HBR: What Most Companies Miss About Customer Lifetime Value

Are you measuring your customers’ lifetime value? Are you investing in and enabling customer capabilities? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Michael Schrage.

What Most Companies Miss About Customer Lifetime Value

For managers and marketers alike, the power to calculate what customers might be worth is alluring. That’s what makes customer lifetime value (CLV) so popular in so many industries. CLV brings both quantitative rigor and long-term perspective to customer acquisition and relationships.

“Rather than thinking about how you can acquire a lot of customers and how cheaply you can do so,” one marketing guide observes, “CLV helps you think about how to optimize your acquisition spending for maximum value rather than minimum cost.” By imposing economic discipline, ruthlessly prioritizing segmentation, retention, and monetization, the metric assures future customer profitability is top of mind.

For all its impressive strengths, however, CLV suffers from a crippling flaw that blurs its declared focus. The problem is far more insidious than those articulated in venture capitalist Bill Gurley’s thoughtful CLV vivisection. In fact, it subverts how customers truly become more valuable over time.

When my book Who Do You Want Your Customer To Become? was published, five years ago, its insight was that making customers better makes better customers. While delighting customers and meeting their needs remain important, they’re not enough for a lifetime. Innovation must be seen as an investment in the human capital and capabilities of customers.

Consequently, serious customer lifetime value metrics should measure how effectively innovation investment increases customer health and wealth. Successful innovations make customers more valuable. That’s as true for Amazon, Alibaba, and Apple as for Facebook, Google, and Netflix. No one would dare argue that these innovators don’t understand, appreciate, or practice a CLV sensibility.

Pushing organizations to rethink how they add value to their customers stimulates enormously productive discussion. A fast, cheap, and easy exercise for clarifying the innovation investment approach emerged when I operationalized my book’s principles. The simple but provocative tool generates actionable insights. Having facilitated scores of workshops around it worldwide, I know it gets results.

Ask people to complete this sentence: ”Our customers become much more valuable when…”

The immediate answers tend to be predictable and obvious. For example, customers become much more valuable when “they buy more of our stuff” or “they pay more” or “they reliably come back to us” or “they’re loyal to our brand.”

There are no prizes for recognizing that these initial responses reflect the variables that go into computing traditional CLVs. While everyone agrees these things are important, participants in the exercise quickly recognize how limited, and limiting, those instant answers are.

It doesn’t take long before the answers start to incorporate an investment ethos that sees customers more as value-creating partners than as value-extraction targets. For example:

Our customers become much more valuable when…

  • they give us good ideas
  • they evangelize for us on social media
  • they reduce our costs
  • they collaborate with us
  • they try our new products
  • they introduce us to their customers
  • they share their data with us

Almost without exception, these follow-on answers are disconnected from how the firm calculates customer lifetime value. But, almost without exception, these responses push people to revisit and rethink how customer value should be measured. At one company the immediate response was to look for correlations between CLV and net promoter score. At another, the conversation led to discovering a core group of top-quintile CLV clients, who served as essential references for closing deals with firms identified as top-decile CLV clients. Those reference firms instantly won renewed attention and special treatment.

The more diverse and detailed the answers, the more innovative and insightful the customer investment. The most-productive conversations came from cross-functional, collaborative interaction — not just from marketing, R&D, or business unit leaderships.

For example, for a global industrial equipment provider, customers became more valuable when they performed more self-service diagnostics and shared that information with the firm. That led directly to the firm’s technical services teams offering cloud-connecting APIs and SDKs that let customers customize remote diagnostic gateways for their equipment. Customers embracing self-diagnostics inherently boosted their CLV. Not incidentally, information access swiftly redefined how the company qualified prospects and computed lifetime customer value.

By investing in and enabling new customer capabilities, firms create new ways for customers to increase their lifetime value. Making customers better truly does make for better customers.

But in keeping with the segmentation spirit of CLV, the question can easily be edited and modified to produce targeted insights. For example, at one workshop we used two versions of the sentence: “Our best customers become much more valuable when…” and “Our typical customers become much more valuable when…”

The innovation investment insights for one’s best customers proved qualitatively and quantitatively different from those for one’s typical customers. Forcing people to rigorously define the distinctions between typical and best frequently leads to even greater creativity around customer value.

