Meeting Your Customers’ Value Metrics

This weekend I read two things. Each influenced me, but the combination kicked me hard.

One was a post by Chris Brogan on website best practices. In it, he critiqued his own website, concluding that he had some work to do.

In my experience, most good professionals have good things to say, though they (we) are not very good at persuading their clients to listen to them. And the toughest client for all of us to convince is—ourselves. We are great at diagnosing issues in others; not so good at seeing the pattern in the mirror. Bravo Chris.

The other piece was by Jeff Thull. I’m honored to be one whom Jeff asked to review the 2nd edition of his classic Mastering the Complex Sale. I was impressed the first time I read it, and reading it on a plane ride Sunday brought on that same rush of ‘oh wow’s yet again.

To grossly over-summarize: Thull has written the book on how to sell (and buy, and manage) in an era where needs identification itself is too complicated for the buyer alone to determine.

Brogan plus Thull: what a combination. And that got me on the subject of value metrics and customer benefits.

What My Customers Ask Me: and What I’ve Been Answering

Most of my customers ask me ‘can you point to results of increased trustworthiness in your client organizations?’ And reading Brogan and Thull today, I had to admit: I’ve done a poor job of answering that question.

First, if I’m honest, I generally don’t raise the subject. If it does come up, I have as often as not steered the discussion elsewhere. “Trust itself doesn’t even have a universal definition, how can it be measured,” I say. “Over-measurement of trust can destroy trust; metrics are overdone; and if the trust is working, you’ll know it through some major metrics like revenue, cost and speed.”

Yeah, I know. All true; but I wouldn’t find it too satisfying either. It sounds defensive. What it isn’t, is collaborative and useful.

Ouch: hey Chris, was it this hard for you to admit your website could be improved?

What I Should be Answering

Great insights, I have found, are usually simple: rarely easy, but usually simple. Jeff Thull’s Big Insight is that most sales these days assume the client knows what’s wrong, and largely how to solve the problem. Hence most sales processes aim at teasing out needs statements from clients.

That is profoundly wrong, and has been for some time. David Maister said years ago that ‘the problem is never what the client said it was in the first meeting.’ The problem definition has to be developed collaboratively. And problem definition is just the barest beginning. Thull’s work is the mental and process roadmap for redesigning supplier-buyer relationships in their entirety.

In my simple small example, what I need to do is to engage my potential clients in discussions about how they measure value; what their metrics are; and whether (or not) my service offering affects those metrics. If there’s no match, it’s my job to explore with them whether the issue is their metrics or my service offering—all done with an attitude of curiosity and a willingness to be agnostic about the outcome.

So, one of the battlegrounds is measurement. I’ll start by getting rid of the ‘battleground’ metaphor and remember this is all about a joint exploration of how to fix the world, one little product and service offering and organization at a time.

Thanks Jeff for the structured big-picture thinking, and Chris for the cold water in the face. Once again, I have met the enemy and it is me.

To present, past and future clients of mine: let’s talk about how you think about the value of trust.