After realizing sustained improvements in operations, company CFOs especially have asked us, “OK, now what? Now that I can produce more, how does that help me make more money?” Ultimately, companies must increase their sales. Therefore you have to communicate and engage with customers and prospects more effectively than ever before.

Engage with Customers and Benefits Will Follow:

1. Visuals connect fast with readers: pictures convey more information faster than words can. A well-designed and engaging picture will convey your point in seconds. Check out this case study on our site to see how we replaced a client’s abstract process diagram with a story in picture form.

engage with customers2. Visuals improve your odds: Because pictures convey meaning quickly, they increase your chances of getting your point across. Your viewer may not agree with you. But if you can make your case in a few seconds, your viewer can decide to give you another increment of attention. And with another increment of the viewer’s time, you have increased your odds of winning them over.

3. Visuals help get buy-in from viewers: Pictures engage viewers to create their own mental version of your story. Visuals work like a framework, begging to be filled in and embellished. A viewer can’t help but fill in the gaps. Studies of electric activity in people’s brains show that stories create many more times the brain activity as do strictly factual presentations. So by presenting stories — with visuals being a near-instant way of conveying stories — you excite involvement. And through involvement, your prospects have “bought in” to your point of view, at least somewhat. And that change in perspective is exactly the point of communication.

When we say ‘telling your story’ we really mean telling your customer’s story. Especially in business-to-business marketing, the most effective messages are about your customers and seldom about you or your company.

Using the Web to Engage With Customers

With your story told, next you will want to get your message out there where potential customers can find it. Nothing is more efficient for that then the Internet. So this month we discussed web marketing, or taking steps beyond simply having a website and ensuring that potential customers will find your website.

Like dating, the marketing process is one of gaining increasing degrees of permission from your prospects. Marketing must garner plenty of permission before it makes any sense to send in Sales to ask for a commitment. Asking for the sale before you and your prospect have gotten acquainted is like a bad date in high school (and I’ll stop there). So never send in Sales to do Marketing’s job. Your marketing messages and on-line tools can engage prospects who are in the early phases of getting to know you. Sending in Sales too early before Marketing has established a rapport is overbearing and a waste of time for Sales.

Marketing is much more cost-effective per-contact than a sales person could ever be. For instance, if there are 10,000 potential customers in your industry, do you really want your salesman keeping in touch with all of them, or would you rather that he spend his time closing sales with prospects who are ready to buy something? Using the Internet and other means of engagement, Marketing can identify real prospects and hand those over to Sales. Then Sales can spend its time closing opportunities rather than prospecting aimlessly.

But after Marketing has done its job generating leads — finding the few prospects ready to discuss something specific — it’s time for Sales to step in. In future postings we will explore effective channel-sales and direct-selling processes.

By “channel sales” we mean that if you sell something that enables larger companies to get more business from their existing customers, you may do better to sell through them than selling directly to end customers. But you have to make it super-easy for your channel-sales partners to sell your products and services, which gets back to having an effective story. We like to say that “selling your product has to be easier for your partners than rolling out of bed and hitting the floor.”

If you have good reason to sell direct — perhaps you need just need two or three big deals this year — then tightly coupling your marketing message to a solution-selling program may be the most efficient approach.

More Capacity = More Opportunity For Improvement

As bottlenecks move from Operations to Sales, so too must your focus for improvement. Customers have told us that they want help in Sales just as much as they do in Operations. So over the past month we have explored what to do after you have released capacity from your operations. Please get in touch with your comments. And we will address them in future newsletters.

Customer Focus

Proactive vs. Reactive Customer Focus

Customer focus that is solely on your customer may lead to a reactive focus. Your customer’s customer provides you with information that can increase your reaction time and move you to a more proactive focus (Figure 2.). Why? Think about your customer’s changing needs. Why are they changing? If only you knew what your customer knew, then you could plan for the change before your customer even tells you about it.

 

Figure 2. Proactive vs. Reactive Customer Focus

Figure 2. Proactive vs. Reactive Customer Focus

 

For example, when you shop at the supermarket, the checkout person scans your items into the register for your total, but the register also transmits the data to various vendors for automatic replenishment. This is one form of vendor managed inventory that allows companies like Proctor and Gamble to sync their production with the end-user (their customer’s customer).

This technique works for any company in the entire supply chain. You can improve the effectiveness of your whole supply chain by linking the companies together to share information and improve customer satisfaction. How familiar are you with your customer’s customer?