Way back, in the old days, we created value for our customers by educating them about new products and solutions. The way customers learned about new things and how they might solve problems or addressed new opportunities was largely interactions with sales people. The value we created was educating them about products and services. Sales people used to be the primary source of information and learning, offering customers a view of what was going on both in and outside their companies. Customers didn’t have the web back then, search was a foreign concept. Perhaps they learned some through trade publications or trade shows, but when they really wanted to learn about products and solutions, the sales person was the source of that information.
Those days are long gone, with the overwhelming availability of information about products and services through any number of channels, largely digital. These channels, because of their easy access and richness become the preferred channels for learning, creating more value than the sales person in trying to understand new ways of doing things.
In those times, great sales people created another type of value. They focused not just on educating the customer on products and services, but they helped identify the results a customer could expect in the implementation of the solutions. These sales people created business cases, helping the customer articulate how much they might grow revenue, how they might decrease costs, how they might improve quality or customer service.
These sales people helped the customer understand and articulate the business case or value created through the implementation of a solution. It was expressed in financial terms like ROI, Payback, and so forth. These justifications, also, looked at risk assessments. The solution justification analysis was often accompanied by an implementation plan.
Where Value Creation Falls Short
The business case resulting from implementing the solution and risk case is still a critical part of the customer buying and decision process. Sadly, while there are great tools (DecisionLink is probably the most innovative I’ve seen), too often we fail to create the business case–selling only on price. But the customer still has to get this work done, even if we aren’t helping them. We miss an opportunity by leaving the task of creating the business/change management case to the customer.
In the past 10-15 years, we’ve talked about value we create with the customer in the form of helping them think about their businesses differently, bringing them insights, helping them see what others may be doing and what they can learn from them. In this, we help the customer recognize the need to change. We created value through bringing insights and helping them consider changing.
More recently, we’ve learned customers struggle in their buying process. We’ve found 53% of their buying journeys end in no decision made. It has nothing to do with selecting a solution, but more about aligning the diverse agendas and priorities in the buying group. Customers wander in the process, they start, stop, restart. People innovated in the buying process change, priorities change. Other things arise, diverting them to those.
We’ve learned that we create a lot of value with our customers, by helping them complete their process and learn how to buy and manage their buying process through a decision and implementation. After all, if they fail to complete the buying process and actually implement a solution, they will fail to address the problem or opportunity they sought to address.
We’re now seeing another phenomenon arise, creating a new opportunity to help our customers. Where, in the past, they might have lacked information, or missed opportunities to improve; today they are overwhelmed and confused. They struggle with the sheer quantity of high value information, trying to figure out which is most relevant to them.
The customer is, in some form, suffering from insight exhaustion and struggle to make sense of all this information, focusing on that which is most relevant to what they face. We create value by helping the customer make sense of things, narrowing their focus to the things most relevant to what they are trying to achieve.
We, finally, are learning that buying is probably the smallest part of the challenge the customer faces. Buying is just a component of an overall change initiative. Where customers invest most of their time and struggle the most is with these changes. We aren’t helping them on the toughest part of their work when we just focus on our solutions and what they might buy. If they can’t successfully manage the much bigger change issue, in fact they have no reason to buy. So we have to move beyond the problem we solve to the problem the customer needs to solve.
As one might expect the stakes for value creation continue to evolve, or at least our understanding of it continues to evolve. We are moving from creating value with our customers through sensemaking, to looking at decision confidence. The customer have the confidence they have chosen well.
New Opportunities for Value Creation
We see other things impacting our customers, which create new opportunities to create value with them. Helping them deal with complexity, helping them understand and recognize the disruptions their customers face and their industry faces. Helping them rethink what they are doing and consider new approaches. Helping them innovate and more effectively serve their customers.
Value and value creation continues to evolve. Sadly, too many sales people aren’t evolving to better support their customers. Too many stop at educating customers about products and presenting the best price. Too many fail to seize the opportunity to create more value with the customer. And customers are recognizing this, choosing to minimize the time spent with sales people.
There is a huge need, there is a huge opportunity. We need to step up our game.