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Category: Valuable Accounts

Phil Bounsall

Walk a Mile in Your Customer’s Shoes

Companies that have excelled at the art of customer focus display many admirable traits, but key among them is empathy for their customers. Here are three ways empathy is manifested in the way they operate:

1.      Focus on Customer Success. There is a strong realization that focusing on helping their customers succeed is the best way for them to succeed. These companies are always thinking about helping their customers. The goal is customer success, not sales figures or customer loyalty scores.

2.      Implement World Class Customer Listening. These companies generally have multiple listening posts and are very focused on understanding the ways in which they interact with customers. Their customer listening efforts are designed to understand the relationships they have with customers and what really drives those relationships. These companies are constantly looking for new and additional ways to generate insights about the ways in which they touch customers.

3.      Never Be Satisfied. One of the common threads I have noticed among some of the most successful companies is their inherent inability to ever be satisfied. These companies constantly strive to make the experience for their customers better. Better than it was the day before, better than their competitors and better than the customers expect.

Walk a mile in your customer’s shoes. Understand what it is like to work with you—from their perspective. If you aren’t too easily satisfied with the status quo, you just might find opportunities to help your customers and your company succeed.

Phil Bounsall

Ted Williams was a Failure

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.

Phil Bounsall

The Fitness Center Phenomenon

Too often our account management programs are like the local fitness center. And I don’t mean that they are healthy. Here are three similarities that I have noticed between fitness centers and our account management programs.

1.      The New Year’s Resolution. Every year when January rolls around I can’t find a locker, and the locker room is so crowded it’s ridiculous. This happens because people make a resolution to get fit, lose weight, whatever. So people flock to the gym. Three weeks later, things are back to normal. Happens every year.

I see the same thing with account management programs. Account managers adopt a new account planning tool or commit to customer-focused account management. It lasts for a while, but sooner or later, people figure out that being customer focused takes work and they revert to their old ways. For anyone who doesn’t revert, a real competitive edge exists.

2.      Dress for Success. There are a group of people at my club that don’t really work out. But they look incredible. They buy workout outfits the way I buy suits, shirts and ties. Everything is coordinated. Style is definitely trumping function. I always figure I look tired and sweaty when I’m there regardless of my clothes.

These dressers remind me of the account managers that talk a great game, show up at all the right places, and send birthday cards to all the company executives. They just don’t sell anything. They look good, but they are not doing the right things. They are not achieving company objectives.

3.      The Injured Reserve. There is a guy at my club that is constantly present, but never working out. But, there is always an injury excuse. “I came to lift, but I tore my rotator. Better sit it out today.” Next week, a leg. His back the week after.

This manifests itself in account management with the typical excuse, “That doesn’t make sense for my customers.” Everyone else should use our account engagement tools, but this account manager is different. Uh huh.

These fitness center tactics are common. We simply have to be more diligent, more customer-focused, more value-additive than our competitors. We have to actually work out, use the tools our companies have given us. Time to get fit!

Phil Bounsall

Things That Make You Say Wow!

You know that you have witnessed or experienced something remarkable when you say, “Wow!” When you say it aloud when you are the only one in the room, you have experienced something truly special.

This weekend, I saw a story about the latest structure to warrant the moniker of the World’s Tallest Building. The Burj Dubai was just opened in Dubai, The United Arab Emirates. The following chart gives a little perspective to just how tall the Burj Dubai is (follow this link for a list of the tallest buildings in order—The World Trade Center is not on the list, but would have come in at the tenth spot).

The pictures of the building would have made me say, “Wow!” if I were among other people. The chart showing how much taller the Burj Dubai is than other buildings designed to be inhabited made me say it out loud, very loud, when I was alone. By the way, The United Arab Emirates is home to an incredible 13 of the top 100 tallest buildings (33 are in China and 30 are in the USA).

That’s the kind of experience we want to create for our customers. How can we do something or help create an experience for our customers that makes them say, “Wow!” when they are all alone? That’s the kind of experience that creates a commitment that will allow you to power through many challenges and struggles, and achieve many successes together.

There are many things that are simply required in business relationships. And we must do those things really well. But doing the fundamentals flawlessly doesn’t create that moment that really gets your customer’s attention. That requires something else. That requires creating an experience for your customer that they will not forget.

Think about the things that are important to your customers and over-deliver. Surprise them with something that helps them. Do something for them that your competitors would never think of doing. Do something that creates an experience that really sets you apart.

Don’t tell them that you are going to over-deliver, don’t even tell them once you do it. Let them discover it for themselves and experience it. Let them look off in a daze and say to themselves, “Wow.”

