Being a “business partner” to customers makes a nice sound bite, but here’s how it actually works.
It comes down to creativity. Not just being creative for the sake of being creative; rather, becoming the business partner that brings value back to the partnership.
Think about the changing role this way. In the past, it was the role of the supplier to bring the customer from start to finish in the sales cycle. When the customer would come to our door they were almost like children. They needed to be taught how to eat, how to dress and how to take care of themselves. Once they learned those things they became proficient and the focus shifted to teaching them the next thing. Now they come to us and they are like a student that just graduated college, chock full of knowledge and barely a clue as to what to do with that knowledge.
This is where your “creative value” comes into play. Your organization is now in the role of “real world mentor” and it is your responsibility to help them take the raw knowledge (data) that is in their head from all of that content they are consuming and to make something useful of it.
Value Creation Example
Let’s say a customer comes to you and says, “I have been reading all about Web-based video conferencing solutions and I would like to explore implementing them into our business.”
If doing business in the old way, you might respond by saying: “Great, we sell Cisco Webex. It is a great product. Let me get you a quote, ok?”
In the new value creation focused world the response should be a little bit different. Perhaps it would go something like this:
Client: I have read a lot about web based video conferencing and would like to explore further on how we can implement them here at Acme Corporation.
Vendor: Tell me more about which products you have read about. And more importantly, why do you believe it is a good solution?
Client: Our organization is trying hard to allow our employees to be more mobile while also cutting back on some of our travel costs.
Vendor: There are several suppliers of this type of technology. You may or may not know of them. I’d love to help you get some test accounts set up and we can do some A/B/C user testing to see which solutions best fit your enterprise needs.
Client: That would be great. It would also be great to get some use-based analytics of how the tools are being used, which devices they are being used on and whether people are enjoying the experience.
Vendor: Absolutely, we can do that. Let me put a test plan together and we will go from there.
What have we learned?
Maybe it doesn’t stand out that the vendor did anything miraculous to create value, but the dialog reflects a shift in what consumers are seeking from their vendor and this is precisely the shift that creates value.
The client came to the vendor seeking two things:
Validation of their idea/interest in a product (Web-based conferencing)
Support in testing, analyzing, implementing and adoption
The first part reflects a more common business practice in relationship selling. In this case it’s a need for analysis and validation.
The second part reflects a monumental shift in how businesses engage in adopting new technologies—a model known as “land and expand” (which will be covered in an upcoming chapter). In short, it’s that what the customer is looking for is a partner that wants to help in the sales process because there are so many unknowns in the procurement of services that you become a partner in mitigating risk as well as delivering solutions.
By helping the customer vet a product you build trust and credibility, and if the process goes well you all but lock yourself in as the vendor of choice.
The risks are inherently higher because the sales process lengthens and there is a distinct possibility that the product or service won’t catch on. But really it comes down to you as the partner providing the insight on which products they should try and then being aligned in the rollout, education and adoption process to make sure the solution does what it was intended.
It Comes Down to Being Creative
In the end, it all comes down to creating value. Always ask yourself this question as you are working with clients:
What is our organization adding to the equation?
Does the client need me to successfully get from where they are to where they want to go?
In our example, just quoting and selling “Cisco Webex” makes that partner one of about 30,000 potential suitors in the United States. If your value is nothing more than being there at that moment then you have very little to stand on.
However, if you help that client take that baseline of knowledge and put it to use to deliver something that truly solves an organizational problem, you are making yourself invaluable.
This is precisely why being creative is at the center of delivering value and creating customer experience in a market place where the rules have changed.
How does your business add creativity to deliver better customer experience?