From the Top Down
Martyn R. Lewis, Author, How Customers Buy…& Why They Don’t.
As Peter Drucker so notably stated, “The purpose of business is to create a customer”. Drucker went on to tackle the notion that to provide a return to shareholders is akin to breathing for the human body. Just as you must breathe to live, so must a business make a profit and a return to its shareholders. But just as the purpose of life is more than breathing, the purpose of business he argues, is more than making money. The purpose is to create a customer, because what do you have without a customer? You might have a fine research center or a noble philanthropic organization, but you don’t have a business.
It would therefore follow that companies should invest a lot of time and attention in exactly how they are going to do that. But in my more than four decades at all levels of corporate and consultative experience, I can resignedly attest that the logic, strategy, or process behind creating customers is rarely discussed at the executive level - it is simply taken for granted.
Conversely, it is also maddeningly ironic to see many organizations so diligently operating and investing in all their other business functions. The vast majority of businesses invariably show constant and careful attentiveness in their manufacturing, operations, finance, distribution, and research activities. But when it comes to creating a customer—that is, sales and marketing—they are anything but deliberate and mindful. Perhaps it is because sales functions are often viewed more as an art—often a black art by non-sales folk—than a science.
Traditional ways in which to look at the creation of customers have simply been too superficial. It’s always seemed so easy - show the superiority of your offering and prove its value. And here is the single biggest fallacy in business today, because the logic doesn’t work. To understand this, think inside your own company. What if your own sourcing people bought everything that came along that could legitimately offer the organization some sort of benefit? You would be overrun with new acquisitions, new things to do, to install, to learn, to pay for. You’d run out of cash, time and resources very quickly with staff being torn in disparate directions and routines and norms blown sky-high.
This kind of thinking may have worked in the past, but in today’s world it’s just not going to cut it. Customers are in the driver’s seat. They have unprecedented access to information. They are faced with an endless spectrum of offerings, all of which could benefit them. Decisions are now made by a dynamic network of decision influencers. Yet despite this, company after company still believes that the path to sales excellence is to design, implement, and manage a sales process which at its heart is simply a way to convince the customer of the value of the offering. However, I now realize that no one buys anything because of a sales process. Customers only buy as a result of their own buying journey.
So, where do we go from here? The process has to start by taking the focus away from what you are offering and why someone would buy it – that’s the easy stuff. You have to shift to an Outside-In approach of looking at the external reality of how your customers actually buy, and just as importantly why they don’t. And this is not as radical or counter-intuitive as it seems, because research has now shown that customers in a particular market buying a particular offering, behave in remarkably similar ways. In fact, we offer that this is the very definition of a market – customers who buy in similar ways. This then unlocks and opens the door for decoding and mapping the “DNA” of your target market’s buying journey. You will find that such a buying journey is not a straight line between two points. It involves many activities, a dynamic network of decision influencers, changing value drivers, various decision points and a daunting set of buying concerns, any of which can slow down or stop the buying journey at any time.
However, once the customer buying journey is mapped, you can then create your own market engagement strategy. The strategy should show exactly what market, or markets, are going to be the focus for your company and how you will approach that market. Because to realize investment in the offering, the customer must be supported throughout their buying journey and any decisions they have to make or anxieties they may have cannot be ignored or trivialized.
Managing an end-to-end buying journey cannot be left to each individual sales person to try to navigate on a trial and error basis. It would be the same as randomly dropping people off in the middle of a jungle without compass and maps and expect them to emerge alive at the other end. One or two may wander out eventually, but the cost and efforts are going to be immense and the results unpredictable. Yes, there might be that one-in-a-million Rambo who can hack through the undergrowth, swim across flooded canyons, wrestle tigers, and dive through waterfalls, but do you really want to commit the success of your organization to finding another Rambo?
Strategy and direction must emanate from the top down. If you accept Drucker’s assertion that the purpose of a company is to create a customer, then in today’s world there is no clearer an executive mandate than to map and manage your market’s buying journey. You must provide a way in which to align and coordinate all the resources of the organization to that task. Anything short of such clarity leaves the primary process of creating customers to chance. And chance, like hope, is not a strategy.
About the Author
Martyn R. Lewis is an acclaimed business professional with a vast background in all aspects of revenue generation. He consults globally with Fortune 500 companies across 44 countries, in 17 languages, and his work has impacted over 85,000 sales professionals. His signature theory, the decoding of the Buying Journey DNA forms the underlying basis of his new book How Customers Buy…& Why They Don’t.