Generating Business in difficult times
This post was triggered by a chat I was having a few days ago with Kumar Priyaranjan who heads HR for a company I work with and who is, I think an extremely strategic thinker. A lot of his inputs, and interventions are long term and well thought out.
We were discussing how businesses are managing during this economic downturn and he mentioned how he had ensured there are no travel cuts in his company. His logic was, that one must cut travel costs but NOT travel per se. And that actually during such times, reducing contact or touch-points with customers is suicidal. It made a lot of sense to me.
Given the present scenario, whether it is consulting or any other business (specifically B2B), I think each one of us in a customer facing role, should be focussed on INCREASING customer contact.
The challenge as in all breakthrough thinking is to double the customer touchpoints and reduce your travel costs to half! Is this possible? Of course. Think Video-Conferencing. Think combining trips so that you cover more customers per trip, planning itineraries in a manner that allows you to do that. Buying tickets off the internet well in advance, to get value deals. Using coupons. And I could go on. But that’s not the key.
The key is, when about 60-70% companies are blindly cutting cost, which includes cutting down travel. If you can find ways to travel more, guess who’s meeting customers more often than competition?
Having said that, I think this is the time when all of us in customer facing roles have to make a shift from hunting to farming. New game is going to be difficult to come by. But deepening and widening an existing customer is going to cost less, and close faster. You have trust and rapport. They have proof of delivery and an existing relationship which can be leveraged.
So what’s the difference between hunting and farming. First – mindset. Second – skill. Third – thrill.
Mindset – Just as a farmer is able to go in for crop rotation, plant multiples crops on the same piece of land, so also as a farmer, do you have to see your client with NEW EYES, and ask what other business opportunities exist here, that I have not yet been able to see? Farming an account begins from this mindset.
Skill – When you’re hunting, you’re focussed on identifying your prey, giving chase and bringing it down. When you’re farming, you’re understanding the lay of the land, you’re looking at yield, you’re exploring other yield areas. Hunting is a focus shoot and kill game. Farming is an explore, uncover, sow, nurture, reap game. It requires a different skill. You don’t proposition your customer. You don’t position your product or service (you’ve already done that and closed, remember?). You explore. You seek to understand pain areas. You ask a lot of open questions. You meet people other than your primary contact. You network INSIDE your client’s business. You ask your client for INTERNAL referrals. And once you have an understanding of the depth and breadth of the client, you develop/put together solutions, and present to the client.
Thrill – will take a little longer than the hunt, but you know what, for the next few quarters, the Hunt cycle’s going to be long. My belief is that the farm cycle is going to be a little shorter than before. Companies that already have great relationships, will be open to prospecting from trusted partners. Everyone is risk averse about almost everything these days! Use that advantage.
The problem is, most organizations are so siloed that different sales teams don’t collaborate, each one is focused on their own targets and target segments. I know this full service IT/ITeS firm which has service offerings in SAP, SAAS, Customised application development, several verticals like Insurance, Banking, Retail. However, when a sales-rep from the SAP team visits a client, she only presents and proposes for the SAP Services! Other needs are not explored. NOR do sales-reps from other divisions, reach out to the SAP team to share customers. And competitors step into the gaps, which existing suppliers are unable to see and get a foot in the door.
Farming needs to be looked at as an organizational activity. And not an individual SBU driven process. Are you tilling the land for all that it can provide? Or are you harvesting coconuts because there happen to be coconut trees there? Farming is about looking beyond the coconut! Farming is about operating beyond your division in order to uncover opportunities which the larger organization can harness and convert.
Are you building an internal network across other sales team in YOUR organization? Are you calling them and introducing them to YOUR Clients? Are you requesting them to help open up their clients? Are you co-creating partnered solutions that you and other SBUs together can offer?
When it comes to farming an account, question is, as a partner, do you feel their pain? Do you know where it hurts? Do you know where the fallow land is and where it’s fertile? Are you mapping the landscape to discover the oases in the desert?
Farming what’s been Hunted – Open new business with the SAME client
Increase Customer Interaction/Touch-points at a lower cost (Twitter with your clients…ever thought about that? It’s next to free!)
Networking INSIDE your own organization to generate leads
Asking clients for INTERNAL references