The success of a B2B company’s revenue engine, its ability to reliably drive the top line, is determined by a host of factors, including target market strategy, sales personnel/process/operations, marketing, pricing, compensation plans, channel and strategic partners, etc. When sales begin to slump, CEO’s rightly go looking in these areas to uncover what’s not working.
There’s another place we should be looking but too often don’t: the market. You see, we get enamored with our businesses, our products and services, our perception of our value. Our passion for our business, our certainty that we are “the best,” can obscure the fact that the market isn’t as passionate about our offerings as we. Quietly, the market’s needs and demands are shifting and we’re missing the cues. But the evidence is there in the form of depressed sales.
Why are we missing the cues? Quite often, certain aspects of the buyers’ shift are under our very noses. The sales teams are coming back from the field and providing input like, “We’re too expensive.” Or, “Our competitors have a better solution.” Or, “The customer says our service is unreliable.” In our frustration with the poor performance, we begin to blame the sales team, doubting their skills and work ethic. But this response lacks objectivity and does nothing to solve the problem. In fact, it creates a chasm between the sales force and management.
It’s easy to find out what’s changing, because the market will tell us. But we have to go out and ask. This inquiry will uncover opportunities not to be found by looking inward, such as what:
- problems need solving
- voids they see from their current vendor set
- value proposition they’ll respond to
- buying processes have shifted
- services they don’t value
Who’s “the market?” Prospects, current and former customers, lost prospects, strategic and channel partners, even competitors. Their feedback will likely surprise you and provide fresh and important perspectives on changes necessary to improve product and service offerings, impacting revenue growth. Listen carefully for feedback that challenges internal assumptions and beliefs. The market will help you get a handle on such things as:
- where innovation is required
- whether products need bundling
- what add on services enhance value
- if pricing needs restructuring
- whether service levels need to be raised, or perhaps lowered to bring pricing down
This market research can be done internally, though it’s best not performed by your sales team, primarily because customers and prospects may find honest feedback difficult with an “invested” party. Instead have a senior officer of the company make the calls, better still, a 3rd party. You’ll be amazed at how willing folks are to participate in these conversations. Stepping back it’s easy to see why: customers are rarely asked what problems they need solved and instead are “sold” to. If only someone would care enough to ask.
Steve Jobs famously said (though I paraphrase) he didn’t believe in asking the customer what they want because the customer doesn’t know the answer. Well, most of us aren’t Steve Jobs and most of our companies aren’t Apple. In reality, our clients may not know the solution they’re looking for, but they certainly know what problems they need to solve. If revenues are in a slump, it may well mean we’re no longer solving customer problems in a way that makes our company a necessary component of their success.
Go ask the market – it will tell you! Your top line will be better for it.