Phil Bounsall

The Defeatist’s Attitude

Have you ever noticed that some people manage to find the worst in everything? Or how the grass is greener on every other side of every other fence?

The great philosophers have always recognized this. And I heard it from one of them this morning on my drive to work. This great philosopher was famous for his works in the 1970s and 1980s. His name? Meat Loaf.

In one of Meat Loaf’s hits which has become a cult-like classic, Paradise by the Dashboard Light, near the end of the song in a line that is repeated many times, he laments:

                        It was long ago and it was far away,
                        And it was so much better than it is today.

Meat Loaf, no surprise, wasn’t talking about a great macroeconomic environment or business trends, but it sums up how many people think about the situation we find ourselves in.

Here’s a bit of a contrarian view—I think we are better off today than we were 2 years ago. Here are a few reasons I think that…

·         Because a defeatist attitude will get you one thing—defeat.

·         Because 2 years ago things were so heated—overvalued, overleveraged, oversold, overbuilt, etc.—that there was only one way to go. And we went.

·         Because today we have a base to build on that is much more solid. A base we can grow from. Instead of treading on thin ice waiting to fall, we are now in a position to slowly, steadily, fundamentally grow again.

·         Because now we have all been through Marine Boot Camp. The Marines “knock ‘em down to build ‘em up.” We’ve been knocked down. We’ve learned a lot. We’ve survived and it will make us stronger.

So, as we head into 2010, I am very bullish. I am excited about the things that we are going to see in the coming years. I am excited for steady, controlled, fundamental growth that creates a stronger economy and more wealth for more people.

Best wishes for a prosperous 2010. We’re headed in the right direction now!

Phil Bounsall

What are You Willing To Do To Reach Your Goals?

We all set goals for ourselves and then, truth be told, most of us forget the goals and just continue our daily routine. In order to succeed and help our customers succeed, we must be willing to be relentless in the pursuit of our goals.

There is a group of people that have formed a subculture that demonstrate this unending, unwavering drive to achieve. They are those people who set out to hike the Appalachian Trail from one end to the other in a single trip. They are called thru-hikers.

To add a little perspective to the goal of a thru-hike, the Appalachian Trail (AT) runs 2,178 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Most thru-hikers start in Georgia in the spring and finish in Maine about 6 months later. And they do this with a backpack that can weigh as much as 40 pounds strapped to their back.

They walk anywhere from 10 to 20 miles each day, encountering many challenges that nature throws their way—weather, wildlife (bears, snakes, skunks, bees, etc.), dramatic elevation changes, primitive shelters or no shelter for sleeping, injuries (lots of ankle sprains, many ankle breaks), etc.

Now that you are convinced that they are crazy, what can we learn from them? Here are a few things that I think are worth applying to our everyday work.

1.      Teamwork. The thru-hikers are all on their own or in small groups. But they all help each other and work together to achieve their common goal—to summit Mt. Katahdin. They even give each other “trail names,” nicknames to be used only on the AT.

2.      Resourcefulness. Out in the wilderness, you get real resourceful, real fast. You learn how to find and filter water, how to find a safe place to sleep, how to dry wet clothes, how to keep the bears out of your food (and therefore out of your campsite!), and so on. Mostly, the thru-hikers use the many natural things at their disposal to accomplish these tasks.

3.      Self-Awareness. Thru-hikers go off the trail occasionally to go into town and buy food, medicine and other supplies. I won’t sugarcoat this—after a week on the trail, a hiker is hardly civilized. They smell, they are disheveled and they are dirty. But they recognize that and either spruce themselves up first or go to places that are known to cater to thru-hikers. Back on the trail, they rarely take risks that they are not capable of handling. Trying to climb a rock that is over your skill level is a quick way to injure yourself and require a trip home.

4.      Persistence. The hikers that make it from Springer to Katahdin are persistent. There are times they want to go off trail and go home and take a warm shower, have a drink and watch TV. But they know that the only way to achieve their goal is to stick with it. They trudge on in the rain because they know that the next day will be a sunny, dry 20-mile trek through beautiful terrain.

All of these traits can help us achieve our goals too. Work together as teams all pulling in the same direction to achieve the same goal—success for your customers. Be resourceful and find new ways to serve your customers and help them, especially during these challenging times. Know your strengths and leverage them. Know your weaknesses and compensate for them. And be persistent, relentless, uncompromising.

Take a thru-hiker approach to hitting your goals.  Think about how the sense of achievement that a thru-hiker must feel at the top of Mt. Katahdin.