My favorite CLV vignette emerged from a session at a global financial services giant in London. As the responses grew longer, richer, and more detailed, one of the participants called attention to an interesting fact. Some of the answers, he observed, began with “we,” as in, “Our customers become much more valuable when we do something.” The others, however, began with “they,” as in, “Our customers become much more valuable when they do something.”

“What is the difference between the potential customer lifetime value when we do something versus when they do it?” he asked. After a few moments of silence, the conversation went to a whole other level of engagement, around how the firm wanted to engage with and invest in its customers.

The best investment you can make in measuring customer lifetime value is to make sure you’re investing in your customers’ lifetime value.

HBR: Sales Reps, Stop Asking Leading Questions

What is your approach to selling? Do you use a consultative sales approach? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Scott Edinger.

Sales Reps, Stop Asking Leading Questions

Most executives recognize a need for their sales team to act as consultants and sell “solutions.” But many CEOs would be shocked at how poorly their sales teams execute on the strategy of consultative selling. I recently had a conversation about this with the director of purchasing at one of my client companies who told me: “I can always tell when a rep has been through sales training, because instead of launching in to a pitch, they launch into a list of questions.” Too often, sales teams trying to “do” consultative selling don’t move beyond the rudimentary application of solution-sales principles: “Get the team to ask questions, and then match our capabilities to what the client has said.” So the sales force sits down and makes a list of questions designed to extract information from their prospective clients, in a kind of interrogation. I’ve sat through many sales calls like this, and trust me it isn’t pretty.

To maximize the power of consultative selling, we have to move beyond a simplistic view of solution selling. It’s not about grilling the buyer but rather engaging in a give-and-take as the seller and buyer explore the client’s priorities, examine what is in the business’s best interests, and evaluate the seller’s solutions. Asking questions is part of this engagement process, but there’s a right way to do it. Here are some important pitfalls to avoid:

Avoid checklist-style questioning. A few years ago I was working with a financial services firm that hadn’t seen much success in adopting a solution sales approach. When I watched a few meetings it was easy to see why. The sellers I traveled with did a decent job of asking questions and getting answers, but it felt more to me (and to the prospects, based on their responses and disposition) like they were going through a checklist. As a result, their sales calls felt mechanical and staid. While they gleaned some good information about clients’ needs, allowing them to dovetail the products they were selling into the conversation, there was little buy-in from the prospects they were talking to. There was no sense of shared understanding or that the client had confidence that the seller would be able to help them grow their business. I’ve observed this scenario with both beginner and experienced sellers, as well as senior partners in Big Four consulting firms: when they focus solely on asking questions, they rarely get the information they really need.

Avoid asking leading questions. Nothing falls flatter in a sales call than a question that is clearly self-interested, or makes the seller the master of the obvious. I joke about this in speeches using the example: “If I could show you something interesting, would you be interested?” The kind of questions sales professionals are taught to ask typically focus on drawing attention to client problems, pain points, and sources of dissatisfaction, so the client will then view the seller’s offerings as a solution. It can be useful to explore the buyer’s challenges, but when a seller asks a ridiculous question with an obvious answer such as, “What’s the implication of data center failure?” it can backfire. It’s counterproductive to ask patently manipulative questions because buyers immediately put up their defenses and will be skeptical of the seller’s intentions – and intelligence. Instead, ask questions that demonstrate genuine curiosity, empathy, and a desire to understand. Try to go deeper than uncovering a list of problems to be solved: ask what the buyer hopes to achieve with your product or service, and why this is a priority now.

Avoid negative conversational behaviors. When sellers are myopically focused on persuading a prospect or winning a piece of business, it creates a negative vibe in the relationship. In fact, when we look at what happens in the brain during this kind of one-sided selling interaction, we find that buyers may experience that negativity at a chemical level. In her article, “The Neurochemistry of Positive Conversations,” Judith Glaser highlights specific behaviors that contribute to negative chemical, or “cortisol-producing,” and positive chemical “oxytocin-producing” reactions in others. Among the behaviors that create significant negative impacts are being focused on convincing others and behaving like others don’t understand. Precisely the stereotypical behaviors that give sellers a bad name: being too aggressive, not listening, and going on and on about their offerings. Conversely, the behaviors that create a positive chemical impact include being concerned about others, stimulating discussions with genuine curiosity, and painting a picture of mutual success. Masters of the consultative sales approach apply these conversational techniques to their discussions with prospects and clients to create a collaborative dynamic with positive outcomes.

