Agility, speed and deeper connections

I recently spoke candidly with 30 vice presidents of sales about how this COVID-19 moment has transformed their business, personal lives, and leadership philosophy. Their message was loud and clear. If you are not comfortable with speed, experimentation and building deeper customer relationships, your business is vulnerable. Alignment challenges, customer relationship pressures, and unproductive meetings are painful and demoralizing. But avoidance is always much more dangerous than confronting a difficult problem. Relationship complications always expand with time, especially in a pandemic when the rules are changing right before your eyes.

The senior leaders I spoke to shared they have been forced to reassess, reconfigure, and revise their leadership philosophies. They are spending more of their day understanding their customer’s needs, moving faster, and investing in relationships with the customer and their associates. What decisions have you been avoiding and are you moving fast enough? There are three questions I have been pondering as I redesign my business.

What investment decisions are you avoiding?
Bain found that less than 20% of organizations have a data-driven, quantified understanding of the total market opportunity, leading to untapped customer potential.  And less than one-quarter have an account management process in place, identifying how customers make decisions. Most companies are not having crucial conversations with their sales organizations on how they manage, invest in, and engage with their top customers. There is an enormous amount of wasted resources deployed within the customer development process. Is your team delaying difficult, inevitable customer investment conversations?  What sacred cow expenditures need to be redistributed or eliminated altogether?

What customer problems are you not taking seriously?
Research shows that acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one. Or just because a customer is growing does not mean they are profitable or should be a long-term investment. The most respected leaders dare to elevate difficult topics with their most important customers, strengthening trust. If you are not strong enough to embrace dicey conversations with customers, why would your team ever confront you? Not addressing an unprofitable customer relationship is more than a bad business decision; it weakens your culture. What current customer problems must be critically discussed?

What business meetings need to be reinvented — or killed?
Most organizations spend too much time presenting to each other and not enough time pausing, assessing competitive risks, or discussing the customer’s future needs.  We struggle with too many meetings that are too long, with inappropriate agenda topics and the wrong people in attendance. The results?  Sales and marketing leader’s employees are not in alignment with their retail customer’s evolving agenda. I observe this in my own research and coaching practice. Gartner recently conducted research that showed 56% of time spent on strategic planning is wasted by most organizations. We never get to the “critical few” topics that truly move the needle. Are you spending enough time critiquing your retail customer’s future needs or future threats that must be neutralized?   

Transparent partnerships matter more now than ever before. This is the time to invest in your most valuable, trusting customers. The future of holistic partnerships will be guided by courageous conversations.

What difficult discussions are you avoiding with your team and your top customers? 

Dan Mack is a strategist, advisor, author and performance coach to numerous companies, the founder of the Elevation Forum and the Ascent Leadership Grooup. You can learn more at  

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