British author and poet Rudyard Kipling made famous through Disney’s The Jungle Book provided me some lifelong advice in his fable “The Elephant’s Child”: “I keep six honest serving-men, they taught me all I knew, their names are what and where and when and how and why and who.” In other words, when you ask one important question, always ask the other five.
It is all too easy to conclude that we should shift from products to services and thereby secure recurring revenues, but where are the opportunities? When should I invest? How am I going to do it exactly? Why do I need to do it again? And to whom am I going to provide these services? And what happens if I only sell products?
Busy executives, when faced with difficult challenges, often ask lots of why, what, and how questions, but these tend to be introspective; my advice is to start at the beginning and focus on the WHO. Make the paradigm shift from thinking about your organization’s objectives and immerse yourself in your customers’. Rather than “what can I sell my customer?” the first question is “who is my customer?” Then you can move on to “what does my customer need to do, how can I help them?” What are my customer’s goals, how can I help them to achieve them?” What value are customers truly willing to pay for? You have to ask these questions because this business will never come to you, you have to create unique and compelling solutions that solve business problems.
The truth is that customers always have money, it’s just that they might not be spending it efficiently today, and not necessarily spending it with you. Our job is to understand who these customers are and what drives them, and then you can align both your products and services, which deliver real value that in turn generates recurring revenues and long-term profitability. In many cases these customers will be people you have never spoken to before; often within companies you have being doing business with for years. The secret is with the WHO.
In summary, focus on your customers, ask all the right questions, align your products and services to your customer’s priorities, and increase your share of their wallet. Do all these things and don’t worry about the money, it will come, time and again.
Julian Phillips is the Executive Vice President of Whitlock. This feature is part of SCN's "Hush Hush" October print issue.
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