“Let’s See How Much We Can Confuse Our Customers!”

By David Brock | Small Business

I actually wanted to title this, “Let’s See How Much We Can Screw With Our Customer’ Minds,” but decided against it. I know no company would purposefully try to confuse it’s customers, making it very difficult for them to understand their offerings and buy. Unfortunately, that’s an unintended consequence of a lot of what I see happening in too many Go To Customer Strategies.

Recently, I was reviewing the Go To Market Strategy of a software company. Actually, I was doing some competitive analysis for a client and struck gold. My client’s competitor had done what too many others do. They had developed their Go To Market Strategies from an “inside-out” point of view. They were optimizing everything from their point of view, unwittingly (or stupidly–your choice) ignoring the impact on both their channel partners and the end customer.

But this case was extreme. This company had a number of “different product lines.” Each had it’s own product management, marketing and sales teams. Each business unit was developing their strategy based on optimizing their own results. Not unusual, but here’s where the problems started popping up.

There was significant overlap between their core product lines. In my research, I discovered the differences between their product lines were very subtle and nuanced. Some of the products were optimized to a certain industry–though their marketing materials didn’t highlight this. Some were optimized to certain types of business processes, but again their marketing materials didn’t highlight this. Each had premise and cloud versions, so there was no platform differentiation.

It was very difficult to understand the differences and which product the customer should buy. In fact, the products really competed with each other. Business units were spending a lot of effort positioning and differentiating their offerings with the other offerings from their own company, not spending any time positioning them against the competition (my client).

This problem was exacerbated by having independent reseller channels selling each product. This meant, the company’s sales channels spent the majority of their time competing against each other and not the competition. Anyone who’s dealt with channels knows this is the kiss of death for your channel strategy. Channel partners are not going to waste the time in this confusing environment.

Then when you got to the customer, it was worse. I interviewed a number of customers about their experiences with this company. The first reaction was a lot of eye rolling. The typical of the feedback was, “We had three different resellers, selling three different versions of a product from the same company to us. Trying to understand the differences, trying to sort through which one we should buy became too complicated. The differentiation between product lines was so small, we were confused about the company’s product strategy, we were worried that we might buy a product the company would discontinue in the future. While we liked their solutions, making a choice, dealing with competing sales people from the same company became too complicated. We went with a company that made it much easier for us to buy.”

What I’ve outlined is an extreme case. It was gold for my client. Their competitor had paid no attention to the buying experience or the confusion they created for their customers and channel partners. Consequently, they vulnerable to my client who was designing the buying experience from the customer’s perspectives. We expect to seize huge share points, simply by having a great product that was very easy to buy.

But I see forms of this problem quite frequently. We optimize our customer engagement process for us–our product lines, our business units, our companies. We don’t see things from the customer perspective (including channel partners). What makes sense from our point of view is often hopelessly confusing from the point of view of our customers.

Our customers are not just buying a product. They’re buying a relationship with our company. They want to look at our companies, understanding what the total relationship is. They want to see consistency across all parts of the company, they want to see how the various pieces/parts fit together.

Most of all, they don’t want to be confused! They don’t want to be confused about what to buy. They don’t want to be confused about who to buy it from. They are too busy to take the time to sort things out for themselves.

Our customers don’t care about our organizational structures. They aren’t concerned about optimizing the results of each product line. They don’t care about our metrics. They want solutions to their problems.

If we want to optimize our results, we can’t confuse our customers or channel partners. We have to design buying experiences from their points of view. The challenges it creates for our own organizations to achieve their goals is our problem to solve, not the customer’s or the channel partners.

Finding customers who want to buy is hard enough. Finding resellers who are willing to invest the time and resource in selling our solutions is also hard. Let’s not make it more complicated by seeing how much confusion we can toss into the mix.

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