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Generating revenue: are these the 14 questions to ask your customers?

I say that the customer experience movement is, or should be, about  creating superior value for customers and making customers feel valued.  Why?  So that they stick around longer, buy more and get people in their networks to do business with your organisation.  Put differently, the focus on customer experience must at some point show up in revenues and profits.  Else, it is not sustainable.

How does one go about generating more revenue and improving profits? How about asking the following questions of your customers:

I wish to give credit where credit is due: I have taken the work of Kristin Zhivago as shared in Roadmap to Revenue and added/modified it so that it fits with my experience and my style.   If Kristin’s book interests you (in my view it should) then you can read my review here.

Sales: are you cultivating desire when you should be focussing on dealing with skepticism?

The situation:  buyers are interested in what you have to sell and yet you are failing to sell

Situation 1: You have a website and you get your fair share of visitors to that site.  You don’t have to pay much to get them to your website as they come naturally via Google.   Your website is not an entertainment destination and you are not in an ‘entertainment type of business’.  So you can be confident that the bulk of the folks coming to your website are clearly interested in what you are offering.  You have an attractive proposition.  So why is it that only a small percentage of interested buyers actually buy from you through your website?

Situation 2: I was with a client this week and some of the folks there shared their frustration.  What is their frustration?  They they have a set of inter-related jobs that need doing and they need a ‘solution’ that does these jobs.  So they invited in a well know brand whose marketing claims to provide just the solution.  Several meetings (including demos) have taken place and my client has yet to see the ‘solution’.  To date the client has listened to lots of talk and sat through poor demos of products that the sales reps claim can be knitted together to create a solution. My client remains unconvinced and is totally unimpressed – he hasn’t even been told what the total cost of this ‘solution’ is likely to be.

What does Kristin Zhivago (Roadmap to Revenue) have to say on this?

I recently wrote a post praising Kristin Zhivago’s book Roadmap to Revenue.  As I was grappling with the question “Why do websites and sales folks fail to sell despite being in front of interested buyers?” Kristin’s wisdom came into my mind.  And that is the wisdom that I wish to share with you (and I don’t use the word ‘wisdom’ lightly):

“When someone sets out to buy a product or service, they bring two antithetical emotions to the process: desire and skepticism.  Desire compels them forward, skepticism yanks them back.

They desire certain product/service attributes.  They desire a smooth buying process, including friendly, helpful sellers, straight forward and reasonable pricing and an easy way to examine the product and compare the product with other choices.

Their skepticism comes from past experiences with sellers who promised good products and exceptional service but who delivered disappointing results.  The product or service was substandard.  The buying process was uncomfortable, confusing or difficult.  Customer service didn’t help.

Reading copy on websites, you’d think that 1) buyers have no desires and 2) buyers are not skeptical.  For some reason, marketers and website copywriters completely ignore these two realities.  The copy treats the customer as if he had to be encouraged to spend money – when, in fact, most people spend every penny they can. “

Kristin goes and elaborates on this critical theme (p115):

Desire is what starts the person on his buying process.  However, as soon as he begins the buying process, his skepticism kicks in.  The more expensive and complex the purchase, the greater the scrutiny that the customer will apply to the purchase.

The answers the customer seeks must be easily accessible on the website.  And if the buying proceeds to the next stages, the company representative must be available – and able – to answer the customer’s questions.

All companies, small and large, in every industry, don’t get this right.  They behave as if they want your business, but when you come to them, eager to buy, they behave as if your business doesn’t matter to them.  They don’t help you take the next step.”

Desire brings the customer to your website.  Once there, he doesn’t need anyone to stoke the fires of his desire.  He needs the website to allay his skepticism. He needs your website (or a salesperson) to answer his questions so he can decide if the product or service is going to solve the problem.”

Then Kristin lays it out on the table for all to see clearly and get present to what is so:

“A sale is what happens at the very end of the customers’ buying process.  Marketers typically focus all their efforts on the beginning of the buying process.  They think that what happens at the later stages of the buying process and after the sale, is someone else’s responsibility.”

