Ted Williams is by nearly all accounts the greatest hitter ever in baseball. He was the last player to hit over .400 for a season and his career average was .344. That means that he hit safely about a third of the time that he came to the plate. Lots of things have to happen at just the right time and in just the right place to hit a baseball solidly. It just isn’t that easy to make sure that your bat is on the same plane as a baseball being thrown in excess of 90 miles an hour with wicked spin causing the ball to curve or drop dramatically. And, that all has to happen just when your wrists are snapping the bat to its maximum velocity.
Sounds just like strategic account management to me. Our value proposition and the way we articulate it has to be on the exact same plane as our customers’ needs. And, we have to be conveying that value at the exact right time for them. Otherwise, we will strike out. Here’s the sobering reality: we don’t have the luxury of succeeding only 34.4% of the time like Ted Williams. We must succeed nearly 100% of the time to be successful.
When our value is not aligned with the needs of our customers, we fail. We fail to help them succeed; we fail to help our own companies succeed because we fail to grow our business with our customers. In fact we might even lose customers by being so oblivious to their needs. There is clearly no collaboration or synergy between our companies and our customers. We might even be working at odds.
But when you truly understand your customers and what is really important to them you can tailor your offering to help them meet their objectives. This is the real magic in strategic account management: ensuring that your value proposition meets the value requirements of your customers.
The most objective way to make sure that we are in alignment with our customers is to understand the feedback we have from them. If your company does not have a sophisticated and validated way to listen to your customers, you’d better think about getting one (The Economist predicts that by 2013, the primary competitive differentiator between companies will be the ability to gather and analyze customer information). If your company has a customer listening program, dig into the results and see what understanding you can gain, especially in the area of the value you bring. Be open-minded. Just because you don’t agree doesn’t mean the customer is wrong. After all, their perception is more important than yours.
Understand your customers’ requirements and perception of your value. Then, and only then, you can get your value proposition and timing aligned with your customers. Then, you should expect solid hits.