It is tough times if your company is not winning and keeping enough customers. There are two common blockages that get in the way: a weak promise to your market or a weak delivery of your promise.
If you can lift your promise to what your market really wants, then the first blockage is removed.
But if you do not deliver on that promise, they will not repeat and your reputation could slide. So if you go further and align your team to deliver it, the second blockage is removed.
This double alignment of promise to market and then company to promise is the key to getting a powerful competitive advantage. We call this process ‘Company-Customer Alignment’.
Let’s put this strategy into action…
To get a quick aerial view, the first stage is to align your promise to your market. To achieve this, you are going to flesh out three pieces of information: your market’s needs, your competitors’ messages and your company’s strengths.
From these, you will virtually ‘triangulate’ the most compelling promise, or ‘Unique Selling Proposition’ (USP), for your company to take to your market.
The second stage is to align your company to that USP. You will take your team through how you arrived at it. Then you will show them how they directly contribute to the fulfilment of that promise and help them link their very performance to it.
The first task is to set up a project team of key department heads to guide this programme. Having them involved from day one gets their buy-in to what can be a pretty big change.
This team can bring in consultants to do any of these exercises, but that team must be confident in the method and outcomes, because they will need to own the result.
The first information is market research. You want to learn five key ingredients from a selection of customers, lost customers and potential customers:
- What do they like about you and your competitors?
- What don’t they like?
- What risks and worries do they have when considering a product or service like yours?
- How do they research and how do they make a buying decision?
- Lastly, what would they like that no one has offered yet?
Don’t fall into the trap of believing you already know the answers to these questions based on past experience. Things change. Markets change. Needs change and fears, expectations and requirements change. You must engage in either surveying or interviewing your customers. If you engage a third party to run the research, you will probably get more and better answers. But you can also consider anonymous online data entry or reply-forms.
What you want to draw out is what your customers want, whether or not they are currently getting that from you or your competitors.
The second exercise is competitor research. In this exercise, you want to learn how your competitors are positioning themselves. While there are great analytical tools that the right consultants can deploy, there is a simple analysis you can try yourself.
There are three ‘value disciplines’ a company can pursue as their focus: Customer Intimacy, Product Leadership and Operational Excellence.
Customer Intimacy is about knowing the customer better than others. That company may not have the best product, and is probably not the cheapest, but they are competing around the idea of “We know you better”.
Product Leadership is about supremacy of the product or service. It won’t be the cheapest and the company may not be the most customer-friendly, but it competes around the idea of “We are the experts and our product is the best quality”.
Operational Excellence is about value and consistency. It won’t be the best or the most customer intimate. This company is saying “We are reliable, great value and efficient”.
So, identify your main competitors and read through their website, brochures and other collateral. In here will be words, phrases and claims that point to their hidden value discipline.
If your market research shows that customers want their needs better understood but your competitor research shows your competitor is talking about how great their expertise is, you might already be uncovering a gap.
The third information gathering is to learn your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This is a classic SWOT workshop.
In particular, your objective is to list what your key strengths are, those factors that are unique to you and not shared by your competitors.
A SWOT analysis can be facilitated by consultants, but you can also run your own SWOT. Bring in a selection of participants from across your company and work through the Strengths, exhaustively. Do not apply judgement. Just brainstorm. Then when you have a good list, apply judgement and remove the strengths that are vague, incorrect or wishful.
With these three core pieces of information, create three columns with your project team on a whiteboard and summarise the three information exercises into bullet points.
Then, look for the factors in common: What does your market want, that competitors are failing to adequately claim, and which you could deliver?
The answer is the raw material behind your new USP.
You might learn that your customers want their special circumstances understood better and they want a faster delivery, that your competitors are too busy shouting about their expertise, and that your team has greater customer relationship skills.
Your marketing people can turn this into a bite-sized USP. They might come up with: “Get the right widget for you, today, instead of the best widget for somebody else, tomorrow”.
So, you have got the first part of your Company-Customer Alignment achieved. And because you have gone through the right process, the second stage is made much easier.
Your project team should be familiar with where you landed and how you got there. Their job is now to pass that story on. They need their teams to understand the objective of the exercise, the process, what the discoveries were and how it led to your USP.
Then teams need to workshop the ways in which they directly impact that USP. It will pay to have already prepared some guidance for ‘blank moments’ as some people may not see it at first.
You might all find that the warehouse team contribute to the ‘today’ promise by ensuring widgets are in stock. Sales people may contribute to the ‘right’ promise by better understanding customer needs. Your administration staff might contribute to both of these by fulfilling client orders, invoices and communications accurately and quickly.
Eventually, every individual can find a way in which they contribute to part or all of your company’s promise.
Whether or not you had position descriptions with key performance indicators, you will need them for this second stage of Company-Customer Alignment.
Each person needs a PD that includes how they impact the company’s promise and what their minimum specific achievements need to be.
For instance, warehouse and procurement staff might need to ensure between three and five days’ worth of all widgets are in stock at any one time. Sales may need to ensure that every customer has a ‘My Needs’ form filled out for them. Administration might need orders processed within 60 minutes of receiving them.
When you then manage and reward, the very fibres of the skin of your employees are directly tied to the delivery of a new promise… and that promise came directly from the mouths of your customers. Your company and your customer are aligned.
Stephen Johnson is a Director of Strategy and Action, a business strategy and marketing consultancy serving Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Stephen has created and executed breakthrough growth strategies for companies from most sectors in Australia. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Ansett is the founder of Bob Ansett Marketing, a consultingfirm in the field of customer service. Bob is also a familiar name in Australian business, synonymous with Budget Rent a Car, which he established in 1965. Bob can be contacted at email@example.com