 

The consultative sales approach may seem simple, but it isn’t easy to execute well. Sales people cannot just go to training for a few days and gain mastery of this skill set, any more than an accountant going to a week-long course can emerge with the skills of a CFO. Consultative selling is a fundamental business strategy centered on creating value through insight and perspective that paves the way toward long-term relationships and genuine solutions for your customers. When sellers do it right, that strategy comes to life.

 

HBR: Organizing a Sales Force by Product or Customer, and other Dilemmas

Sales can be full of double-edged swords. How do you leverage the edge you want and blunt the ones you don’t? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Andris A. Zoltners, Sally E. Lorimer, PK Sinha.

Organizing a Sales Force by Product or Customer, and other Dilemmas

HP announced in March that it was combining its printer and personal computer businesses. According to CEO Meg Whitman, “The result will be a faster, more streamlined, performance-driven HP that is customer focused.” But that remains to be seen.

The merging of the two businesses is a reversal for HP. In 2005, HP split off the printer business from the personal computer business, dissolved the Customer Solutions Group (CSG) which was a sales and marketing organization that cut across product categories, and pushed selling responsibilities down to the product business units. The goal was to give each business unit greater control of its sales process, and in former CEO Mark Hurd’s words, to “perform better — for our customers and partners.”

The choice — to build a sales organization around customers or products — has vexed every company with a diverse product portfolio. It’s not uncommon for a firm such as HP to vacillate between the two structures. And switching structures is not always a recipe for success.

Let’s rewind the clock to 2005 at HP, before the CSG was eliminated. Most likely, those responsible for the success of specific products (say printers) were often at odds with the CSG. The words in the air may have been something like “Printers bring in the profits, and our products are not getting enough attention” or “The CSG people want customer control, but we have the product expertise.” And from the CSG sales team, we can imagine the feelings, “We are trying to do the best for HP and for customers. The printing people are not being team players.”

Especially when performance lags, people in any sales structure see and feel the disadvantages and stresses that their structure creates. But they often see only the benefits of the structure that they are not operating in. The alternative looks enticing. Unreasonably so.

HP’s dilemma illustrates one of many two-edged swords of sales management. These swords are reasonable choices that sales leaders make that have a sharp beneficial edge, but the very nature of the benefit is tied to another sharp edge that has drawbacks. Unless the undesirable edge is dulled, the choice cannot work.

Consider a choice like the one HP made recently to organize its sales force by customer rather than by product.

  • The beneficial edge: Salespeople can understand the customer’s total business, can cross-sell and provide solutions (not just products), and can act as business partners rather than vendors for their customers.
  • The undesirable edge: Salespeople will have less product expertise and focus. And it will be difficult for the company to control how much effort each product gets.
  • Dulling the undesirable edge: The company could create product specialists to assist customer managers (although this would add costs and coordination needs, and would work only if salespeople and the culture were team-oriented). It could also use performance management and incentives to manage effort allocation.

    Sales is full of such double-edged swords. For example:

  • If you hire mostly experienced people, they will become productive rapidly. But they will come with their own ways to do things and may have trouble fitting into the new environment.
  • If you drive a structured sales process through the organization, things will be more transparent and organized, and coordination across people will be easier. But out of the box thinking will be diminished, and managers might use the defined structure to micro-manage their people.
  • If you give salespeople customer ownership and pay them mostly through commissions, you will attract independent, aggressive salespeople and encourage a performance-oriented culture. But this will discourage teamwork and create a brittle relationship based mostly on money.

The effective sales leader recognizes the two edges of each of these (and other) choices. He or she works to sharpen and leverage the good edge, while dulling the impact of the other edge. The overly optimistic leader who sees the benefits of only one choice will lead his or her sales force into peril!

We have offered a few examples of double-edged swords of sales management. There are many, many more. Do add to our list, and tell us how you leverage the edge you want, and blunt the one you don’t.

 

HBR: Ineffective Sales Leaders Can Cause Lasting Damage

Is your vison or strategy going in the right direction? Are you retaining the right talent? Are you serving your customers? Or managing your sales team badly? Is your culture wrong for your vision and strategy? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Andris A. Zoltners, Sally E. Lorimer, PK Sinha.

