The world of today is objectively different than the world we all inhabited ten, twenty, thirty years ago. Amazon and Google have forever altered the digital landscape. Everyone is carrying around computers in their pockets. Social media connects and galvanizes people from all over the globe. The world is different.
The influence of the digital landscape is undeniable in our popular culture but so too is that influence felt in other, less obvious places. For those in industrial or manufacturing fields, it might not seem like the internet has had that big of an impact on how business is done. Sure, email and digital conferencing have changed the way we communicate, and websites are expected to adhere to a higher standard than 90s flash design but have the important things like how we sell and how our customers buy really changed?
The answer is yes.
For one thing, your customers have more access to more information than ever before. This fact alone should be enough to shake up the ways we think about selling and buying. But it’s not just information; your customers also have access to all of your competitors and they can find multiple solutions to their problems from multiple vendors without ever once talking to a salesperson or interacting with a company directly.
Your customers, no matter the industry, are starting the buyer journey without you. And more and more they only want to include you in the journey at the end, when they’re ready to make a purchase.
This change in buying behavior has been developing slowly but surely, and it’s here to stay. But the problem we’ve seen over and over with industrial manufacturing companies is that while they might acknowledge that this change has happened, they haven’t made changes internally to how they market or sell to adapt to these changes in buyer behavior.
Buyers don’t want the same sales or marketing experience they got ten years ago. They want a new kind of buying experience that values them, their time, and delivers exceptional solutions to their specific problems and they will buy from the companies that give it to them.
The companies that can adapt to this new kind of buyer and deliver this kind of customer experience create the best type of differentiation available as well as the most defensible.
Creating differentiation is crucial because your customers have access to all of your competitors and all of their products. Creating differentiation only with products and features in this buying environment is exceptionally hard due to increased competition from everywhere.
Creating differentiation with customer experience, on the other hand, requires a commitment on the part of the seller to curate relationships with their customers where every interaction builds the customer experience. From leadership to tech support, everyone has to be on board, or the experience will fall short.
The first step to proactively adapt to the new buyer and creating a customer experience is understanding the mindset required for growth.
Before you can make active changes to your internal culture or strategy, you first have to understand and internalize why you need to make those changes.
Many industrial manufacturing companies we’ve worked with have had a heavy product focus. Features and product improvements are stressed in marketing content, salespeople lean on these items when talking to prospects, and the company as a whole leans into the idea that products and features are the most important thing going on.
And of course, products and features are essential. If your product can’t do what you say it’s going to do then nothing else really matters. You might get by for a while with shoddy products, but in the age of the internet, you can’t hide those kinds of sins forever.
But in terms of value, your products and features are table stakes. You need to think about your business more in terms of aspirational or inspirational value. How do you help your customers succeed? How do you help them solve problems and improve their business? How do you help your customers' strategy improve?
If you’re competing on features, then you begin to move into a kind of commodity business where you’re trying to create differentiation by competing on price or basic feature sets. You might win business, but you won’t win loyalty. You won’t create a customer experience that brings customers back. You will forever be at the mercy of your customers doing a Google search and finding someone cheaper.
So, this is where you, as a leader, can make a difference. The mindset of the customer first is the value that you bring as an executive.
There are three key features to this mindset:
What produces growth? Business leaders have two key levers they can pull to produce growth: culture and strategy.
A customer-first mission drives a customer-first culture.
Your strategy is how you deliver a customer experience..
"The first and most important step is to shift the organization’s mindset to focus on solving for the customer. Make decisions based on what’s in their interest—because what’s in the customer’s interest is in the organization’s interest too." Dharmesh Shah, HubSpot*.
What a second you say, of course, we put the customer first. The mission statement on the wall in the front office (that no one in your company actually reads) says we are a customer-focused organization.
How about your sales team? Or is the quota or call minimums you assigned for this month the most important thing?
What about your design or product development team? Maybe, but do they survey customers regularly? Do they dig in and understand what features buyers really want or are they just guessing?
And don’t forget the back office. Do they think about the customer experience or are they concerned about getting the transaction completed on their time frame, with no human connection to the customer, hiding behind policies, office hours, and terms and conditions?
The service team does right? Well...they just react when the phone rings and try to make the customer happy for now to stop the complaining at the least possible cost to the company?
Don’t forget your customer-facing teams. Do they insure customers are successful with your product? Or like most comapnies, do they set it up, get them going, and then forget it until they have a problem and call service? Do they even really know if your customers are actually successful in achieving the goals they had when they bought from you in the first place?
Building a predictable revenue engine requires creating a company mission centered on the goals of customers and a culture of helping customers achieve those goals first. And then getting everyone in the organization aligned around that mission and then acting every day in ways that help fulfill it.
When your business develops a clear mission, you are able to build a culture as the environment driving everyone towards the mission.
Culture is the sum of the values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of leadership applied through an operating system. Your operating system is the set of tools and processes your business develops to guide your team towards the mission. The operating system includes communication systems and tools, employee feedback mechanisms, your documented culture, and connections for each employee to the company strategies and plans and how they contribute to the overall business objectives.
A customer-focused culture drives alignment to the mission and aligns everyone with the goals of the customer. The operating system enables your people to deliver value to the customer and to contribute feedback to the team and leadership.
If everyone is aligned with the goals of the customer then your business will grow.
This is the mindset requires for success with modern buyers.
“An inbound organization is guided by a philosophy, a set of core beliefs, and best practices that impact every person in every department to provide value and build trust with customers, partners, and anyone they touch.”*
Why does a customer-focused mission and culture drive revenue?
