“Skate to where the puck is going, not to where it is” is widely known as Wayne Gretzky’s secret to success as one of the all-time hockey greats. Easy for him to say and do… harder for most businesses to put into practice because of all their moving parts.
So how DO you skate to where the puck is going?
It’s not by spending most of your day on email. It’s not by spending your day in internal meetings. It’s not by commissioning market research projects.
It’s by getting out there and having executive-level meetings with your customers, not to sell them on today’s products (although sales always increase, just by virtue of paying attention to them), but to determine where their business is going and what value they’ll need from you going forward – which may NOT be products!
I call this a Value Creation Conversation, and over the years I’ve trained my clients in how to use very specific and customized questions to gain powerful insights. We make it a an easy process in their business where they meet just one customer each week to constantly top up their market insights, rather than just a one-time event. And no, you can’t do this via a marketing or customer satisfaction survey! The value is in having your customers feel heard by a senior executive, and that means really listening to the answers they provide. For clients who have thousands of customers all over the world, we take a slightly different approach but the impact is the same.
Initially, you have to meet them where they’re already at in their relationship with you, before you can explore how to grow together. That may mean listening to some venting about ongoing issues, uncovering current gaps and leaks, and seeing how you need to provide more value today in order to become a trusted partner tomorrow. That’s OK, that’s part of the process, and there’s always upside for you and for them.
Value Creation Conversations Almost Always Create Immediate ROI:
- In several cases, clients have uncovered immediate new business needs: $300K in one case, $600K in another. In both cases, that was business that was leaking out to competitors. If increasing revenues this year is on your radar, you’ll drive sales as an ancillary benefit, even though you’re not selling. That creates an immediate ROI for your time and theirs.
- Almost every time, clients discovered the dissatisfiers their customers forced their customers to jump ship for the competition and were able to take action to deal with the issues and concerns constructively and stop the bleeding – also an ancillary benefit that provides more value to your customers with great ROI for you.
- In every case, they’ve learned what their customers really wanted and needed when doing business with them… and have found opportunities to respond with new value add that enhanced their competitive advantage.
Channel Your Inner Sam
But I don’t want you to take my word for it. Sam Palmisano, the legendary retired CEO and Chair of IBM, famously met with a customer every single day of his tenure at the top. And you can bet that he wasn’t discussing whether the next order would be for servers or laptops! He wasn’t doing a meet-and-greet. He wasn’t doing a ride-along with his sales reps, talking to a purchasing manager. No, instead, Sam was eyeball to eyeball with fellow CEOs, probing to find out the real issues his customers were dealing with, and how IBM could be there to meet them where they were going. The result was IBM’s strategic pivot from selling increasingly commoditized hardware at low margins to transforming into the “let’s build a smarter planet” consulting and solutions provider that just happens to sell hardware to support those solutions. This is the perfect case study illustrating speed, flexibility, and agility in a fast-changing marketplace. By the way, IBM is about 4x as profitable as the other computer vendors it used to compete with. Does that sound like the kind of future you want for YOUR company?
When you’re ready for the kind of powerful insights that will enable you to pivot your business to be in the sweet spot for your customers in the future, it’s time for you and your executive team to get trained in the art of Value Creation Conversations, step away from your desks for 90 minutes once a week to learn from your customers and, like Wayne Gretzky, get ready to meet them where they’re going.
What’s the greatest insight YOU ever got as a result of meeting at an executive level with a customer?