Ineffective Sales Leaders Can Cause Lasting Damage

Success in a sales force requires having strong talent up and down the organization. A weak salesperson will weaken a sales territory, a bad sales manager will damage their team and dampen results in their region, and a poor sales leader will eventually ruin the entire sales force. For even the most seasoned among us, it can be difficult to recognize the signs of a poor sales leader and the possible damage the person can do — especially when they appear to do some good early on.

Consider two examples.

An education technology startup hired a sales leader who came from a large, well-respected firm. He had extensive market knowledge and a stellar track record. Although good at scaling and operating a sales organization, the leader was unable to succeed in a rapidly changing environment that needed experimentation and nimbleness. The mismatch between the startup’s need and the leader’s capabilities set progress back at least a year.

A medical device company hired a vice president of sales with an intimidating management style. He ruled by fear. Achieving goals was everything. He tolerated (and even encouraged) ethically questionable sales practices. Results looked excellent at first, but the sales culture became so unpleasant that good performers began leaving in a trickle, and then in a flood. The average tenure of salespeople dwindled to just seven months. The damage to the company continued for years after the VP was replaced.

The reasons that sales leaders fail fall into four categories:

  • Direction. Poor understanding of the business, leading to errors in vision and strategy
  • Talent. Inability to pick and keep the right people for the team
  • Execution. Poor processes serve customers and manage people badly
  • Culture. Inappropriate values damage the very core of the organization

When such failures are coupled with a leader’s egotism or lack of self-awareness, it’s unlikely that the leader can lean on others to overcome his own deficiencies.

Yet ineffective leaders can do some good in sales organizations. They can bring about needed change quickly. Leaders who lack sensitivity have an easier time eliminating poor performers. Leaders who are intimidating can use their muscle to implement difficult changes that past leaders avoided — for example, an organizational restructure that disrupts an existing power hierarchy.

But unless a poor leader can overcome or compensate for his deficiencies, eventually the bad will overpower any temporary good. A tyrant, for example, may fix some things in the short term but create other problems at the same time. For every gain, there are likely to be multiple missteps with the sales force’s vision, team, execution, and culture. A key and very visible marker of ongoing or impending trouble is when talented people on the leader’s team become frustrated and depart the company.

It can take years to repair the damage done by an ineffective sales leader.

First, it takes time to replace the leader and reconstruct the sales team. When a health care company hired the wrong leader for a sales region, it took more than three years to rebuild the team and recover from the initial error of putting the wrong person in charge.

Second, it takes time to reverse the questionable decisions that ineffective sales leaders make, especially decisions that affect sales force structure or compensation. Weak leaders at a technology company made a decision to restructure the sales organization using a model from their own past that did not match the current situation. Again, it took more than three years to undo the damage.

Third, it takes time to rebuild the culture a poor leader creates. Poor leadership at a medical device company had allowed an unhealthy “victim” culture to pervade the sales force. Salespeople had no confidence in their leaders, and managers were willing to accept salespeople’s constant excuses for poor performance.

Bringing about change required replacing the company’s president, followed by more than two years of sustained focus on transforming the sales force using the following process:

  1. Create a fresh vision, reflecting a culture in which salespeople trusted their leaders and in which all salespeople were held accountable for results.
  2. Communicate the vision using every opportunity, including sales meetings, videoconferences, and the company’s intranet.
  3. Rebuild the team starting with a new vice president of sales who had integrity and judgment, and was willing to replace anyone on the sales team who could not adapt to the new culture.
  4. Realign sales support systems and rewards by overhauling the systems for recognizing and rewarding performance and creating accountability.

These four steps are a good starting point for any company seeking to recover from poor sales leadership.

Bad sales leaders can sometimes bring about change in a broken environment and make temporary gains. But they will wreck a sales force unless they are replaced quickly.

HBR: Driving Sales Success This Quarter, This Year, and Beyond

Is your sales force drifting into mediocrity? What are you using to drive success in the short, medium, and long term? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Andris A. Zoltners, Sally E. Lorimer, PK Sinha.

