Innovation can help unlock new customer attitudes for a new era

Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot. But the Grinch, who lived just North of Whoville, did not! Whether you are a supplier-Who or a supplier-Grinch this year depends on how you are coming through range rationalisation, I suppose, but the opportunity for 2016 might require a Grinch-like change in attitude.

Our attitude is established over years. I remember as an account manager in a testing time getting a particularly easy ride with a big four buyer. I was with my sales director, and it puzzled me. He told me to look out for what the buyer wanted in the next meeting. And, yes, the buyer felt he’d created ‘obligation’ to be followed by a ‘pay-day’ – an outrageous funding request came next week. Sadly that is the way the interface has worked: drawn out power-play interspersed with periodic peace, the salesperson needing to stay on guard.

With this attitude though, when I see suppliers competing to win retailer awards I hear alarm bells. Winning a retailer gong is perceived by some as a feather in the cap while others ask: what are you giving away to earn all that love? An award doesn’t prove anything. To be an excellent salesperson you need to show interest in the customer. You need to be reliable, which means timely communication of everything, good and bad. You need to be responsive: don’t just understand their needs, act on them. And to crown it all you need to be innovative. I have always presented this as a hierarchy, a pyramid with innovation on top. But to inspire a change in attitude you should rely more on innovation.

Given that the customers are crying out for differentiation these days I would almost turn that pyramid on its head. Innovation needs to be at the start, middle and end of your activity. But don’t stop at being a good salesperson. To be an excellent business account manager, you need all of the above – plus focus on who pays your salary. Internal financial impact of your work as well as those of the customer. Buyers don’t try hard to meet your needs to the detriment of their profit, do they?

So I’m not saying grow a bigger heart like the Grinch. But if innovation is the new mantra, you might be carving a bigger roast beast next year.

Sentinel Management Consultants deliver sales, negotiation, planning and finance training courses for our clients worldwide.