Monday, February 8, 2016

The Challenge of B2B Customer Centricity

There has been a lot of focus recently on customer value.  Term like customer experience, relationship management, and customer-centricity have become common in the business press.  But almost all of the focus has been on the B2C business environment.  Now we have some data that is based upon the B2B environment – and it isn’t pretty. 

Gallup has just published an extensive report titled, “Guide to Customer Centricity: Analytics and Advice for B2B Leaders.”  According to Gallup, 71% of B2B customers would change to a different seller in a heartbeat.  The customer does not feel valued.  So if a better deal comes along, they will jump at it.  For most products and services there is little differentiation between the major competitors in the B2B industry segments.  As Gallup says, “There is often little in the company’s product or service itself that helps it support long-term business growth.”

New products or product offerings are not sustainable because competition will soon match with similar features and functions.  Pricing is not sustainable because someone can always go lower to “buy share.”  Service delivery is not sustainable because that again is something that is easily matched by the competition.  So what is left?

Sustainable long-term growth comes from building and growing customer relationships.  But most B2B companies have not invested in the relationship.   As Gallup noted, “They invest in Lean, Six Sigma and other methodologies that are crucial for keeping costs down, but they don’t have a plan for maximizing their customer relationships.”  Forming lasting relationships takes time and effort.  And that time and effort is not episodic; it is continual.  (Just thing about the time and effort needed to form and maintain a good marriage relationship.)  It is not a quick hit business initiative or a new app for your phone. 

That is the difficulty.  To truly create a customer-centric organization and build lasting customer relationships, a transformation is required within a company.  It is as much about culture as it is about relationship management data and account teams.  Speaking of account teams, the great relationship that is built between the customer and the salesperson will quickly be destroyed if the delivery is consistently late, or fi the invoice is full of errors.

Let’s look a little closer at the relationship.  One of the Gallup findings is that strong customer relationships are built upon collaboration.  But many companies with B2B offerings are reluctant to collaborate.  Their fear is that if they share too much of their knowledge and insights with their customers, the customers will no longer need them.   The customer will be able to create and operate the products and services that the seller is trying to sell.  But the only reason that the customer would even consider such a thing is if they have become frustrated with the quality, price and service that they are receiving.  When the seller focuses on creating customer success and customer value, the customer is actually likely to send even more business their way.

The Gallup report also talks about the need for positive proactive customer engagement and that a roadmap and an action plan are needed to make that engagement happen.  It isn’t just osmosis that creates engagement.  Management must purpose, plan and execute if they want to develop strong customer relationships at all points of customer-seller interaction.  The report continues on to highlight the importance of a seller’s supplier network and the use of data analytics.  All of these become tools to be used by an empowered cross-functional customer account team.

The report is a long one, 88 pages.  And there are no easy answers.  If you are looking for “seven steps to attain customer centricity” you are out of luck.  As Gallup notes, this is hard work and often requires an organizational transformation.  However, if you don’t make the changes, but your competitors do, you won’t be in the game.  Remember, 71% of your customers are ready to switch as soon as a seller shows them that they really care about customer value and customer success.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Project Management Made Easy

People who are expert in an area love to discuss the intricacies and novel aspects of that area.  Project managers are no different.  But what that means is that many project management articles, books and posts are irrelevant to 99% of the people who are involved in projects.  Some people (like me) may enjoy debating when to use the SPI in calculating a forecast with Earned Value Management.  But sadly, I have discovered that is not a universal topic of conversation. 

Project management software has not made this any easier.  Many of the project management software applications tout how intuitive and simple they are.  But the reality is that they have automated some of the more difficult and obscure aspects of project management.  In order to really use the software, you already need to be adept at project management.  So for most people, the software either becomes a glorified chart-making tool or it is used as barriers to keep the “unwashed masses” out of the intricate mysteries of professional project management.

But in a nutshell, project management is just organizing who does what and when they do it so as to achieve a goal or objective.  When the work is very difficult, or there are many people, or there are some tight constraints around the objective; then the project management disciplines can help to identify and overcome unique issues.  But it still comes down to “who,” “what,” and “when” to  achieve the goal.

That is why I find that most of the time when I am working with an organization that is trying to embrace project management; I need to focus on how to keep things simple.  What I have found is that there are two very simple approaches to organizing the “who,” “what” and “when” that everyone can understand and work with.

Post-It Note Project Management

The first is to use “Post-it” notes and a storyboard.  In this case, every activity is listed on its own “Post-it” note.  I then add the name or names of who will do the activity and the start or end date.  

The “Post-It” notes are organized on the storyboard in whatever way makes the most sense to the team.  I have organized them in columns where each column represents a week or each column represents an individual on the team.  I have also organized them by grouping the tasks for a deliverable around each other in more of a mind-mapping approach. 

The great things about this approach are that it is quick, easy to understand, visual, and easy to maintain the status.  The way I manage status is that whenever a project activity is complete, I move the “Post-It” note to the lower right hand corner of the storyboard.  So it is easy to track what work is left to be done.  If another required activity is discovered, just add the “Post-it” note.  Updates and changes are easy to track.  

There are several limitations with this approach.  First, you need a co-located team so that everyone can see and track the storyboard.  Also, I have found that if there are too many activities it is difficult to fit them all on the storyboard and track progress.  My rule of thumb is that this approach is limited to 100 activities or less.  Finally, if there are many linkages between activities throughout the project, this approach does not capture that well and another tool or analysis is needed to track those linkages.  With that said, most of the organizations that have small ad hoc teams for conducting part-time projects can use this approach.

Spreadsheet Project Management

The next approach is to use a spreadsheet for planning and tracking the project activities.  Now I am not talking about using the advanced math functions of the spreadsheet, rather I am using it as a poor man’s database.  The reason I like to use a spreadsheet is because all most all mobile devices, laptops, tablets, and phones have a spreadsheet application.  If I put the project plan and status in a simple spreadsheet, I can share it with a distributed team and update it any time and from anywhere.

I set up my spreadsheet so that each row is a project task or activity and each column represents information about that task or activity.  So one column is the task, another column is the task completion criteria – or “definition of done” – for that task.  I also have a column for who is doing the work, the start date, end date, notes or comments, and current status.  Another thing I like to do with the spreadsheet is change the color of the row based upon status.  That way activities that are done are late or in work can pop out when your check the spreadsheet.

There are several advantages of this approach.   It can be easily shared with team members that are not co-located.  You can easily add hundreds of tasks (I have used it on projects with over 400 tasks and activities).  It is easy to sort the activities by date, by status or by who is doing the work.  And as I mentioned it is portable.  

There are several disadvantages.  One is that you can only see a few rows at a time on your screen.  Another is one that was mentioned with the Post-it notes; that is that it is difficult to track linkages between the tasks and activities.   When you have the complex linkages you should switch to a powerful project management software application.  And you probably need a professional project manager then because of the complexity and risk.

So keep it simple.  Use Post-it notes or spreadsheets where possible.    If you want to know more about using either of these approaches, check out my online course on the topic.