“As Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” A culture of customer focus, solving for the customer, with everyone aligned around the needs of the customer, and making sure customers are successful is the way to grow your business in this age of buyer control.”
Your mission is how your company uses your resources, people, products, and service capabilities to help a certain set of people in a specific target market, solve a specific problem.
An Inbound Organization details its mission around the customer’s definition of success.
A good test of the strength of your mission is to ask yourself if any other company could use the same statement to describe their organization.
The mission unites everyone and provides an inspirational statement defining what everyone is working towards.
The mission offers buyers a clear understanding of who you are and why they should care about you.
A customer-focused mission is:
Understand your company’s why and build a mission around helping customers and then communicate it to everyone and live most importantly, live it. And then you have the foundation for building an Inbound Organization.
"Understand what kind of culture your best people want and build that. In most cases, I think businesses will find that their stars want the autonomy to do what they know needs to be done, support, and investment to learn what they need to know and transparency to understand what’s going on in the business. And most importantly, a mission and purpose that they can believe in.” Dharmesh Shah
Your culture is your mindset manifested in your environment. Culture is what you do every day, how you work, how you act, how you react. Culture also encompasses how you make decisions and how you create a company with the kinds of people who can create the customer experience you want.
You can feel the difference a company culture makes when you are exposed to companies that have built a company culture that permeates the business. Healthy culture can’t be faked; it has to be authentic.
A large part of that authenticity comes from the people you employ. By hiring for people who fit your culture and building your culture into every aspect of the business, you create an environment that fosters and allows your employees to provide the kind of customer experience you are aiming for.
From the book Inbound Organization we learned that for HubSpot, scaling culture means focusing on what works. “It is about doing what we say we do, avoiding disruption, documenting our beliefs and culture, and sharing it,” says Hannah Fleishman.
Elements of a company culture include:
Typical strategy development misses the changes in buyer behavior because it is too often inwardly focused. Modern buyers don’t care about that strategy document on your desk or mission statement on the wall. They only care about how much you help them and if their experience with your team, products, and company were extraordinary.
Strategy development is usually more about planning activities and tactics than it is about creating differentiation and competitive advantage. This is somewhat natural in that you control your tactics. What you do every day is your choice. So that is what companies and managers focus on.
Your customers are the ones in charge of your revenue, no matter how much the sales department thinks it is.
Remember this statistic, 74% of sales go to the first company that was helpful.
74% of sales go to the first company that was helpful.
Your strategy is how you are going to create the customer experience and be helpful. The strategy encompasses all of the tools and tactics you employ and the plans for how each individual person, decision, and action work together toward creating a customer experience.
Your strategy should be focused on sharing and educating. You don’t know where a prospect is in the buyer journey, so your job is to share the information they need and want when they want it. This can take some familiar forms like tradeshows and tradeshow materials, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t also leverage modern technology and software.
The key is to choose the tools and tactics that work to further your mission and build the customer experience that your customers will most benefit from. Tools like a chatbot on your website or a YouTube channel might be great ways to serve information for your company, but they might not. Don’t feel like you have to utilize a certain tool just because it’s in or trendy. All of the pieces of your strategy should be working for you and helping your customers if they aren’t then throw them out and find what does.
“From thousands of buyer interviews spanning dozens of industries, there is one aspect of almost every buyer’s journey that is pervasive and absolutely terrifying :
Almost no one can recall any marketing engagement that influenced their decision.” Adele Revella
To engage anyone, to start and build a relationship, based on trust, that ends up with them buying from you requires you to be helpful first.
Help is what people remember.
Developing a strategy to be helpful drives your relationships with prospects, customers, and even your partners and employees. Trying to execute any other business strategy without being helpful will lead to failure with today’s buyer. You may win at first or even for a while, but someone in your competitive space will figure out how to deliver a superior customer experience by being much more helpful than you and destroy your strategy, positioning, mission statement, and planning. And that company is never more than a click away from any of your customers.
In my book Inbound Organization, Marcus Sheridan says,
“Helping is the essence of the “they ask, you answer” idea. We don’t base our decisions on competitors. We don’t base our decisions on bad fits that aren’t ideal customers or clients anyway. We base our decisions on prospects that are a good fit for our business. If that is whom we’re focused on, then it gives us the ability to communicate however we want and be totally honest and be totally real. We don’t have to fluff it; we don’t have to do any of that stuff. We can be straightforward with the information and give it to people directly. That wins us trust, and ultimately trust is what drives revenue.”*
Key parts of your customer-focused strategy include:
A good place to start is to understand how you help your customers now. How helpful are your people? The best judge of how well you help are your customers. Ask them how helpful you are and try to understand the buying experience from their point of view.
Many technical leaders assume customers are happy, that the product or service is working as it should. But this basic level of satisfaction is just table stakes now. Everyone expects the basic utility of the product or service to deliver what is promised. The experiences that buyers have at every point in the process is what differentiates companies now.
Think about these questions as you evaluate the customer experience your team delivers:
Leaders must invest their time with buyers, see the world from their perspective, and understand how they need and want to be helped.
Inbound is more than just a marketing strategy. The original strategy reflected the changes in buying behavior, but inbound today has come to represent a way of thinking, a mindset, and philosophy for growing your business in the 21st century.
Growing today requires a mindset that reflects inbound ideas and everyone on your team must understand and adopt these ideas.
Everyone on your team contributes to or takes away from the customer experience. Align everyone around a specific mission to help your customers, create a culture where your people are empowered to be the most helpful, and execute strategies to connect with those ideal buyers and help them how they want to be helped.
Do these things and you will be rewarded with the growth you deserve.