Sales effectiveness: Moving from vendor to partner

Joshua Rossman, director of customer experience, at eBay, on understanding your customers in order to sell better.

Joshua Rossman, director of customer experience, at eBay, on understanding your customers in order to sell better.

Joshua Rossman is director of customer experience at eBay and will be presenting at eyeforpharmas upcoming Selling Pharmaceuticals in 2015 Executive Forum. Before arriving at eBay, Joshua worked at ZS Associates, Microsoft, and Cisco Systems, where he held various leadership positions, including creating and running the value selling team for Cisco.

eyeforpharma: Many pharma pundits think the industry is close to a burning platform. You were at Cisco when the high tech industry really did find itself in a crisis. What was your solution?

JR: At Cisco, I was tasked with helping the sales force understand how to create, communicate, and deliver value to its customers. That occurred at a time when, in 2001, the Internet bubble had burst and caused a lot of panic and difficulty for tech companies and selling organizations. In other words, my group was tasked with figuring out how to respond to that crisis. And we turned to a value-based model. However, we werent able to do it on a proactive basis before the burst; we were forced to act after the crisis hit. It would have been better if we had acted sooner, but in good times, it is hard to move organizations to act when they dont have to.  High tide covers up a lot of mistakes.

In our case, a lot of attention and energy was put into figuring out how to deal with a difficult situation after it occurred. When you look at pharma and those thinking about it the right way and planning for the possibility of more challenging times, theyre trying to avoid that position of having to react. Its the right mentality.

What were some of the biggest challenges in transitioning to a value-based model in 2001?

We started with the highest priority accounts and looked at where globally the biggest deals were that could use some assistance from a small task force. The original intent as we were responding to this challenging time was not to create an overlay team to the sales force, it was really to help these big accounts push through stalled deals. By engaging with these large, global accounts, we started to see some patterns. There were common reasons for customer push back. We started to identify what those reasons were: price pressure due to severe budget cuts, a lack of understanding of what customers were really getting, how the offering mapped to their pain points, confusion over value. What Cisco was delivering and what they knew was really valuable was different than what the customers perceived it to be. If youre delivering something and the customer is not seeing it, theyre not going to value it. If youve got a ton of money and you keep buying a service, you have no reason to push back, but when times get tough, that all changes.

One value coming out of our value-based selling experience was an extensive exercise to first identify and then understand common customer objections. And then there was further work to do in coming up with the best way to handle those objections and to explain essentially in the sales process what it is that Cisco is delivering and why that was important. We started to see things that were different than in the past. In the past customers thought of the company as a vendor, not as a partner. They thought of it as a product company, not as a solutions company. So the challenges were, how did we understand what customer needs were in a much more detailed way that would allow us to map our offerings against those needs.

What advice would you give to the pharma industry before they undertake a similar transformation? Any cautionary tales?

I would reexamine how close they really are with their customers. I suspect if you went out and asked all the sales people in a given pharma sales force, How well do you know your customers? and did a survey, everyone is going to say they know their customers really well. This is quite common across industries, probably due to the personalities of sales people. It sometimes takes the help of an external group, maybe even someone from marketing, to start to look at what customers are really going through, how to ask the right probing questions to get them to share with you beyond a narrow discussion about your product. When you start to see their broader challenges and their real pain points of what keeps them awake at night, you better understand how what you offer fits into easing their pain and meeting their objectives. In other words, diagnose before you prescribe. A very common tendency in a sales organization is to push what youve got. Weve all gotten the cold calls. How often do sales people ask you questions before they start selling their product? I think pharma would benefit from really deeply knowing whats going on with their customers. Because then you could have substantive discussions about your own value.

After Cisco youve worked at Microsoft, ZS, and now eBay. How have you focused on creating customer value in your more recent jobs?

Customer centricity is a major focus at eBay. Many organizations that Ive worked with in the past, when I was with ZS, fail to track and measure the customer experience in a way that really gives them insight into how customers are feeling at those moments of truth across the end-to-end customer experience. When you have a critical interaction in a way that creates perception, either detracting from the experience or delighting, companies must get it right. Thats my job here. To create a structured method by which we can understand the experience, particularly the moments of truth, act on what customers are telling us is important, and track and measure the results.

What are some specific metrics that are helpful in measuring customer value?

There are many ways to do it. In my view the loyalty metric of Net Promoter is one good way. Its a concept invented by Bain Consulting and is based on the one question, How likely are you to recommend? Conceptually, you have a ten-point scale. Customers who rate 9-10, that you would definitely recommend, are considered promoters. Ive had such experiences with Dell computers, Apple, Comcast, even eBay (and Im not at all biased, of course) and many others; so when Im talking with someone else, Im going to promote these companies.  Its like an extension of the sales force when you get customers selling on your behalf. Detractors, on the other hand, rate 1-6, that they would not likely recommend.  So Net Promoter takes the promoters and subtracts out the detractors to come up with a ranking. That is certainly one way to track customer loyalty.

And its really important. Otherwise if you dont have a way of assessing how well youre doing with customers, its all kind of anecdotal. With Net Promoter or any customer satisfaction type rating, you can ask questions at different moments of time and then connect results to different business metrics. You can integrate that metric into performance management. Its really what you chose to do with the information you get. And it wont happen without a big effort. If you just distribute some information and hope that people do something with it, thats not enough. The true answer to that question cant come out in a thirty-minute talk. Its not easy, and its not something thats just going to happen. Its not something you put on the desk of a couple of people and ask them to do part-time.

How big of an operation does this have to be? Do you have to hire new staff? Add new technologies? Bring in external help?

Because ownership of the customer does not usually rest in one place, but actually throughout many places within an organization, someone running initiatives like were talking about needs to be adept at running cross-functional teams and influencing without authority. Successful teams could be small or large, depending on the situation.  At Cisco, that job didnt involve tracking and measuring the customer experience, so we didnt create a separate team for that purpose. We did create a new team at Microsoft solely around the end-to-end experience. We had somebody responsible for the partner experience, for the advertiser experience, for the customer experience. We also had critical outside parties that touched the organization, someone responsible for culture change, for keeping their eye on the longer-term issues, and all of that information got integrated into performance management and annual commitments and goals. And we had someone responsible for operational policies as well. So whether you need new internal staff or external help depends on the specific scenario. But again, this cant be a part-time initiative. It has to be a priority.

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