Driving Sales Success This Quarter, This Year, and Beyond


Most sales forces focus a good deal of their attention on the short term — on bringing in today’s sales or making this quarter’s numbers. It’s understandable: The sales team wants to be successful. Quarterly goal attainment is a visible measure of success, and often a determinant of incentive pay. Analysts and investors track company performance against quarterly goals, so company executives push the sales team to deliver on the company’s promise to the investment community. Sales leaders divide the national sales goal among sales managers, who allocate their portion of the goal to their salespeople.

In short, everyone feels the pressure to deliver quarterly results.

But sales forces that are managed only to meet short-term needs can drift into mediocrity. In extreme cases, the sales culture can become toxic, as salespeople make minor ethical compromises to reach short-term goals, and those behaviors evolve and spread. Over time, sales forces that focus excessively on the short term may not survive.

Achieving a balance between today and tomorrow requires implementing a mix of sales-force decisions and programs to drive success in the short, medium, and long term. And it requires anticipating the future consequences of decisions so that actions that boost immediate results don’t hurt performance down the road.

The best sales leaders focus their attention on multiple timeframes as they make decisions and implement programs to impact performance. For example:

They develop and retain the best sales talent this quarter by recognizing and appreciating successes; this year by training and coaching to develop competencies; in future years by hiring the best talent and creating opportunities to build rewarding careers, while dealing effectively with poor performers.

They motivate salespeople this quarter with sales incentives and feedback on goal attainment; this year with a top-notch sales compensation plan and recognition program; in future years by creating and sustaining a winning sales culture.

They encourage productive use of sales time this quarter by communicating company priorities; this year by reducing role pollution (e.g., sales time spent on duties belonging to customer service); in future years by designing the best sales force structure and providing enablers (data, systems, and tools) for supporting ongoing sales force and customer needs.

The best sales leaders understand the downside of excessive short-term focus. They recognize that actions to boost immediate results can sometimes hurt performance later, and they anticipate and plan for any future consequences of their actions. For example:

They structure the sales team around markets, not people. To keep a good employee, it can be tempting to create a job to match the needs of that individual. An example of this is redesigning a sales region for a manager who has moved to a new and less convenient location. Although it may keep the manager happy in the short term, eventually they are likely to become frustrated by trying to lead a region that doesn’t make good business sense. Worse, the gerrymandered region is likely to outlast the tenure of the manager it was designed for. Sales jobs are best designed from a customer and company perspective first — then the best personnel can be wisely matched with jobs that are consistent with long-term business needs.

They avoid rushing to fill a position. A vacant sales position, say, for a key account role, can create a temporary setback and lost sales opportunity. But a mediocre “warm body” hire to fill the position places sales in jeopardy for a much longer period. The best sales leaders anticipate the long-term consequences of their hiring decisions. It can take a year or more to recover from hiring the wrong person for a sales position. Even worse, it can take three years or more to recover from hiring or promoting the wrong person to a manager position. Sales leaders often regret hiring without sufficient forethought, and then regret taking too long to let the poor performer go.

They anticipate the future consequences of sales compensation decisions. A startup online advertising company in the early days of e-commerce paid its sales force entirely on commission. This worked well at first, attracting motivated people to the sales force and encouraging them to work hard to generate trial in a new and uncertain market. Sales took off and selling got easier. Soon salespeople were earning six-figure incomes without having to work particularly hard. As competitors entered the market and sales growth slowed, compensation costs grew too high for the sales output. Salespeople earned big commissions on easy repeat sales and rarely pursued new business. Sales leaders had not anticipated this situation when they first set up the sales compensation plan. Yet they were afraid to change the plan for fear salespeople would jump ship. The best sales leaders plan ahead when they set up a compensation structure. They make adjustments every year to keep compensation costs aligned with market realities and to avoid a situation where salespeople feel entitled to ever-escalating pay (even if the market spirals downward).

Leaders can drive immediate outcomes in a sales force by emphasizing short-term results alone. But ensuring sustained success requires a continual focus on a broad portfolio of decisions and programs, while anticipating the consequences of today’s actions on tomorrow’s results.

HBR: 84% of B2B Sales Start with a Referral — Not a Salesperson

Are you socially engaged with your customers? How much time are you investing in social selling? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Laurence Minsky and Keith A. Quesenberry:

84% of B2B Sales Start with a Referral — Not a Salesperson

Outbound B2B sales are becoming less and less effective. In fact, a recent survey found that connecting with a prospect now takes 18 or more phone calls, callback rates are below 1%, and only 24% of outbound sales emails are ever opened. Meanwhile, 84% of B2B buyers are now starting the purchasing process with a referral, and peer recommendations are influencing more than 90% of all B2B buying decisions.

