In Part I of The Power of Focus, I discussed the shift in what drives effective competitive differentiation in today’s economy; how better understanding your customers and their needs, and positioning your company as the best option for addressing those needs, are the keys to success in today’s evolving market.

As we continue discussion on this topic, our focus is now on the changes that must be made in the way you train and manage your business development reps. The all-too-common shotgun approach to training and managing typically leads to their failure. Hiring someone with “sales experience,” explaining the services you offer, and then turning them loose to “go sell” is a formula that rarely results in success for either the salesperson or the business. Successful marketing is based on understanding your customer’s business and forming partnerships that add value for them by helping them to retain their customers, achieve their objectives, and grow their business. Neglecting to develop a plan that identifies the specific markets you are targeting for growth, or to educate your business development reps on the strategies that will be most effective in differentiating you as the best choice for those prospects, is a recipe for mediocre performance at best. Market-focused training is critical.

Several aspects of the property restoration business make selling in this industry challenging enough, even with proper training. First, selling services is much different than selling products—for both the customer and the seller. Services cannot be touched, seen, tasted, tried on, or test driven like products. You don’t know what you are getting until you’ve “consumed” it; similar to legal representation, where you don’t know how good your attorney is until the trial is over. Also, what you are selling is trust. The customer must trust that both the salesperson and the company they represent will do what they say they’ll do, do it in a timely manner, do it for a fair price, and do it in way that leaves the customer satisfied with both the experience and the results. Finally, the people you are selling to are, in the vast majority of cases, not in need of your service when you are talking to them. You have to position yourself as the best choice, the partner that will be there for them when they need you. And you have to figure out how to stay “top of mind” with your customers so they remember you when that time comes.

As your business evolves and expands, the customers you market to change, and the skills required by your business development reps change accordingly. The level of sales capability needed to be successful in marketing to property managers, medical facilities, and educational organizations is more sophisticated than that needed to deliver acceptable results when calling on insurance agents and plumbing contractors.

Consistent contact over time is what develops customer relationships, builds trust, and results in customers calling your business or referring you to others. Your business development reps can’t talk about technician certifications, timely response, full-service capabilities, and your “diamond star” ERP program every time they meet with people. Instead, they have to prepare ahead of time to ask effective questions that will expand their understanding of the customer’s business and challenges. They should use their networks and resources to repeatedly provide contacts or information likely to deliver value to the customer—information that will help them retain their customers, reach new markets, and achieve their objectives. A robust process for gathering customer satisfaction feedback and delivering it to referral sources and other customers will reinforce the fact that they are making the right decision by placing their trust with your company.

The shift in what is driving effective competitive differentiation in your restoration business that was introduced in Part I means that an even deeper understanding of your now-more-focused customer market segments is vital. The evolution that I’m describing means that your business development reps will be having different conversations with your prospects and customers. Pursuing the strategy of customer focus is based on the ability to develop the right questions to unearth the problems and challenges that consume time and divert attention from the customer’s core business.

There are two key reasons why the customer focus strategy is critical:

  1. Failing to constantly monitor your customer’s industry, markets, and business can result in missing changes that will result in a lower demand for your services.
  2. Factors affecting your customer’s business may well provide opportunities for you to expand your relationship with, and revenue from, your existing customers.

The topics discussed with customers must now be expanded beyond those related to the services you provide and how they offer value. New focus should be placed on gaining an understanding of the broader challenges your customers are facing; things requiring their constant attention that are preventing them from spending time on the value-added activities that would help them achieve their objectives. This is where the trust that has been developed will pay dividends. The customer’s willingness to open up and share their “internal issues” is at the heart of the success of this approach. The sales manager’s role in the process includes ensuring that your reps are properly trained on how to approach these subjects with customers, tracking where relationships are solid enough to permit the new discussions, and consolidating the feedback across a broad sample of customers in a given market. It’s also important to avoid having the customer’s expectations exceed what you can realistically provide.

Consolidating the input you receive from specific market segments will help you identify problems that impact many customers, highlighting areas where a possible solution would provide value for a large number of organizations. Remember the example given in Part I: What if your business development reps brought you feedback that the single biggest challenge faced by the “eldercare” market is the ability to find, hire, and retain the right kind of employees? And what if you could help them do just that? It is the business development department’s responsibility to assess the input, identify the business potential and estimated complexity of providing the needed products or services, and present their recommendations to the executive team. The decisions that follow are then about which opportunities to pursue. The decision to pursue this strategy in the first place means that the business owners or executives are willing to invest in the outside partnerships that will be required to meet the newfound needs of your customers.  

The business development team is your antennae. They are the eyes and ears of the company, constantly asking, listening, and bringing back “intelligence” related to the customers and markets with which you do business. Their competence in building relationships, developing their role as trusted advisors, and getting their contacts to open up regarding significant challenges they face are at the heart of navigating the evolution required in marketing, and continuing to successfully grow your business. The power of focus is the future.