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A four-step prescription to help you drive markets

Create impact where it matters most.

In my previous post I suggested that in order to gain the greatest insight we must “look broadly outside the industry.” Well here’s an example by way of a comparison of the metals industry to, of all things, the airline industry. I discovered some striking similarities as well as some interesting common ground. The exercise illustrates how, by simply having more empathy for what your customers are trying to accomplish, you could easily set yourself apart from the crowd. The airlines industry shows us; your product is only part of the job. I offer a prescription (the 4D process) that will help you create some new mojo around your business.

My own inspiration came from an article in the Wall Street Journal: “Delta Sends Its 11,000 Agents to Charm School” (Business section/February 3, 2011). Apparently, in 2010, the airline ranked last “among major carriers in customer service.” And, because delays and cancellations go beyond mere employee issues, the company is also hiring more workers, adding more planes, and increasing inventory of spare parts. It’s a $2 billion “improvement plan” to shore up their image and improve the experience of flying with Delta. The gist of the article is this:

“When a [customer] is frustrated, it takes just one surly [employee] to give an entire company a black eye” the author, Scott McCartney, deducts in his high profile article. Later, a seasoned Delta manager explains, “a lot of employees, day in and day out, lose their focus, lose their edge.” So the company, realizing it has lost its edge, is doing something rather drastic about it—employee charm school is key to their strategy to refocus.

I started to think about commercial air travel.

We don’t purchase tickets because we want to fly, it’s just a necessary step we have to endure in a process to get what we ultimately want: a meeting; a move; a visit or a vacation. Even third-tier suppliers, in any industry for that matter, can relate. “You’re important, but gee I wish I didn’t need you—please make this easy,” they’d like to say. And that’s what caught my attention. I further surmised that the “edge” they want to sharpen is the empathetic connection (or engagement) to their customers. A quality many of us could stand to cultivate more of if we were convinced it was important! The parallels to the metals industry started to flow in my mind:

  • Both industries satisfy a derived demand: Services are a necessary evil provided to help someone achieve an objective;
  • Both industries use intermediaries for purchasing: Fliers often use travel agents; industrial suppliers use purchasing agents;
  • Both industries exist in a market economy: Both exist to offer a product that someone is willing and able to buy. Consequently, identifying demand is vital for future viability and survival. And to my greater point;
  • Managers in both industries must swiftly identify and satisfy customer needs: Successful companies are capable of reacting promptly and formulating strategies that enable their customers to meet their objective while minimizing the load in the process.

Gas up your engines

Airline companies clearly try to “drive” markets to increase demand. They apparently have motivation to do this in spite of the role they play—that’s the lesson here. And when they need more lift, as Delta did after the surveys were in last year, they rely on market-driven engines—those fueled by customer need. If you read the article you would note that Delta’s “improvement plan” is everything but a marketing plan. It’s end-to-end focus, centered on creating impact on (improving) the process of delivering their product.

We have the same opportunity to wow customers. To get your head around it, think of it in terms of market orientation. It’s accepting a new perspective through a bit of discovery but it’s also a new level of engagement as well. Create an internal campaign that gets everyone, customer facing and tuned in to the buyer experience rather than merely relying on others (sales) or for random sightings from atop the marketing silo. In an industrial supplier context, management’s aim should be to ensure that all activities of the entire team are coordinated to meet specific needs of targeted customer groups, once those needs have been identified. It is a reallocation of resources that are probably being squandered anyway.

So what can you do, short of a $2 billion budget? Start by recognizing that your employees can make or break your positive impact with customers. Move ahead in a bold, definitive way to create focus on what’s important and relax what is not. Take some comfort in knowing that most companies fail at this stuff. Most managers lament, “our message does not stand out in the marketplace.” By the way, it’s not your words that matter here—it’s your actions. The good news is that you will probably see improvement by merely making some effort and increasing awareness. Here very briefly are four broad steps to creating maximum impact:

4D Process prescription

  1. Discover
    First establish some benchmarks. How are you doing currently? This could be accomplished with a simple internal survey audit and, in addition, you could go out and survey customers as well. Measure progress as you go along.
  2. Define
    From the discovery determine what opportunities you have to improve on the customer experience. Define your intent and then clearly communicate it to the entire company.
  3. Deploy
    Give everyone the assignment—even if they never see a customer. Integrate all efforts to achieve your intent. Make goals easy at first so people don’t get discouraged. Use techniques best suited for your culture.
  4. Debrief
    How swiftly were changes made once the opportunity was identified? Discuss other feedback. Make changes and repeat steps 2-4. Track results and discuss openly what the team is learning. Reward the team for insight gained.

Just one little caveat. Defining your intent will not be easy. It will be a process in and of itself. It’s what Delta is paying the big bucks for. Charm school is for sissies. It’s training on how to handle specific situations—what to say, what not to concede, etcetera. The key for you will be to strive for consensus among your team. Narrow all the great ideas down to very specific offers (read “efficiency”) everyone is willing to support. The result is an edge that your customers will remember and probably talk about to others. Your employees will be engaged with your business; communicating more quickly and with enthusiasm.

HIT Solutions believes the more your business keeps up with important trends, the more you will improve your product, and improve your bottom line.

Leave me your comments below; challenge my medicine.

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