Cultivate Inside and Outside Customers

Each customer contact method involves a solid grounding in the value proposition that is being proffered and the ability to convey that proposition.

All companies are built around their people. And while that’s an obvious statement, I submit that there are nuances to it that sometimes are overlooked.  

For example, how an organization allocates its people is a crucial key to success. Every individual is unique, making the task of matching the right person to the task that needs to be done not a formulaic exercise.

The lifeblood of business is its customers. Companies produce and disseminate products or services that are of value to their customers.

We employ people to interact with our customers, making the “face” of the business. These interactions can be various types such as direct contact and indirect contact via various marketing tools. The increased use of digital-based communication has created a growth in the latter—indirect means of communicating with customers.

However, it’s important to note that each customer contact method, be it direct or indirect, involves a solid grounding in the value proposition that is being proffered and the ability to convey that proposition. Manufacturing continues to be a bastion of the direct contact approach to customer contact.

Business-to-business communication is still a different animal than communicating with consumers. This is especially true for highly engineered products and services that comprise capital investment decisions that manufacturers must make to replace equipment or increase capacity.

Success in the BTB arena is often based upon relationships that are built over time and represent that ability to communicate a company’s value proposition, then deliver on that proposition. It’s about integrity, which I define simply as “doing what you say you’re going to do.”

That sounds easy, but the truth is, fulfilling that promise is often dependent on factors that may be out of the control of the person who is the face of the business to a given customer. It takes the support of the organization behind the direct customer contact.

I once worked for a large machine tool builder. In my job, I had contact with our sales force. These people were well trained and good at creating and maintaining customer relationships.

Talking to one of these sales people one day, he said to me that making a sale to a customer is often easy when compared with pushing that sale though the company’s internal maze. For him it was often necessary to sell internally to application engineers, production managers, materials purchasers and the many other departments involved in manufacturing a complex piece of equipment to a customer’s specification.

He basically was describing what for him were outside and inside customers and making the point that a relationship with the inside people is every bit as important as a relationship with the outside customers. That description has stuck with me through my career. Moreover, I have witnessed it scaled up and down in various companies.

As the editor for PM I often find myself on the outside, as the face of the magazine to customers, helping disseminate our value proposition. My role is a bit different than our sales force in that I am generally not asking for an order, but rather trying to project a willingness to help my outside person do what they say they’re going to do. It’s complementary.

In my company, like most, we have outside and inside customers. These lines are rarely clear because ultimately it’s the outside customer who is in control. We work for them.

I think, though, that the success of an organization can be measured by how seamlessly the hand off is between the outside and inside employees and how they work together to create the integrity of the value proposition being proposed. Sometimes, overpromises are made by the outside sales people, which can put the company’s integrity to the test. That’s where the inside people can and do really shine.

In my 25 years of editing and writing articles for my company, we have made a concerted effort to support our outside customers through sometimes a Herculean effort by our inside people. What’s cool is that the outside customer never “sees us sweat.” However, our outside person hears about it.

This is our December issue and as such, I wish you, our readers, advertisers and our outside and inside supporters, a healthy and happy holiday season. We appreciate your support and loyalty and look forward to a successful 2018.