This morning I came across a stellar article in the October 2014 edition of Harvard Business Review.
The article was titled – Putting Sales at the Center of Strategy, and the killer quote was the following.
“Strategists, years removed from customer contact…have an obsolete vision of the company-customer interface.”
That killer quote has a lot to say about how competitive intelligence, market research, marketing, and product development teams need to operate in a Fortune 500 environment.
Sales team members are actually talking to customers – each and every day.
Given this they may be the first person in your company to hear about a disruptive competitor – even if the sales team’s first move is to dismiss the disruptor.
Sales teams are also able to discern how competitors (long standing and upstarts) are impacting customers – as a direct reflection of the sales team’s ability (or inability) to sell against these competitors.
So make sure you have a set of solid contacts you can reach out to in the sales org and incorporate their insights about customers, competitors, and market disruptors.
Given market research teams tend to focus on research efforts that target current customers, market research teams should marry their typical efforts with sales driven insights. In other words, market research thyself.
Doing this allows you to inject a bit of the Voice of the Competitor (VOTC) into each and every study that you do.
Many articles have been written over the years about the “marketing-sales interface.” Not always in the most complimentary terms.
Hence, this area is well covered in terms of articles, books, and essays about how you can bridge the gulf between marketing and sales.
Even so it’s worth a reminder. Sales leaders and individual team members can help you build “data-driven” compete messaging that wins back lost customers, and helps to keep the ones you already have.
The “Product Development-Customer interface” typically focuses on conversations with the most vocal of your current customers and little else.
Hence it doesn’t focus on conversations with competitor customers, thought leaders, or market disruptors. But there is someone who is talking to customers of the competitor on a regular basis – the sales team. And they have a valuable perspective to provide. All you have to do is listen.
So what’s the lesson? What’s the key takeaway? What can I do different tomorrow?
Ask yourself these questions:
• How far removed are you from the “company-customer interface?”
• Have you ever seen it face to face?
So get out there and give it a shot. Do one small research project that incorporates qualitative interviews with your own sales team, and see how it colors your typical set of findings. And see if you would ever ignore that perspective again.
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