Creating a Culture of Value

By Todd Hendries

Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” That’s a warning that can keep you from driving a well-intended sales program straight into a tsunami.

At some point you’ve undoubtedly encountered, or been subjected to, a company culture that regularly creates havoc. Maybe it’s a victim mentality that places blame on others for an inability to execute. Most of the team or organization lives in a state of paralysis. They’re disengaged. And nothing good happens.

Or maybe new ideas are only accepted after they’re proven. But with all those doubters, how can any new idea be successful? In an innovation culture, a failed strategy can be absorbed and used as a learning event. Not so if the culture isn’t supportive.

How about an organization that’s just misaligned? We get siloed, we invest loyalty in our team, we feel like we must succeed despite being held back by another internal team or a supply chain relationship. Then we compete within our team for accomplishment and recognition — meaning we’re often incented to block ideas we didn’t originate or complicate them by adding our pet priorities. In my experience this is most of us, most every day.

A career spent in sales organizations is rife with observations of value leaking out of the bucket because the company, or companies, presenting an offering just can’t get everyone on the same page. How often, when we look for competitive advantage in sales tools or tactical sales programs, are we seeking workarounds to the fundamental problem of that leaky value bucket? And how big is that leak? Sometimes tsunami-sized in terms of repercussions to the business.

Many dependencies

Marketing promoted it, sales sold it, finance approved it, legal deemed it compliant, operations delivered it, customer service followed up. How often do you suppose this is a coordinated effort? You’re someone’s customer. When you make a purchase, how often do you feel like the whole organization that sold it, the manufacturer that developed it, and the off-shore customer service team had your satisfaction in mind?

So why do sales leaders deploy sales training, CRM, marketing campaigns, etc. and get surprised when they’re not successful? A few questions you might consider:

  • Has everyone on your team been made aware why it’s being done? And what “it” is?
  • Does the program or initiative have support throughout the organization?
  • Do adjacent groups, teams, and departments understand the program and the role they play in its success?
  • Are there clearly stated goals and metrics that guide the project and measure progress?
  • When things go wrong, and they will, how will your team react? Blamestorm or customer focused innovation?

In short, everything and everyone in your organization plays a role in establishing, communicating, delivering, and supporting the value provided to customers. If the entire organization isn’t focused on value to the customer, your culture will consume your strategies and your sales efforts. And that leaves you with customers who don’t understand or receive the full measure of the value you could create for them.

Value-centrism

If price was all that mattered, we’d all be driving Tata Nano cars with a retail price of about $3600. So how do you justify the difference in price between your well equipped pickup, or your BMW, and a Nano?

Maybe you have a trailer for your boat or an airstream trailer. Now the pickup makes sense. Or you might have to drive customers to various company locations, and the BMW is a great vehicle for that. Or maybe you’re an engineer, and you find an Audi irresistible. Whatever drives it, you justify decisions based on what’s important to you.

If you don’t figure out what your customers value, how can you sell it? Imagine yourself at a dealer who recommended you walk the entire lot, look at every car, and then decide. If you were looking for help, there’s no value on the table here. Sometimes it’s less the stuff being sold, and more about the service or expertise provided.

In the end, your customers will do the thing that best serves their needs and interests. Your value is measured by how well you address those needs and interests. In a B2B context, this means figuring out how to propose, deliver and support deals that create margin on your end by providing business advantage for customers.

This may sound impossibly challenging amid the daily demands of running your business. Which is why you may be tempted to solve declining margins or disengaged sellers with training or by remodeling your CRM. But, when your team advocates for creating value for customers, your path forward, and the many budgetary and management decisions you encounter, actually become clearer and simpler.

A simple recipe

To create a culture of value where the organization gets behind the effort to grow revenues and margins through customer relationships, here’s the cookbook:

Align the organization around the the effort to present your customers with value that makes sense to their business, not just transactions in isolation. This requires a shared vision, strategies to attain your vision, and commitment to making value the focus of everything.

Develop insight into your customer’s business, their needs, and their wants. Establish the value connections between customers and your offering, as opposed to focusing on products, discounts, or services. The result is an authentic differentiation that you can relate, as opposed to a vapory and generic message you need to create.

Mobilize your team through a sales process that serves as a platform to coach your team and optimize performance. Without process, whatever worked last time becomes the norm, a cowboy culture is created, and value once again takes a back seat.

I grew up selling, got gray managing sellers, and now, as a senior consultant, have time and patience only for what’s going to work long-term, what has always worked through all kinds of market and technological changes: know your customer, organize around your customer, serve your customer, profit from your customer’s gains. If you want to do that, we’ve got a conversation started!