Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Grow Your Business -- Look Before and After

"Before and After" is a classic "Wheel of Fortune" category. And it's also a really good strategy for both product management and revenue growth.

At a recent meeting of Chief Executive Boards International, the idea of "Look Before and After" was suggested as a way to identify opportunities with existing customers. In some cases, you'll need to source or develop a new product or service. In other cases, it will identify customer needs that may already be in your bag -- he's just buying them from someone else.

So, here's the idea. Your customer uses another product or service just before or just after he uses your product. Upstream or downstream in the manufacturing process. Upstream or downstream in the white-collar workflow. Upstream or downstream of anything you do for a customer.

That's how UPS and FedEx got into the fulfillment business. They looked at their customers and saw a warehouse full of products and a picking, packing and shipping crew upstream of their pickup. And they said: "Why couldn't we do all of that for our customers?" They're doing billions of dollars a year in logistics and fulfillment as a result. They warehouse, pick, pack and deliver goods their customers never touch.

Want a second reason to do this? Bundling of products or services "before and after" increases the customer's switching cost. He'll have to go find someone else to supply or do those separate things in order to unseat you.

And, finally, you want to be seen as a problem-solver. When you're looking for "before and after" opportunities, ask the customer open-ended questions like: "What's the biggest problem you're having in your _____ process?" (referring to the place your product or service is used -- or before or after) That's a whole lot better question than "How can we help you with other things?" That question requires a LOT of imagination on your customer's part, and won't be nearly as productive. It's much easier for a customer to react (what's the biggest problem?) than to think (how can we help you?).

Teach your sales people to do this, and ask regularly for the results. By the way, if you haven't been on a sales call lately, tag along with some sales people and visit some customers. Look at and ask about "before and after".

If this works for you, or if you have ways you've successfully harvested new needs from customers, please click "Comment" below and share them with others.

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Terry Weaver

Chief Executive Boards International

Chief Executive Boards International: Freedom for business owners & CEOs -- Less Work, More Money, More Freedom to enjoy it

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