Did you know that your product-centric approach might tell your export customers more about your company than your P&L accounts, your annual turnover, the technical specifications of your products, or even your equity structure?
As a sales professional, I have spent an extraordinary amount of time looking for, and researching, new prospects. When companies decide to go international, the first thing they do is look for new export customers, so my role has been to spearhead new customer acquisition. And to do that effectively, you need to research prospects to ensure your offering will add value to their companies.
This research is particularly important at the very early stages of exporting, since the last thing you want to do is spend precious money on a commercial relationship with a client you just cannot serve; or worse, a client whose offering is not sustainable and risks being driven out of business altogether.
It is no secret that companies that focus on customers, and have a well-articulated value proposition, generally do better than companies that focus on products. So, where can we look for clues about whether a company takes a product-centric approach? I’ll be sharing my two pennies’ worth in this article, but let’s first take a look at the implications of the product-centric approach.
1. Product-centric companies tell their customers where their focus is (they themselves, and their products), and where it’s not (the customer, and their needs).
There is often as much value in the service level of any offering, or indeed the supplier’s willingness or commitment to adapt their organization to serve their customers, as there is in the product features.
Be aware that, whatever competitive industry you are in, if your company has been in business for more than 5 years, there’s a pretty good chance that you have solid industry know-how and have mastered the production side of your business. And if you’ve been around for 10 or 20 years, then your prospect will “know” that you can produce whatever your company makes or trades in.
However, what they don’t know is whether or not you are going to be the trusted partner they are most certainly looking for, or whether you can commit to helping them achieve their own success. This is precisely what they will be trying to figure out. Your prospects want to know that you care about taking the time to understand what their business is about and, therefore, that you can serve their market proposition. Sophisticated buyers want to be certain of this before they even grant you the chance to talk to them.
2. Especially when hiring salespeople, product-centric companies value one thing above everything else: industry experience.
That’s because industry experience is a guarantee of in-depth product knowledge, and it’s assumed the salesperson has relevant contacts which the hiring company hopes to quickly make use of. Does this sound familiar?
Well, this could be telling your prospects that you are in desperate need of sales to balance your accounts. This sense of urgency will be perceived by your prospects as a risk they need to monitor, and the way they might do this is by delaying buying your products.
Ironically, companies could be hiring salespeople from within their industries to access customers or prospects they scared away in the first place.
3. Product-centric companies often lack appropriate training programs to bring new customers and new recruits up to speed.
As these companies draw their strengths from product knowledge, they rely on industry professionals to fill their vacancies. Therefore, they might skip training programs, since they already have (product) trained professionals.
What this approach tells customers and prospects is that expertise rests with the individuals rather than with the company. The lack of a robust training structure may also suggest that any changes which need to be made within the organisation could be slow in coming.
What this approach tells employees across the board is that the company might not provide appropriate training. Employees might justifiably wonder whether their full potential will be realised without meaningful training, and also whether this lack of training could jeopardise the company’s go-to-market strategy. Finally, potential employees could decide that working for that type of company is just not worth their while.
Here’s a final tip which has served me well over the years, when trying to identify whether a company leans toward product-centrism: look at the latest job offers they have published. This is a great source of information, since job offers aren’t generally drafted by “clever” marketers, and therefore this is as close as it gets to the true story behind the company.
So, next time you post an ad asking job applicants to have at least 3/5/10 years’ worth of experience in your own industry, ask yourself about the underlying reasons behind that request, and the signals you are sending to both customers and employees in your organization. They might worry that you are not in it for the long haul, but are just interested in short-term gain.
Do you have other insights that could be drawn from the product-centric approach? Please feel free to share.