By John Holland, Chief Content Officer,

Steve JobsThe world was saddened by the passing of Steve Jobs, a computer industry visionary without equal since the mid 70’s. Steve leaves an amazing legacy behind, part of which is being the person most responsible for taking Apple from the brink of bankruptcy to the position it enjoys today. While I’ve not heard it mentioned, Steve Jobs left a blueprint for how companies can align offerings with customer needs and therefore be more customer-centric.

Unlike his idol, Bill Hewlett or competitor, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs enjoyed the unusual vantage point of being neither an engineer nor a techie. For that reason his perspective was closer to that of a user rather than a developer of products. This enabled Jobs to serve as a one-man Product Development department with his single-minded focus on how buyers were going to use products that Apple created, designed and manufactured.

Jobs’ philosophy allows the company to command a premium on every iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad because Apple never made the mistake of approaching buyers by leading with technology. Instead they showed how their devices could make users’ lives more productive and interesting. Even when comparable competitive offerings exist, consumers in increasing numbers are choosing the more expensive alternative. Apple’s unique approach has allowed them to avoid the pit of commodity pricing that so many competitors fall into.

The majority of Apple’s business is B2C. Decision makers that buy their devices are also users. For that reason “ease of use” has always been a cornerstone requirement of their design and success. Apple makes things simple. Steve Jobs’ legendary product announcements focused on usage rather than product. When you think about it, their technology was always in the background. Users were insulated from it with intuitive interfaces that provided unique experiences that competitors have been unable to duplicate.

Apple’s success serves as a model for B2B companies as an approach to keeping in touch with their customers. While B2B sales are more complicated, customers and prospects have users at lower levels reporting to executives that make the buying decisions. For this reason “ease of use” is not as critical a factor as it would be in B2C offerings. This reality should allow B2B product announcements to be less product-centric and therefore directed more toward Key Players. That said, how many companies take traditional product-centric approaches in announcements and collateral for their new offerings?

Since our launch in 2002, CustomerCentric Selling® (CCS®) has tirelessly espoused the benefits of focusing on usage and outcomes rather than product. Hundreds of companies have benefited by implementing our sales process, but there’s always room for improvement. While CCS® offers an approach to integrating sales training and product training, few companies have taken the process to the next level in trying to determine and align with the requirements of their clients and markets.

  • Product Development staff should have an awareness of the concepts behind creating Sales Ready Messaging®. For current offerings, Sales Ready Messaging® requires mapping existing capabilities to specific goals (outcomes) that particular titles would like to achieve. This amounts to Covey’s concept of “starting with the end in mind.”
  • The next step is developing diagnostic questions to enable sellers to uncover which of the capabilities are relevant to buyers during sales calls.
  • For new offerings, the sequence should be reversed. Based upon input from customers and salespeople, reasons outcomes cannot be achieved should be collected and communicated to Product Development. Rather than working in a vacuum, their mission now becomes to create capabilities that address problem areas for their customers. This outside-in approach should result in product announcements that more closely align with what markets want and need.
  • When launching new offerings, the creation of sales ready messaging® should be a collaborative effort by Marketing with input from Sales funded by Product Development. This approach would allow sellers to hit the ground running because offerings would be positioned by vertical, title, and goals organizations can achieved through their use. Such an approach could reduce the amount of product training sellers would have to endure. Traditional product training tends to be “speeds and feeds” oriented and more applicable for calling on users rather than executives. Wouldn’t you prefer your sellers to start buying cycles for new offerings at Key Player levels?

CustomerCentric Selling® has been leveraged to sell existing offerings. A Solution Development Prompter™ empowers sellers to ask questions to understand their buyers’ needs before any parts of their offerings are discussed. Organizations can extend their usage of the process to drive product development. By taking this approach, vendors can have customer needs define most of the capabilities found in new offerings.

For organizations that don’t enjoy the luxury of having a single visionary define requirements for their markets, I believe Steve Jobs would have approved of the CCS® approach.

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