbers you can now zero in on other areas where you can coach your team.

 

 

Fix Sales Problems: Do You Understand What Your Buyers Value Most?

Fix Sales Problems: Do You Understand What Your buyers Value Most?

 

In my last post I discussed the need to quantify the value the buyer experiences to increase your sales. In a typical sale the buyer has three options; the buyer buys, the buyer buys but not from you, or they do nothing. Market leading companies make it their job to understand their buyers’ problems and what they value most. When you clearly understand the market and problems to be solved creating a value proposition that instantly resonates with buyers is easy.

What is the buyers’ cost of doing nothing?

What do your buyers value most?

Let’s say you sell products that prevent people from stealing products on display in retail stores.

Having served this market back in the late 1990’s we asked a lot of questions and what we found back then was:

  • If a product is behind the counter because the retailer is concerned with theft, sales decrease 50% to over 75%
  • If a product is out ‘LIVE’ on the retail shelf without any mechanical security device or security tag you can expect over 50% theft
  • If product is behind a counter the overall customer buying experience is poor (this costs you a sale now, and more concerning with future purchases)

But that was old school…. check out this market leader in helping large retailers increase their sales!

InVue’s value proposition is focused and clear.

Their value proposition demonstrates they know their customers, their customers’ problems, and they have solved those problems completely.

“InVue develops and markets security products that enable retailers to openly display their high theft merchandise with confidence.”

They not only control theft, they help their customers increase sales as they share below.

“Displaying high value accessories next to hot selling smart phones and tablets will increase your accessory sales over 20%.”

This is a great example of a B2B company that took the time to do their market work and understand the buyers and the problems they want solved. When I speak at conferences I often have someone challenge me; “ I understand this knowing your buyers stuff when it comes to B2C products but I don’t see how it applies to B2B” My answer is it is absolutely critical to understand your buyers, the buying process they use and the criteria they must have to make a purchase. This is the case in B2B and B2C. B2B companies who do the market work prior to launch realize greater sales increases and higher profits.

 

How about your company?

 

Are you solving buyer problems?

 

What process does your team use to identify buyer problems?

 

How is your sales performing to plan this year?

 

The reason why some companies consistently achieve and surpass their sales and profit objectives is they understand their market, buyers and buying process.

Increase Sales: How Do You Establish Value?

Increase Sales: How Do You Establish Value?

 

 

 

In one of my last posts on pricing your products strategically I discussed the need to understand the value your product or service provides to the customer. Not long after that post was written I had a phone call from a small business owner asking: What is the best way to establish value for our buyers? In this post I will share some advice an excellent example of establishing value.

Before we get to that content I want to ask you a quick question:

Why do 42% of business start up’s fail?

 

The answer is they launched a business that had no unresolved market need. They did not clearly and completely understand the problem to be solved.

 

This group of entrepreneurs took the leap and often loose all their savings, their children’s college fund and so on. Why?

 

They failed to do their market homework before launching their business. Some questions they needed to answer include?

 

What is the problem you are trying to solve?

 

Who has this problem?… and how many others are like them?

 

Is the problem Urgent and buyers feel a pain to solve it?

 

Are buyers willing to spend money to solve it and how much?

 

It is not just small companies who make this mistake. Every day products and services are launched because companies can and not because they should.

 

How do market leaders, regardless of industry or company size consistently launch and grow their business?

 

They establish a high-perceived value for their products!

 

To do so they must first intimately understand their market, and the problems their buyers have.

 

With this information they solve the problem completely.

 

Then they make a compelling value proposition that resonates with their buyers.

 

They share this value in communities where there buyers belong.

 

Lets take a look at a great example of a company that established value: Gunner Kennels.

Man’s best friend deserves man’s best kennels

 

Gunner Kennels makes dog kennels. On the surface that does not sound too interesting. However if you have dogs, particularly hunting dogs they know you. They know the problems you often face when transporting your dogs and they solved that problem brilliantly.

 

Every detail of this kennel is built to make our traveling experience the best and safest it can be, whether we are on our way to the Mississippi Delta for a duck hunt or just running errands around town. Gunner has been my co-pilot since the day I drove to North Alabama to pick him up.

I built this kennel for my dog Gunner and for anyone else who loves seeing their dogs light up when you ask them to “Kennel,” and they know they are tagging along for your next adventure.

-Addison Edmonds, Founder

 

I wish I had found this company years ago! The downside of this crazy life of helping company’s fix their sales problems is we moved our family a lot. One of the biggest stress points for us as a family was safely moving our dogs. Will my Labs be safe in the belly of this big airplane? Will the baggage handlers be careful with my family members? What if something shifts in the cargo area and their crate gets crushed? (All these thoughts and more go through your mind)

 

Check out his video that demonstrates how much this company understand the needs of its buyers and how they establish value.

 

 

How about your company….

 

How do you establish value in the minds of your buyers?

 

Do you know how to quantify that value?

 

What techniques have worked best for your team?

 

When you clearly understand your market, buyers, how they buy, and the criteria they use to make buying decisions you can establish value.

 

In my next three posts I will be sharing other innovative companies who not only beat the odds of start up failure but also are extremely successful because they established their value in the minds of their buyers.

Why Does Sales Growth Stall?

Why Does Sales Growth Stall?