Why are more and more buyers avoiding salespeople during the buying process? Sales reps, according to Forrester, tend to prioritize a sales agenda over solving a customer’s problem. If organizations don’t change their outdated thinking and create effective sales models for today’s digital era, Forrester warns that 1 million B2B salespeople will lose their jobs to self-service e-commerce by 2020.

The answer to the shift away from reliance on outbound sales could reside in social selling, the strategy of adding social media to the sales professional’s toolbox. With social selling, salespeople use social media platforms to research, prospect, and network by sharing educational content and answering questions. As a result, they’re able to build relationships until prospects are ready to buy.

This is different than social media marketing, where a brand engages many, aiming to increase overall brand awareness or promote a specific product or service by producing content that users will share with their network. Social selling concentrates on producing focused content and providing one-to-one communication between the salesperson and the buyer. Both strategies create valuable content from the consumer’s perspective and use similar social networks and social software tools. But with social selling, the goal is for the rep to form a relationship with each prospect, providing suggestions and answering questions rather than building an affinity for the organization’s brand.

Social selling makes sense for achieving quota and revenue objectives for multiple reasons. First, three out of four B2B buyers rely on social media to engage with peers about buying decisions. In a recent B2B buyers survey, 53% of the respondents reported that social media plays a role in assessing tools and technologies, and when making a final selection.

In addition, more than three-quarters (82%) of the B2B buyers said the winning vendor’s social content had a significant impact on their buying decision. A LinkedIn survey found that B2B buyers are five times more likely to engage with a sales rep who provides new insights about their business or industry. Another survey showed that 72% of the B2B salespeople who use social media report that they outperformed their sales peers, and more than half of them indicated they closed deals as a direct result of social media.

Social sales content also gets salespeople involved earlier in the sales cycle, which means they’re more likely to define the criteria for an ideal solution or the “buying vision,” and thus, more likely to win the sale.

It doesn’t take a significant amount of time to get started in social selling. B2B salespeople only need to invest 5% to 10% of their time to be successful with social. Salespeople should begin carving out a small percentage of their daily time for social media. Regular interaction with a prospect may not lead to a direct sale this week or quarter, but could result in a significant win within the year.

Salespeople should also collaborate with their social marketing counterparts to make the most of their social efforts. Marketing can train salespeople in social media systems, processes, and best practices. According to a survey, 75% of B2B salespeople indicated they were trained in the effective use of social media. This training can encompass everything from working in specific social media channels to using corporate social media software, understanding the business’s social media guidelines, and orienting social media content around customer interests and needs, rather than on brand features, benefits, and prices.

What’s more, sales and marketing can collaborate on information to ensure that their efforts are aligned and to identify common goals and metrics that both teams can support. Since sales pride themselves on their one-on-one relationships with customers, they can discuss with marketing customer successes and concerns, changing customer needs, customer questions, and industry updates.

Integrating systems and encouraging transparency will also go a long way. Salesforce, for example, emphasizes the importance of improved communication between sales and marketing citing an App Data Room and Marketo study that found sales and marketing alignment can improve sales efforts at closing deals by 67% and help marketing generate 209% more value from their efforts.

One way to improve communication between sales and marketing is by creating a portal. BMC Software, a B2B IT solutions company, took this approach when they created BMC BeSocial, a secure portal where salespeople can find content created by marketing and other employees to share by posting immediately or scheduling for later. The portal also provides guidelines, tips, and frequently asked questions on how to use social media.

Carlos Gil, the Head of Global Social Media Marketing for BMC Software, and his team of content creators, social media managers, socially engaged salespeople, and other employees developed a well-articulated and tailored employee advocacy program. BMC then leverages LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to deliver a mix of content — everything from eBooks, whitepapers, and blogs to videos, news, events, and updates.

For salespeople and other socially engaged employees to get started, they sign up to BeSocial with their LinkedIn account and then select and share content curated by Gil’s business unit. The BeSocial portal makes social easy and fun, offering badges to gamify the experience, which provides an incentive to share. The portal and program are working. Social media is helping to raise awareness, increase percentage of mentions or share of voice compared to competitors, and drive global demand for BMC products and services.