Is this issue only limited to smaller less sophisticated companies?  This is what Kristen has to say on the matter:

Big companies also fail to support the latter stages of the buying process.  One of the largest companies in the world runs clever commercials showing people getting their business problems solved by the large company.  But  when the customer actually decides that the large company might be able to meet is need, he goes to the company website – and his buying process is stopped dead in its tracks.  He can’t figure out where to start.  There is nor relationship between those clever commercials and the products and messages on the company’s website.  There is no easy way to figure out whom to contact.”

What does Kristin advise?

“We have all set out to buy something and have soon become discouraged from doing so.  Our skepticism – and or our inability to find exactly waht we wanted – forced us to abandon the effort…This is one of the reasons to map out the entire buying process for our product or service, from the initial desire all the way through the purchase, and beyond, including customer support. From the customer’s perspective, all phases of the buying process are important.  Customers are just as likely to ditch the process near the end as they were at the beginning…..”

Final thoughts 

Would you buy a car without actually sitting in it, driving it and talking with (even if that is via social media) others who have already bought that car and lived with it or several months?  So why do you expect our customers to do what you would not do yourself?

From where I stand and view the world, based on lived experience, it occurs to me that Kristin speaks ‘truth’ – she has identified what is so.  Too much focus on cultivating desire and little or no consideration on addressing the skepticism by answering the questions honestly/accurately.  Too much focus on messaging, telling and making loft claims and almost none on professionally demonstrating the solution AND showing such a solution in actual operation.

An invitation, an offer – do you want to get a free copy of Roadmap to Revenue?

I think so highly of Kristin’s expertise captured and shared in her book Roadmap to Revenue that I asked her if she would be happy to send me a copy that I can offer you free.  She agreed and I have that book in my possession.  So here is my invitation, my offer:

I have one FREE copy of Roadmap to Revenue and I will post it to the first person who sends me an email asking for it.  I have one request – please only ask it if you are going to read it / make use of it.  If you know that you are not going to do that then leave it for one of our fellow human beings who will use it and get value out of it.  A useful book should not be left sitting on the shelf!”

Want to grow your business? Build a Roadmap to Revenue – sell the way that customers buy!

Why are you focussing on the Customer Experience?

Isn’t the answer something like:

  • turn more of the people who have a need for and/or an interest in buying the ‘products’ you are selling into customers of yours;
  • increase the happiness of the people who have bought from you (customers) because you have made it easy for them to buy what they are looking to buy.  And because what you sold them does the job they expect it to do for them / enables them to arrive at their desired outcome.  And because the experience of using your ‘product’ matches and/or exceeds their expectation; and
  • helps you to get more interested buyers to turn up at your store and/or website (without heavy marketing spend) because they have heard good, even great, things about you from the people who have already bought from you?

How exactly are you going to find out what matters to your customers and convert that into a roadmap?

The question is how exactly are you going to find out what really matters to your customers and then convert that into roadmap that helps the people who are in the market to buy (buyers) to buy from you rather than your competitors?  That is the answer that Kristin Zhivago has answered comprehensively in her book Roadmap to Revenue.   Roadmap to Revenue is a book that speaks to me, it occurs to me as being grounded in experience (not theory), speaks/points at the ‘truth’ as shown by experience and is useful/actionable.  What makes that good?

The tag line for the book says it best “How to sell the way your customers want to buy”.  In this book Kristin lives up to what she preaches in the book – she delivers on the promise set out in the tagline.  Roadmap to Revenue provides a actionable, pragmatic and robust method (and tools and tips) for generating insight into customer needs (as buyers) and converting this into an actionable roadmap for giving giving customers (buyers) what they are looking for and thus growing you revenues.

The skeleton upon which the book hangs, the heart of the book, is the Roadmap to Revenue method that consists of three steps:

DISCOVER is concerned with figuring out how to make buying easier for the people (buyers/customers) who would benefit from the ‘products’ you are selling.  Kristin gets that there are various ways of getting at this insight including interviewing employees, conducting focus groups and using social media.   She also gets their limitations.  Based on that understanding and the kind of actionable insight customer interviews provide, Kristin strongly advocate interviewing existing customers to get at buyers needs and experience.  Furthermore, Kristin is clear that these interviews should be carried out over the phone, not face to face.  Why?  Because, our customers are that much more open, more honest, more disclosing when this interviewing happens over the phone.  If you have questions/doubts then think back to the faux pass Barclays made in asking me for my feedback face to face.