 

Your sales team has been hitting their sales goals and it’s an exciting time for your organization. Your problem to be solved shifted from growing sales to shipping orders on time. Then something happens …what seemed like an ever-growing sales pipeline goes dark. Sales stall and in some cases decrease. Why? What causes sales growth to stall and more important what can you do to prevent sales from stalling?

It was an exciting time. Our sales team had opened the majority of the targeted new dealers we wanted and we were hitting new sales records. The President and CFO were stopping by my office to give me high fives and our senior manager meets had almost a fun playful tone. My sales people were achieving their individual sales goals, hitting bonuses they have never experienced before. Everyone, even the workers on the assembly line who were getting all the overtime they wanted were happy.

Our strategic planning meeting was spent discussing fun things like how will we invest to support this sales growth…. And then everything changed quietly, slowing at first and then our sales stalled. What happened? Why do sales stall and more important what is the plan to get our sales back on that sales velocity of 140% year over year growth we were enjoying?

I have seen the above scenario play out many times in companies. I have heard CEO’s say: “ Mark the reason we are talking to you is sales were growing strong year over year and then we hit a plateau, we are stuck and we can’t seem to get back on the same growth trajectory we one had.” 

 

What Causes sales growth to stall?

 

If you read my content you know I like to read. Like is not strong enough of a word. I have a passion to read and research topics that impact sales team’s performance. One of my mentors at Frito-Lay used to say, “Leaders are readers and if you want to be a leader the burden is on you to constantly sharpen your saw”. I recently finished an excellent book I highly recommend: When Growth Stalls, How it happens, why your stuck & and what to do about it, by Steve McKee.

A quote that jumped out at me early was …

One of the biggest challenges any business leader faces is generating consistent, profitable growth. But stalled growth is the rule, not the exception, even for the best-managed companies. That’s especially true in today’s tumultuous economic environment

The author does a great job of capturing examples of market leading companies who experienced a growth stall like; Home Depot, Bear Sterns, Excite, Lehman Brothers, McDonalds, IBM, Kodak, Lucent Technologies, Sears, Kmart, Sun Microsystems, Tidy Cat, Mercedes, The Gap, Chrysler, and many more. Growth stalls impact both large and small companies. Publicly traded market leaders and privately help family business all experience stalls.

Most companies experience a sales growth stall at some time, and some experience a number of sales plateaus.

So what causes growth stalls?

Want a quick answer?…Look for what changed!

Today’s markets are dynamic. The first question you need to ask if your sales growth stalls is: What changed? The one thing we can all count on is change. If your sales were showing strong sales velocity then stalled I promise you something changed.

Changes can occur outside your organization as well as inside.

 

Outside your organization you can have a number of factors impact your sales growth…

 

Economic downturn

Market shift

Changing Industry Dynamics

Aggressive move from a competitor

New technology

Buyers need new criteria to make buying decisions

Buyers use a new buying process

 

 

There are also internal changes that can cause a sales growth stall…

 

Change in service level

Quality of product or service decline

Chance in price model

Lack of management consensus

Loss of Focus

A dated Value Proposition 

Loss of company nerve

Inconsistency within your organization

Your culture becomes dysfunctional

 

Any one of the above can cause what the author refers to as a “seismic shift” that disrupts your sales growth. If your team experiences a number of both internal and external changes your sales growth does not just stall, it starts a steady decline. The longer it takes your team to identify what changed and make a course correction the more difficult and the longer it will take to correct. If internal and or external changes go unchecked long enough you will experience what I refer to as a sales death spiral.

The best business book I have ever read is the Bible. The Bible does not say we might face adversity…it says we WILL face adversity. Adversity is a time teams can rally together and grow united or do blame storming and drift apart.

The first step is to identify what changed or as I prefer to call it… throw the skunk on the table. It is very uncomfortable to discuss problems for most teams. Teams with strong cultures openly discuss any issues that could be preventing them from achieving their objectives. Discussing problems, like having a dated value proposition that no longer resonates with buyers, becomes emotional.( been there have the T-shirt)

Someone companies may have developed processes and procedures (web sites)  10-15 years ago and now that person sits in the CEO’s chair. If you have a strong culture and a leader with a high emotional intelligence you will discuss the issues. One sign of an unhealthy culture are what I refer to as PIMS. This stand for: Politically Incorrect Market Secrets. Your team knows the issues holding your teams back from achieving their sales objectives but they do not feel safe to share them. I actually love it when someone who reports to me says…Mark, I just don’t get it, you are asking me to ——- but the market and even the buyers at some of our accounts are saying ——-. Awesome, let’s pivot and win the business!

 

The author shares how to get your company back on a strong sales velocity track in practical and applicable ways. I highly recommend this book for two kinds of companies:

  • Companies who have experienced their sales growth stall or decline
  • Companies who have not experienced a sales growth stall (yet)

 

How about your company…

 

Have you seen your sales growth stall?

 

Has your team thrown the skunk on the table or is still just stinking up the place?

 

What other kinds of shifts/ changes have you experienced that stalled your team’s sales?

 

How did you fix them?

 

If you are in a business experiencing a sales growth stall this book will help you identify places to look that may have changed. It will also teach you ways of getting un-stuck and practical steps you can take to getting sales growth back on track.