Years ago, people used to say that, “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.” Because IBM had such a strong brand and reputation, it was considered a no-brainer to purchase their offerings — if you were the purchasing manager, an IBM product would always make you look good to your colleagues and managers. Whether or not that was actually true, the belief existed that IBM was the best. Therefore, IBM enjoyed great sales and strong customer loyalty.
If you’re like most sellers and marketers, you truly believe in your company and your offering. You might also believe that customers buy from you on the strength of your reputation. Clearly, having a great reputation is a good thing. But we always encourage marketers to push deeper and talk with customers to find out what defines your reputation. Sometimes that requires asking customers several times, in several ways, what they value about your company and your offering. For example, the dialogue could go something like this.
Marketer: Why do you buy from us?
Customer: Because you have great reputation.
Marketer: What does that word, “reputation,” mean to you?
Customer: We trust you.
Marketer: What specifically do we do that you trust?
Customer: You always deliver on time.
Marketer: And how does that impact your business? What would happen if we did NOT deliver on time?
Customer: We’d have to carry more inventory or we’d have to delay production of our product. Both of those options would create more expense for us.
As you can see, in this case “reputation” is another way of talking about this company’s ability to help a customer save the expense of carrying more inventory or delaying production. That’s a measurable business impact. Here are some other examples of business impacts that might be code for “reputation.”
- Your company has a global footprint so you can support the customer wherever they are.
- Your company has a good support network so you can reduce the customer’s downtime.
- Your offering lowers the risk that the customer’s product will fail.
- Your company can offer services that help the customer perform faster or more efficiently.
Why do marketers need to define the business impact of “reputation?” What happens if, one day, a competitor calls one of your longstanding customers and offers to deliver a product of equal value for twenty percent less than what the customer is currently paying you? For a twenty percent price cut, the customer is probably going to take a meeting to learn more. In this case, knowing the business impact of “reputation” will probably help you make a convincing case to the customer to keep their business with you.
Here’s another example. Let’s say a customer tells you repeatedly that they “trust you,” and you never dig any deeper to find out what that means. One day the customer decides to move operations to Canada and they call to tell you they’ll be using a local distributor instead of your services. When you ask what happened to trust, they say, “We trust you to ship locally — you’ve always done a great job with that, but now that we’re moving, we want a local supplier.”
If you can’t get to the business impact of “reputation,” you’re always at risk to an uncontrollable shift in operations or a competitor’s lower price. If you want to figure out what your reputation means to customers, start with a hypothesis. Ask yourself what value you deliver. If you were not around to supply your product or service, how would the customer be able to perform for his customers? Talk with customers and continue to ask, “Why?” or “What does that mean to you?” until you have a clear sense of the value you deliver.
Do you understand the value of your reputation? Share your thoughts in the comments section.
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[Image via Flickr / Raymond Bryson]