DEBATE involves the key players in your organisation to take part in conversations where they discuss, analyse and prioritise the feedback provided by your customers in the earlier Discover step.  The objective is to come to an agreement on the “essence of your promise to your customers” (in my framework I refer to this as the value proposition) and to determine which buying category your ‘product’ falls into so that later you can determine/get to grips with the customers buying process.  Kristin recommends a 2 day offsite “Brainstorming and Planning Meeting”  to do the work that is necessary in this step.

DEPLOY involves taking all that you have learned and turning that into a “Buying Process Roadmap” for each of the distinct ‘products’ that you are selling.  This map will show: the different stages of the customers buying process; they concerns that show up at each stage; the actions they take; the questions that customers are asking/grappling with,;the answers that satisfy them; and the best tools for providing those answers.  Once the Buying Process Roadmaps have been constructed it is time to put together the “Revenue Growth Action Plan”.  This is the implementation plan which sets out what you are going to do to improve what needs to be improved, to fix whats broken, to create what is needed and is not there……

Highlights from Roadmap to Revenue

Here’s a truncated list of the stuff that jumped out at me, resonated with me, created value for me:

1. “In order for you to sell, someone needs to buy.  If you make it easy they will buy from you.”  This is the essential concept out of / from / on which the entire book is constructed.

2. “The fundamental problem: When you thinking like a seller, you’re not thinking like a buyer.”  I absolutely love this oneWhy?  It is the ‘disease’ that infects just about every Customer initiative and the people who are infected cannot see that they are infected!  So any ‘customer-centricity’ is always driven by the needs and vantage point of the seller and selling. 

3. “Nothing gets the attention of a customer or prospect more than giving them what they want”  Why?  Because most sellers don’t give buyers what buyers are looking for and want in order to buy.

4. “There are dozens – even hundreds – of ways to market your product or service.  Only your customers can tell you how they want to buy what you sell.” People inside your company are so disconnected from buyers that they fall for whatever is the latest fad (think social media) or the most convincing salesperson.  They forget that the right person to ask is the buyer – only she can give you access to her world.  Only she can help you to find the right ways to market your ‘product’.

5. “If the CEO isn’t speaking up for your customers, there’s nothing that anyone else can do – regardless of their position – that will turn the company into a customer-centric organisation.”  I absolutely love this as it speaks to my experience of what is so within organisations and why most customer-centric efforts wither.

6. “Branding is the promise that you make.  Your “brand” is the promise that you keep.”  How many brand marketers really get that?  How many CMO’s get that?  How many Tops get that difference?  That small difference is the difference that makes a difference – the difference between the sellers perspective and the buyers perspective.

7.  “If the product or service is substandard, the word will get around.  Marketing won’t be able to save it.  The Roadmap to Revenue system is designed to get people together with good products and services, not to trick people into buying bad products and services.”  How much of current business practice is the latter – focussed on tricking people into buying ‘bad’ products and services?

8.  “The critical characteristic is the function that is so important to the customer that it compels the customer to buy the product.”  This reminds me of the needed to focus, to keep present to the 20:80 rule – to concentrate on that which really matters and do that excellently.

9.  “Perception is reality.  More specifically, your customers’ perception is your reality.” That is the way that organisations should work.  And almost every single one that I have interacted with, worked for/with, consulted with does not practice this.  The default condition in organisations is the opposite – it is the reality of the people (with power) in the organisation whose reality counts everyone else is mistaken including customers!

10.  “Desire is what starts the person on his buying process.  However, as soon as he begins the buying process, his skepticism kicks in.  The more expensive and complex the purchase, the greater the scrutiny that the customer will apply to the purchase.”  Why?  This is clearly spelt out in this aptly titled post by Kristin: Why Do Buyers Agonize?  Because Sellers Lie and Minimize.

Final words and disclosure

Kristin has written a gem of a book and I wholeheartedly recommend that you put this on your reading list.  I’d go further and say don’t do what I did: buy it from Amazon and have it sit on my Kindle for a month or so.  I am grateful for Kristin for sending me a physical copy (free) and inviting me to review it on this blog.  It is only when the physical copy turned up that it got my attention and I started reading it.  Once I got started I had to read it all as I found it that insightful, that useful.  If you do read it and don’t get value out of it then I’d love to hear from you!

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