When manufacturers think about wanting to grow their businesses, what are their first impulses? Hire a salesperson, add a rep agency, bring on distributors, or spend money on marketing are the obvious first steps.
But these are all inside out approaches.
If you want your business to grow in the age of buyer control and digital disruption, the best place to start is to look at your whole organization and understand if your employees, partners, and suppliers are aligned with what buyers really want. Throwing money or people at the problem of growth will only perpetuate your existing results unless you align everyone in the business behind what your buyer really wants. Start outside and work your way back from the customer.
Focus On the Customer
Marketing is no longer enough. A sales team is no longer enough. The companies that survive and thrive in the age of buyer control will be the ones that become inbound organizations – ones that are built and solve for the customer, where everyone is aligned around the goals of the customer, invested in the success of the customer.
“Many companies recognize the need to change marketing tactics, to use content, develop a digital marketing presence, and adapt to the ability of buyers to control the process. Few see it as fundamental to the operation, structure, and strategy of the entire organization.”*
People demand more from the companies from which they buy. Buyers are conditioned by their experiences working with amazing brands like Amazon and Apple; they now bring these expectations to their B2B and industrial purchases, too.
This is the mindset shift required to build a manufacturing business that will succeed with buyers today. Industrial companies must realize that they are not just selling a product, but delivering an entire customer experience from first touch until the buyer no longer uses the product. Each step with the buyer either adds to or detracts from the experience.
Build a Company Tailored for Your Buyer
The question is no longer whether buyers are changing — enough ink has already been spilled on that topic. The real question is, how do business leaders build organizations that serve and succeed given this new buyer behavior?
"The first and most important step is to shift the organization’s mindset to focus on solving for the customer. Make decisions based on what’s in their interest — because what’s in the customer’s interest is in the organization’s interest too." - Dharmesh Shah, HubSpot.
But wait, you say, we do put the customer first! Maybe your sales team does, maybe your product team does. But does your back office? Does your accounting team? Does your service team, or do they just react when the phone rings? Do you ensure your customers are successful with your product or do you set it up, get them going, and then forget about them until they have a problem?
Look at your marketing. Is the content of your campaigns, the text on your website, or the content of your presentations about your industrial products (features, specifications, technical info) or is it about your customers? Do your salespeople act as change agents or do they simply regurgitate product information? Do you have a narrowly defined target persona and understand how they bring about the changes internally required to buy your product?
Do you really know why and how your customers buy, or do you just hope the order shows up?
Create a Mission to Prioritize the Customer
Building an inbound organization starts with a mission and culture that places the goal of the target customer as the top priority. Solving for the customer means that everyone in the organization is aligned around the mission of the company. Your mission is the agreement of how your company’s people, resources, time, products, and services help your target customer solve their problems, do the jobs they need done, and achieve their goals.
Very few industrial companies have a mission framed in these terms. If they have one at all, it is usually full of buzzwords like “best in class,” “high quality,” and “outstanding service,” none of which mean anything to your customers or to your employees.
Can you state your company’s mission statement as you read this article?
Mission is important because it serves as a guide to all employees as they make decisions every day about how to best use their resources to solve for the customer.
A vision is where your company wants to go — the mission is how you’re going to get there.
Creating a clear mission also serves to tell your customers why you exist and becomes an attractive signal that your business is focused on them and their needs. Buyers have abundant options, even for most considered industrial purchases, and they will increasingly choose to work with businesses that state and share their values. The same idea applies to employees – if you want the best people, you need to attract them with a compelling mission that aligns with their personal goals and beliefs.
Develop a Culture of Helping Customers
If your business develops a clear mission, then your culture is the environment that either drives everyone toward the mission or stands in the way.
Culture is the sum of the values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of leadership applied through an operating system. Your operating system is the set of tools and processes your business develops to guide your team toward the mission. This includes communication systems and tools, employee feedback mechanisms, your documented culture, and connections for each employee to the company strategies in order to better understand how they contribute to the overall business objectives.
Your culture drives alignment to the mission. Your operating system enables your people to deliver value to the customer and contribute feedback to the team and leadership.
A customer-focused culture aligns everyone with the goals of the customer. And if everyone is aligned with the goals of the customer, then your business will grow.
“An inbound organization is guided by a philosophy, a set of core beliefs, and best practices that impact every person in every department to provide value and build trust with customers, partners, and anyone they touch.” *
Key inbound culture characteristics include internal and external transparency, valuing people first, adopting small and nimble teams, moving decision-making closer to the customer, building trust and accountability without heavy policy proscriptions, documenting your culture and beliefs, and a system for finding people that fit within and add to the culture.
Why does a customer-focused mission and culture drive revenue?
As Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” A culture of customer focus, solving for the customer, with everyone aligned around the needs of the customer, and making sure customers are successful is the way to grow your business in this age of buyer control.
For more information on implementing inbound organizational principles into your industrial business, check out "Inbound Organization," now available for pre-order. Todd's next article in this series will outline strategies to employ if you want to attract buyers and further grow your business.
* Inbound Organization, Wiley (2018)
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