Sunday, October 4, 2009

Customer Focused

Lately, I've been looking at the finer details of people's experience, especially those who are in senior positions within their respective companies. After noticing a lot of MBAs in the group I asked Tom Schodorf, who is the former General Manager of BMC's Services Delivery business unit and now has his own executive consulting company, what work experience or other tangible credentials / certifications a CEO needed to have to be successful. His response was insightful:

"Very few things sharpen the senses more about the needs of your customers than having a quota and selling the product quarter after quarter. Experience in sales and marketing as an individual contributor and in management helps you understand nearly every facet of your own business as well and is very valuable experience for future CEO's."

If I may summarize the first point it is "be customer focused." I would argue that this is not only necessary for a CEO to be successful but that it applies to the entire company in general. Some examples of this are listed below:

"Editor in Chef"

In a previous life, I published a magazine for several years that was aimed at the OS/2 development community. (Yes, I'm dating myself.) Early on, I recognized the need for business cards since I was fully expecting to attend trade shows and report back on trends in the marketplace that were relevant to my readers.

I worked with a printer to design an appropriate card for myself (and my columnists); placed my order with them; and waited for the cards to arrive. When they finally did arrive, a glaring error caught my attention. Instead of being listed as the Editor in Chief, I was the Editor in Chef. (Food Network, here I come!)

I called the printer and explained the situation to them. Realizing that the PC Expo in NYC was only 2 days away, they rushed a corrected print job and hand delivered the cards to my doorstep in spite of the fact that I lived 30 minutes away by car.

The Free Upgrade

In 2008, I purchased one of the most amazing pieces of music software I have ever owned: Celemony's Melodyne pitch correction plug-in for Steinberg's Cubase music production system. Unfortunately, I was unable to install it for just over a month, which wouldn't have been a problem except for one thing: soon after I did install it, they announced a free upgrade to a new version that had mind blowing features. The catch? You had to have registered it before a certain date.

I had registered mine less than a week after the deadline even though I had owned it for several weeks already. "Not a problem," said Celemony's user support team. They said they would honor the free upgrade for me in spite of the late registration.

The point that I'm trying to bring up is that companies these days have the power to define their relationships with their customers, whether those customers are the individuals like myself or huge companies like the global financial services companies. And with the lightning fast speed that information is disseminated over the Internet, the perception that their customers have regarding the relationship and the degree of importance that suppliers place on that relationship can be communicated to a vast audience in relatively short order.

Can this actually have an effect on a company's bottom line? Absolutely. Consider the following example:

In early November of last year I became aware of a stalled sales opportunity at a large insurance company. They already owned some of our software, but we were trying to sell two new sets of technology to them that we knew would have large repercussions on their effectiveness as a company. Unfortunately, due to the corporate culture there, the new technology was undergoing a review that was more rigorous than was probably necessary.

I already had a strong existing relationship with the Economic Buyer there, which I leveraged to not only broker a meeting between the Sales Manager and him but ensure that the necessary information was extracted from the meeting to put together a very aggressive close plan. The result? A deal was closed within 4 weeks of the meeting that was worth over USD$1mm in revenue.

Would the deal have closed without my involvement? Undoubtedly. The Sales Manager was very good. But unfortunately he had not yet met the Economic Buyer so there was a long road ahead of him before he would reach his goal. My involvement wasn't critical but because of it the deal closed by the end of the calendar year, which coincidentally was the end of the purchaser's budget cycle.

Relationships can indeed be a deciding factor in your business. Build and foster them with the decision makers in your own company or in your customers' companies and watch your success grow.

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