Brand Ownership, Is it You or Your Staff?

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Many people in sales roles are chronically undervalued by their employers.

A couple of our suppliers whom I’ve worked with for many years are in the fields of print and signage.  These industries are now highly commodotised where choice of supplier is largely down to price.  In other words there is very little qualitative differentiation in the end products they can supply.

The exception to this is where a good relationship exists, as is the case with our suppliers.  They know how we work, and most importantly know what our client's expectations are.  Having this knowledge makes all the difference when in comes to delivering projects on time.

One of our suppliers was made redundant from his position as he didn't see eye to eye with the new management team.   instead of working to resolve the problems they let him go.

The new management team assumed that the strength of their brand rested with the name of the business and its products.

Wrong.

In a commoditised market, people buy trust, which means they buy relationships. 

If three competing products or services sell a similar product or outcome, they compete on price.  However if one of them increases their value by building genuine relationships with their customers, the likelihood of them being able to compete with a higher margin increases.

By 'genuine' I mean that a priority is placed on understanding the clients needs, so the perception of delivery exceeds expectations.

As increasing numbers of industries, including some service industries become 'commoditsed', people in front line sales roles will become the real influencers. If they're tasked with communicating face-to-face with customers, they're the ones who will build brand image and value.

Our contact who was made redundant, was offered a job at a competing firm who understood the value in the relationships he'd built over many years.  Within four months they've estimated that approx 80% of his customers he’d managed at the previous company have followed him. 

What can you learn from this?

It's crucial to know what the key averages are in your market.  Every industry has its key averages.  Here are some examples;

  • An accountancy firm should be able to prepare your tax return
  • A bank should be able to provide online access to your accounts
  • The roadside assist package with your new vehicle should be available to you 24 hours a day

Don't get fixated in putting energy into an area where the customer will simply think 'so what?'.  Of course we want our clients to have great products and services.  However from their perspective, there's a choice in who they can use, so what else can you offer on top of the expected outcomes (averages)?

To build genuine and competitive brand value you need to determine what you want your organisation to be known for.  Apart from making money, ask yourself why the company exists?  It doesn't need to be complex, it could be something as simple as 'understanding our client' or 'focused on innovation'.

You then need to determine what that value specifically looks like.  For instance with 'understanding our client' does this mean you have a process of identifying problems that they may not be aware of, or are you providing periodic follow-up reports on progress?

If you train your staff about your product or service, make sure you have tools that shows how the company needs to promote this specific value.  This doesn't mean you put the company ahead of people or create a difficult work environment, it will simply be a guide on preferred behaviours and actions. 

You don't necessarily need to exceed key averages, you do however need to exceed in your values.   Essentially this means that if everyone bakes a good cake, exceed on the icing or packaging.

In summary;

  • Don't over promote your averages
  • Be proactive in looking for areas outside your averages where you can build value
  • Ensure you have systems in place that make it easier to communicate this unique value, not only to your customers, but to your staff who will be expected to convey them every day
  • If you can provide leadership in this area, you can be rewarded with the long term benefits of carving out a relevant and sustainable difference in your market

You need to put your company in a position where its overall value as an entity is appreciated as much as that customer values the relationship it has with one of your team members.

If you don't do this the risk will always be that when sales and support staff move on, so will your customer base.

 

© Hamish Chadwick, Image Substation 2009

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