After all, social media is too important to be left to marketing. In fact, a recent study found skilled social media sales professionals are six times more likely to exceed quota over peers with basic or no social media skills. It is time to get started with social selling and meet your prospects where they’re spending their time. Your organization could be halfway there if marketing has already made the shift to integrating social media into their strategies. When marketing combines their long-game with sales short game in social selling, it can be a win-win for both teams — and for your overall business.

 

GT: 7 Ways to Outsmart Your Competition

How much do you know about your competition? Below is a blog from the Growthink Blog by Dave Lavinsky:

7 Ways to Outsmart Your Competition

“Knowledge is power.” This is a well known saying commonly attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, who was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist and author.

In business, knowledge certainly is power. For example, if you knew where your market was heading, you would have a massive leg up on your competition.

So, how can you gain more knowledge to outsmart your competition? Here are 7 ways.

1. Learn from your customers.
Marketing consultant Jay Abraham once said, “your customers are geniuses; they know exactly what they want.”

Because your customers know what they want, speak to them. And don’t just speak to your current customers, but speak to your competitors’ customers too. Learn to listen deeply to your customers and to ask probing questions. And when you hear consistent feedback (and not just one customer saying something), take action.

2. Learn from your competitors.
Watch your competitors closely and learn from them. What do they seem to be doing well, and how can you better emulate them in this respect? What are they doing poorly that you can capitalize on?

Importantly, don’t just copy your competitors until you know that what they are doing works. For example, if a competitor starts offering a 25% off discount for new customers, don’t copy them right away. Rather, wait and see what happens. If the competitor stops offering the discount quickly, then the promotion probably didn’t work. Conversely, if the competitor is still offering the discount 6 months later, it probably did work. Only copy the competitor’s “winners.”

Also try to figure out what competitors are saying about you. And, if criticism from a competitor gets back to you, don’t become defense or dismiss it casually. Rather, engage critically with it. The criticism may prove to be quite helpful. A competitor may be aware of your weaknesses in a way a friend or customer cannot be. So don’t disregard negative feedback, but rather consider it carefully, and take corrective action as appropriate.

3. Learn from your employees.
Oftentimes your employees have a lot more information than you do. They are the ones who are interacting with customers, and they are the ones that are building your products and providing your services.

Speak to your employees and get their feedback, ideas and suggestions. As an example, nearly all new innovation at Toyota comes from front-line employees. Encourage your employees to come up with ideas and give you feedback. They may also alert you to changes in the marketplace and customer behavior that you need to understand in order to adapt.

4. Learn from your community.
This is particularly true for local businesses. Find out what is going on in your community. For example, if your community is heavily involved in recycling, or if the local high school football team just won a championship, then you need to know about it since these are things your community cares about. Importantly, leverage this information. In these two examples, you could offer a sale related to the football team’s victory. Or post signs explaining how your business recycles. These actions would position you as part of the community and cause customers to flock to your business.

5. Learn from coaches and consultants.
The right coach and/or consultant will have lots of knowledge that you don’t. They will have worked with other business owners and “been there, done that” – that is, they will have seen challenges and overcome them already. Because you won’t have to “reinvent the wheel,” these paid experts can allow you to make the right decisions, avoid mistakes, and grow more quickly. Plus, paid experts can give your business a reality check and keep you focused and accountable.

6. Learn from mentors.
The right mentor serves a similar function as a paid coach and/or consultant in that they have experience, expertise and connections that allow you to avoid mistakes and grow your business more quickly. The challenge is finding the right mentor, and setting up the appropriate structure to get ongoing feedback (this naturally happens when you pay a coach or consultant).

7. Learn from other business owners. In previous articles, I have mentioned the massive power of mastermind groups. Mastermind groups are groups of business owners who work together to grow everyone’s business. Mastermind groups are incredibly powerful since other members of the group will have already overcome the challenges you face, and thus can give you the answers you need.

Likewise, in many cases, skills and knowledge that have taken other business owners months or years to learn can be transferred to you in minutes. So, you gain massive knowledge quickly, and gain a support group that all shares the common goal of building a great company.

Knowledge certainly is power. Leverage these seven ways to gain knowledge, and you will be able to outsmart and dominate your competition.