We spoke with the CEO of Peter Strohkorb Consulting, a pioneering force that changes the marketing space, engineering your plan to cater for the unique challenges and customer base your business possesses.
Hi Peter, you’re the CEO of Peter Strohkorb Consulting. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Gladly! My passion is about growing businesses by aligning the sales and marketing activities on the customer. I spent 20 years in the corporate sector, working in sales and marketing for global powerhouses like Canon, Sony, 3M and CSC. What I noticed was that they all suffer from what I call “WeWe Syndrome”.
When sales reps and marketers introduce their companies they invariably start with “We are…” and “We do…” instead of being more customer-focused, like this: “Our customers tell us that we (insert our value proposition here).” In this way we immediately convey the value that we bring to a client, instead of talking about ourselves and making the prospect figure out what’s in it for them.
So, I have made it my firm’s mission to eradicate “WeWe Syndrome” from business.
What are some of the services you offer?
We help organisations win more business by focusing their sales and marketing on their customers, not on their products. We do everything that an organisation needs to become more customer-focused around its sales and marketing functions, ranging from assessing and benchmarking an organisation’s readiness for customer-centricity to strategy design, planning and implementation. I even coach and mentor company boards, individual business owners and corporate executives.
What is important is that we have a structured approach that works. We assess your status quo, bring our findings to your decision makers and co-create with you a structured plan that we then help you to implement. We don’t impose a one-size-fits-all solution on our clients, instead, we work collaboratively with them on their specific solution. It works so well because by the time the solution is defined our client is already bought into it because they helped design it.
What makes it so important that sales and marketing are able to work together if a business is going to succeed?
Sales and marketing working in separate business silos is really an outmoded concept. It stems from management theory back in the 1980s and ’90s when the hype was to establish organisational centres of excellence. In reality, organisations accidentally created an isolationist culture that are now proving difficult to realign.
We live in an era where the Buyer has taken charge of the sale – we call it the Buyer’s Journey. Vendors and salespeople have lost control of the sale as buyers decide who, where and when they will contact a vendor to buy something. Before they do, they will have done their research online and they have down-selected two or three vendors that they will contact when they feel ready.
For vendors this is terrible because we never know who is in the market for what we are selling until we are either contacted by a buyer, or – even worse – we hear that a competitor closed a deal that we didn’t even know existed.
So, to answer your question, marketing now plays an enormously important role in attracting a buyer to our brand while they are in their research phase, so that they will choose our organisation as one of the down-selected vendors. Then, when a buyer makes contact with one of our reps we want the reps to make that experience seamless for the buyer and give them the best possible customer experience. That can only happen if sales and marketing work together.
What are the main sales challenges? How do you go about solving them? Do you think that sometimes businesses don’t even realise they have a problem?
The main challenge that sales is faced with is that we view the world from our perspective.
I call it inside-out thinking. From the first point of contact with a prospect or buyer we are geared towards making a sale. We should be geared towards helping the customer to buy. This mindset shift is very hard to accomplish, mainly because we are obsessed with short-term sales results. It creates this horrible dichotomy whereby sales managers tell their reps to take their time to understand the customer and their challenges so that we can offer them the right solution. Then, as we approach the end of the month or the quarter we tell them to stop all that and hurry up, get the deal done.
Is that crazy, or what?
And yes, you are right, businesses can be so caught up in that paradigm that they don’t even realise they have a problem. It reminds me of that sketch where a couple of stone age people are pulling a cart with square wheels and another cave man is offering them a set of round wheels. They reject the offer, saying “we are too busy for improvements.”
How do we solve this problem? Easy. We help them see the world from their customers’ perspective. We help them turn their messaging around from “We are so great and important that you should just buy from us” to “Here is what we help you to achieve, Mr or Mrs Customer. And here is an example of a customer similar to you where we have done it. So, you are in safe hands with us.” We speak the customer’s language and we help them to buy from us.
Why is it important that every aspect of an organisation is contributing to improving the customer experience?
Good question, let me give you an example. We conducted a customer-centricity readiness assessment with a large organisation in the energy sector. When we came to the finance department they told us that they have nothing to do with customer experience because they never see a customer. What they did not see with their inside-out thinking was that it just takes one wrong electricity bill or one overzealous accounts-receivable clerk to undo all the great work that had previously been done by the sales and marketing team in positioning the organisation as customer-friendly. Can you see how all the wheels need to work together before an organisation can call itself customer-centric? Just saying that we are customer-focused doesn’t make it reality.
Why do you think so many businesses are focussed on their products, not their customers?
Simple, it’s historical. Product management tells marketing how great our products and services are and how they are so superior that they will practically sell themselves. Marketing then takes that at face value and creates sales collateral, lead generation initiatives and ad campaigns that carry that same message. Sales people are then trained in the new product or service and become infused with the same message. No one has thought of the customer. It’s astounding how often that still happens.
Talk us through what you think are some of the more effective sales techniques. Are there any that you believe are a waste of time?
It depends on what you consider a sales technique. Making one hundred cold calls every day in the hope of hitting upon one or two people who just happen to be in the market for the thing we are selling right at that time is not something I would advocate. I’d consider that a waste of time.
The power has shifted to the buyer. Sales reps now need to become trusted advisors to buyers who are ready to make a buying decision but just want to clear up a few last remaining questions.
Anything that informs a buyer and guides them towards buying from us is a sales technique I can support. There are a few, and of course I have one that I call Permission-Based Selling which is built on the philosophy that pushy hard selling only turns buyers off and that we first need to earn the permission of the buyer to sell to them. My method teaches how to accomplish this and remain on the side of the buyer throughout the sales process – or the buying process, if you like.
How has the nature of sales been affected by the changing business landscape? Is selling more complicated in a digital world with a global marketplace or does it make it more exciting? Are the sales possibilities endless?
Yes, as I mentioned, the buyer now has all the information they need at their fingertips to be able to choose a product and a vendor. The power has shifted from the sales rep to the buyer. It means that sales reps now need to become subject matter experts and trusted advisors to buyers who are ready to make a buying decision but just want to clear up a few last remaining questions.
Sales possibilities are indeed endless. They say that the Internet makes small organisations look large and large ones larger. We now live in a global marketplace where expertise and customer experience are king.
What kind of organisations have benefited from closer sales-marketing alignment and CX?
Organisations that want to differentiate themselves based on customer experience and that have made the transition from selling to helping to buy are generally doing well. This can only happen in organisations where everybody is collaboratively focused on the same goal: customer experience. These organisations have more loyal customers who come back for repeat business, more engaged and happy staff who stay longer with the organisation and they attract a higher-performing calibre of talent because – let’s face it – high performing staff can choose where they want to work and they would rather work for a collaborative organisation where they feel supported to be successful than one that is still mired in silo mentalities and beset by internal finger-pointing.
Anything else you want us to know?
Yes, the journey to customer-centricity is neither hard, nor expensive. As the Chinese proverb says: “The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.” You just need to decide to take that first step.
For more information about how Peter can help you and your business, visit: www.peterstrohkorbconsulting.com.
Click here to buy Peter’s internationally acclaimed book, The One Team Method.