Do you REALLY have a Customer Strategy?

Sales is changing – in many cases it’s now Business Management (see “Death of a Salesman?” in this section).  Sales people are measured on top line AND bottom line. And although the quarter and year’s results matter, Sales Leaders are more and more keen to find those who can deliver sustained success.  To deliver the short term while feeding the long term a Customer Strategy is essential.
 

Speaking regularly with Sales Leaders they are almost always in a hurry – in fact it’s tough to speak with them as they generally have ‘something more important’ to do than talk with me about their customer strategy.  Shame.  Because sooner or later, just trading to the number won’t work.

When creating CommercialSolutions I spoke with leaders across Fortune 100 businesses in different industries.  A client lamented his teams had little idea what a customer strategy was and assured me that “as you can help with this you will be successful”.  I’ll let him (and you) be the judge, but here are the broad steps I use.

What is a Customer Strategy?

There will be many threads of debate on LinkedIn groups discussing this question.  Simply, it’s a vision of your destination and what it will be like when you arrive.  Then a what you will prioritize to get there.

 

It isn’t a Joint Business Plan (JBP), certainly not the type that many negotiate with the customer.  You are making decisions about your business, where you are going to focus, and where you will not focus.  The granular plan comes later, and we will leave JBP’s for another time.

How do you build a Customer Strategy?

Here are some simple steps that I use to achieve this.

1. Understand where you are and what’s going on in your market
 

Look at where your organization is going, what’s important to you and the role that your customer has to play in delivering the overall plan.  Then do the same for your customer corporately and within your categories.

 

2. Decide your destination, including internal and external pressures
 

Create a vision of where you are going and what it will be like when you arrive.  You’ll have to consider the customer’s vision, and if it’s not close, plan accordingly.

 

3. Decide what you will focus on

Choose your battles; where you will focus resources. This includes financial and human capital.  Where will you deploy them to take you furthest along your path.

4. Sell in the strategy

First internally, then externally.  Understand where conflicts may occur and be ready.  Ideally you’ll have involved your stakeholders in the process so this shouldn’t be a shock.

 

5. Deliver

6. Review and update

Review regularly and honestly.And if you need to alter your course slightly, then do it.However, unless something fundamentally changes you should continue to focus on your goal, just on a different path.

It may look easy, and do keep things simple, however, taking the time to allow the clarity of thought to deliver a focused, successful customer strategy is hard.  Often it helps to have someone from outside the team help with this process to keep you out of the weeds.

Done well a Customer Strategy will be a well-used tool that provides focus and direction for the whole team.  It requires making decisions that can then be referred to during delivery.  It provides clarity for the team and external stakeholders.  Most of all your customer will see an aligned team that speak together about how you will help them deliver their goals.

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