The last time we met Susan and Bill, they were discussing survival tactics. Thankfully, they have managed to get the company back on an even keel – excuse the boating pun – over the past few months and now have a new challenge to face.
At the last board meeting, the CEO asked them to prepare a strategy that would transform the company from an ‘Even Keel’ company to becoming a ‘Leading Edge’ company.
“I don’t want us to be competing on price. I want us to be seen by our clients as unique, innovative, really easy to do business with. Now it’s up to you two to make that happen. Get back to me by 23 September with a strategy. And it better be good.”
Unfortunately, Susan and Bill are at loggerheads trying to plot a course towards that Leading Edge organisation that their CEO so desperately wants to become.
Different Views from Sales and Marketing
Susan: “Leading Edge is a simple sales concept. Leading Edge = More Sales. It really is as simple as that. We can become Leading Edge if Bill provides me with market-beating products. That’s the thing he can’t seem to grasp.”
Bill:“Leading Edge is a complex brand concept. It’s how you are seen vis-à-vis the competition. We’re a services business and the differentiating factor is the quality of our service and account teams, not the products. That’s what Susan fails to grasp.”
Susan’s view is (as usual) plain and easy to grasp: “Give me decent products/services and I’ll sell them. If the products/services are Leading Edge, we’ll sell more of them. It’s not really my job to DESIGN them, so don’t go asking me about transforming this company into a leading edge organisation.”
Bill has a slightly more nuanced view. He accepts that it’s his job to translate customer needs into the sorts of products and services that the clients will love and buy, but he also makes the valid point that he and Susan are in a B2B services business, and that Susan’s account teams (as well as the Service/Delivery teams) have a key role in making the service a Leading Edge one in the client’s mind.
Bridging the Gap
As usual, Bill is half-right. And so is Susan.
But let’s start by bringing a little clarity on the terms we are using. Let’s begin with a definition of what a ‘unique’ brand is in the business-to-business world.
In the B2B world, the uniqueness of your brand is dependent on a combination of whether you provide a unique Solution for your clients and whether they find the Experience of working with you to be uniquely satisfying.
Deep-Insight defines Solution as a combination of innovation, leading edge and value-for-money. These are three related but slightly different concepts but if you score well on all three, the chances are that you have an offering that can help your clients improve their standing in the marketplace in a way that none of your competitors can provide. When we talk about ‘solutions’ we’re not just talking ‘product’. As Bill says, it’s as much about how the account managers, sales and delivery teams position your company’s product or service, as it is about the product/service itself.
Experience is a measure of how easy you are to do business with and if you are seen as a trusted partner. You can have the best products or services in the world but if your clients can’t work with you and don’t see your people as trusted partners, your brand is going to suffer.
So when Bill and Susan’s CEO talks about wanting to be a unique, innovative, leading edge company, he’s really talking about building a B2B brand that excels at all the different elements that we group under the headings Solution and Experience. And that means the Bill and Susan need to work together to get all those elements right. But as the methodology above shows, you can’t build a unique B2B brand without having an excellent service to underpin it. So Bill and Susan and going to have to rope in the Operations Director as well. We wish them well on their journey.
Ultimately, the real definition of Leading Edge will be dictated by your customers. But you’ll never know if you don’t ask them.