Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Share the Idea with the Customers (6/12)

Last time (“Getting Started -- Preparing to Plan”), we put the FAC (facilitator) to work, building a documented repository of existing knowledge about the EF’s (Entrepreneurial Firm’s) customers and prospects – and about the markets and industries in which each resides.

Armed with this valuable marketplace content, the EF is prepared to identify the most-valuable potential participants in its knowledge-sharing program. Selection criteria include market share, current position in the EF’s portfolio of customers, line of business, technological advancement, industry leadership and the like.

Some potential participants will already be customers; others will be highly-desirable prospects. At least two enterprises from each target market segment are included. Each of these will serve as a reality-check of the other(s) when the knowledge derived from the collaboration is considered.

The facilitator now contacts each of the targeted potential participating companies to propose and describe the knowledge-sharing effort. In this stage, the facilitator’s persuasive abilities are important, of course. But even more important is the ability to reflect the in-depth knowledge of the customer’s environment that has been gleaned through the recently-completely research.

Customers are busy with a million projects of their own. To add one more program, even one more meeting, to the plate of already-overloaded key managers is not to be undertaken lightly. The reflection of credibility and capability on the customer’s own turf – its marketplace – is essential to the EF in convincing the potential participant that true content can in fact be developed in the knowledge-sharing effort.

As part of this initial proposal conversation, the facilitator outlines a preliminary suggested agenda for a kickoff meeting. He describes the focus on big-picture items, not on line-item requirements. Through this larger-issues focus, the importance of the participation of the customer’s management, representing multiple functional areas, is highlighted.

In a candid manner, the facilitator acknowledges that this meeting may be viewed, suspiciously, as simply a thinly-disguised sales call. To counter that concern, the commitment to maintain the focus on acquisition of knowledge about the customer’s business, rather than on what the EF already has “cooking”, is stated, repeated and reiterated.

This single-minded statement and pursuit of purpose is crucial in setting the tone of a listening-and-learning meeting rather than a talking-and-selling meeting. The EF's mantra is simple: listening and learning, listening and learning, listening and learning ...

Next time, we will discuss the selection and participation of key individuals – on both the customer’s and EF’s teams – in the initial knowledge-sharing program efforts.

Part 6 of 12, by Lyn Gosz, Gosz Group Technology Planners