Know your customer! Great advice. It’s essential for success. But… Even though it’s necessary, it’s no longer sufficient.
Let’s say the arrow to the left represents all of your customer’s people, processes and resources. “Stuff” goes in the left side of the arrow, gets processed and then products and/or services come out the right. (See Michael Porter’s classic Competitive Advantage for a detailed discussion of the Value Chain.)
Your job (as a journeyman sales rep) is to understand how the stuff in your own company’s value chain can integrate and collaborate with the stuff in the customer’s value chain to generate more productivity, performance and profit for the cusotmer. (Note: Only two connections between you and the customer are shown here. Obviously, there will typically be more. In fact, the more connections, the more compelling your value proposition.)
Let’s take it a step further. Is it conceivable you could provide something (or somethings) to your customer that would provide value to your customer’s customer? It’s no great mental leap to make that next set of connections. To reinforce the obvious point, helping your customer help your customer’s customer makes you that much more valuable; makes your value proposition that much more compelling.
This next extension of the thought process requires no significant mental stress either. Why would you not have conversations with customer executives about innovations – that you will help implement – that will have a positive impact on many of the customer’s customers. (Of course, you realize only five customer’s customers are shown for the sake of saving space.)
Beware! It’s oh so easy to understand why it’s smart to be able to articulate the value of your stuff to your customer’s customers. It ain’t so easy to actually do it. Remember all that research you did to grasp the nuances of your customer’s business? Well now you need to repeat that process for CC1, CC2, etc. Makes sense to start with learning about the primary industry that buys your customers’ stuff.
The effort pays off in spades, however. Think about how cool it will be to have your customer coming to you for advice, counsel and assistance for serving their customers better.
One last addition to the diagram; and, sorry for the possible insult. (The journeymen among you will object!) Let’s also figure out how the customer can better integrate the products and services of other vendors with your products and services to better serve the customer’s customers.
Think what you will of Microsoft Windows, the sales strategy behind it is pure genius. Microsoft is in the software business. So what did and does Microsoft do? They did and do everything they can think of to help software vendors (including competitors!!!) sell their stuff. Thousands of garage-based programmers loved and love it. Help from Goliath! All they need to do is write code that runs on the Windows platform. Got that?
The Windows sales rep has the help and assistance of virtually 100% of the software providers on the planet.
You owe it to yourself to think long and hard on this “serve your competitors” thing. It’s counter-intuitive. It’s challenging. It’ll hurt your brain. But if/when you figure it out, you’ll have struck gold.
So are you too narrow minded? I am. I struggle daily trying to maintain my “ecosystem perspective.” It’s the right perspective though. It’s the path to sustainable competitive advantage.