Deciding for the Customer

My friend Chip Bell has just published a new book (Wired and Dangerous:  How Your Customers Have Changed and what to do about it) with his co author John R. Patterson. His books are always enlightening – and this one is his best. Chip has been a friend since Selling with Integrity came out in 1997. Given his visionary and gentle nature, he’s always supported me and embraced Buying Facilitation®. Here is his guest blog. It’s an honor for me to offer his wisdom to you.

“Nothing changes until something moves,” wrote Albert Einstein.  His words offer deep wisdom for today’s risk averse, too-cautious organizations.

During the recession, employees were subjected to major layoffs, deep budget cuts, and frugality that would make Scrooge look like a philanthropist. Employees experienced deep-seated anxiety that the next round of lay-offs would have their name on the list.  So, they learned ways to cope. Risk aversive behavior, emanating from a reluctance to make any type of mistake that might cause adverse attention, gave rise to a corporate game of “shake and fake”– enthusiastic verbiage with absolutely no intention of implementation. Again, to paraphrase Albert, nothing changes until something moves, not just mouths!

There are numerous ways this indecision game is played. Project teams are organized around the bold idea or nifty proposal. Meetings are long on plans; but, short on “to do’s.”  Consultants are called in to do another study, obviously complete with a report that must be discussed.  White papers are used to help ballyhoo the big-deal effort.  Best practice field trips are organized.  In the end, the effort dies as another “big deal” change effort takes its place enabling the “shake and fake” ritual to start all over again.  No one ever actually pulls the trigger and kicks off anything that could result in an outcome for which someone could be held accountable.

What’s At Risk?

We live in a super-fast, time’s-up world.  Customers expect around the clock, turn-on-a-dime responsiveness.  One grave byproduct of a culture of timidity is the ease with which it creates sluggishness that lowers customer retention.  With the high-speed viral nature of “word of mouse,” organizations can no longer afford to sit on their hands while their customers vote with their feet.  It means delay in decision making could cost you the customer’s loyalty at the least; their mere existence at most.

Customers today have zero tolerance for effort.  Research shows “ease of doing business” trumps even the friendliest, smartest employee in the organization. The potential for customer delight gets short-circuited when the journey gets too arduous, too long, or even too boring.  CES (Customer Effort Scores) now replace the CSS (Customer Satisfaction Scores) as the metric with the “most-est.”  However, too often sales people sell an offering with all the features and benefits a customer could desire only to have it trashed by the buyer because of the customer-hostile process used to deliver that offering.

What’s It Take?

Three frogs sat on a log in the edge of the swamp.  One decided to jump in.  How many frogs are now on the log?  Nope, there are still three.  Deciding and doing is not the same thing.   In a progressive, growth-oriented world, people judge your position by the one you take, not by the one you propose. Until you execute, all decisions are just plain old intentions.  In the end, all the planning and preparing is just “getting ready to.”  Execution—putting skin in the game–is the true test of commitment.  “I believe, I support, I approve” are all just weasel words unless they are coupled with visible demonstration.

Best-selling author Seth Godin refers to it as someone “ships.” Such leaders do not allow meetings to plan meetings.  They insist meetings have an advance agenda with clear meeting objectives and a precise length—rarely more than one hour.  They insure meetings end with actions assigned to people who commit to execute something by the next gathering. They require tangible, irrefutable evidence that promised results have been accomplished.

Influencing the “Frog” to jump encompasses acquiring the big-picture context in which decision making must occur.  It requires determining the barriers that are driving resistance and finding means of diffusing them.  It involves smart downfield blocking to insure the other “frogs” are willing to jump as well, as long as they do not have to jump first.  It takes modeling courage and boldness through confident positioning not just passionate presentation.

The clock is ticking, the definition of value is getting more complex, and customer expectations are rising—up 33% from last year.  It is time to promote and support bold decision-making.  In the words of philosopher Goethe, “”Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Only engage, and then the mind grows heated. Begin it, and the work will be completed.”


You can reach Chip and John here:

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