“If you know the enemy and know yourself,
you need not fear the result of a hundred battles”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Many business leaders still refer to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War for strategy advice. I strongly recommend that you don’t! And when it comes to planning and executing your CRM strategy you will be missing the key component, if you subscribe to the thinking of the famous Chinese general and strategist.
Sun Tzu’s thinking and other war based paradigms for strategy are missing the one thing that should be pivotal for your entire business and for your CRM strategy in particular. Your customers!
Your customers don’t really care whether you are beating the competition. They care about what you can do for them. What value you bring to them. What relations you have. Therefore, you should focus on “winning the customers” instead of “beating the competition”.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t pay any attention to your competitors. However, if you focus too much on beating them you risk commoditizing your own product or service. If you constantly compare yourself with others, you tend to mimic them and state your USPs as comparisons with the competition – instead of unique customer value. Basically, you are telling your customer that you are selling the same thing as the others. You end up selling a commodity – and if you are a sales or marketing professional that is your worst nightmare.
There is one advantage of selling a commodity: it is very easy to explain. But it is also very difficult to command a premium price for your product and it almost impossible to achieve any sustainable advantage in the market. Any feature you add to your product or service, the competition will also add, and you are back to square one.
In a competitor-focused strategy, you usually aim for more features or lower price than the competition. Both options are costly and there can be only one winner in each category. In addition, markets don’t work like conquering land in ancient China. You don’t take over a market and then build fences and fortresses to protect it. You can’t force people to buy your product or service.
The answer is to separate yourself from the crowd and put your energy into winning the customers. Winning the customers means creating customer bonding. You should build your strategy on passion and love for your customers. Ultimately, you should integrate your offering into your customers business and workflows. You should become part of how your customers work. If you stop delivering your product or service, the customer should feel s/he is losing an arm or a leg – not just a supplier of some commodity.
If you succeed, you have not just created a competitive advantage; you have created a strategic advance. It is much more sustainable than a simple feature or price advantage and potentially much more profitable.
What would your customers say, if you stopped delivering your products or services? Would they say “now we have to find a new supplier for xxx” or “now we have to rethink our entire process for xxx”?
It is easy to say that you should come up with a value proposition, which is unique, differentiated, and creates real customer value and integrate as much as possible with your customers business. But that is really the end goal. So where do you start?
Put your customers at the centre of your strategy and business thinking
Mentally change perspective from a competitor centric to a customer centric view and insist that everyone in your organization justifies all plans, ideas, goals, feature requests etc. in terms of customer value and benefits. Anything you do, you should do because it benefits your customers.
Talk to your customers (really simple, but don’t forget it)
Don’t forget to call your customers. Make sure that you stay in touch with all your customers regularly. Not just the good old customers. Set goals and follow up on the number of calls made to your current customer base. Train your staff to offer help and explore opportunities. You should have a solid CRM system in place to keep track of everything.
Focus on customer success
Find out how you can make your customers more successful. Focus on the processes and business challenges linked to your current product or service. If you sell engine oil, you customers may request special additives or lower prices, but try to find out how you can help them make their engines run longer, extend service intervals, use less oil etc. Once you find out, roll out a customer success program and start making your customers successful.
Package customer success as a “service”
Once you have started making your customers successful, turn the solution into a service and bundle your product into that service. Now, you have discovered your unique, customer centric value proposition and built a real strategic advantage.
Even if you don’t reach level 4, you will discover plenty of value and sales potential along the way. So what’s holding you back?
If you want to learn more about customer-focused strategy I recommend reading “The Delta Model” by Arnoldo C. Hax from MIT Sloan School of Business.