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“OVERARCHING VALUES ARE THE BIG TOPIC OF THE FUTURE”

An interview with Winfried Küppers, Director of the Steinbeis Consulting Center for Sales Analytics

Professional and efficient marketing makes an important contribution to the success of a business, just as much as well-organized and well-planned selling and the customer acquisition this leads to. But often, these are the very areas of business that are neglected. August Musch, managing director of Steinbeis Beratungszentren GmbH, joined Winfried Küppers, Steinbeis expert and director of the Steinbeis Consulting Center for Sales Analytics, to discuss the impact this can have on companies and why such factors play such an important role when it comes to corporate development.

Hello Mr. Küppers. Effective marketing and professional sales are essential ingredients for a company to be successful, but they’re often neglected when it comes to corporate development, especially at technology-centric companies. Why do you think that is?

You might have seen those TV series where experts are called in to help restaurant managers. If you analyze these programs, it doesn’t take long to work out what the main problem is: The restaurant owners are new to the area. It’s often the same problem in marketing and sales: Development engineers are new to selling. So this leads to a whole series of issues – the same problems over and again at tech companies.

That mainly includes a complete lack of understanding of marketing and sales. Lots of engineers are so busy thinking about implementing the technical requirements of their customers that they basically forget to put thought into where or how they’re going to sell their products. Very few people realize that business growth has to be managed and generated. This overconfidence is often a problem because some engineers assume good products will sell and become well known by themselves. But that’s not how things work anymore. People often highlight product features but they don’t mention the customer benefit. And then they often misunderstand customer requirements and buying behavior. How do potential customers judge products? Where do they find out what they need to know about products? Who actually is my target group? If I can’t answer these questions, I can’t offer the customer a made-to-measure solution. The next thing I have to mention is how ineffectively resources are used. Some firms already splash out on expensive resources, such as sales staff or marketing campaigns. But their campaigns often just fizzle out because they’re badly designed or organized, or they don’t offer the target group any real added value. For example, one thing we often witness is inefficient and poor sales teams that just react without any real method or numbers to go by, instead of working proactively. And last but not least, companies often lack the right know-how regarding available digital options. Lots of firms don’t even realize what options new digital sales and marketing channels now offer them. And even if they do use them, it’s far from optimal. Companies are often taken aback when they discover the channels potential customers are already actively using these days – unfortunately with the competition. This is where we can make optimizations and provide support making the right choices.

Your Steinbeis Consulting Center helps companies analyze and realign sales concepts and marketing planning. Where does your focus lie in this?

Something that generates a lot of awareness for us is our approach to not just creating concepts, but also acquiring customers. We work alongside field sales and we’ve set up our own call centers that can make calls for clients and arrange appointments. This also allows us to prove that our concept works.

When it comes to concept development, naturally we also cover the full bandwidth of services, in both marketing and sales. This ranges from improving your understanding of the market, to who the actual customer contacts are, where the customer journey takes them, fundamental positioning and strategy, and detailed action plans.

This covers the entire customer journey and includes communication campaigns and search engine optimization. One thing that’s special about our approach is that we look at the entire sales and marketing process on a holistic level, because that’s the only way to generate more turnover. But we also have an expert in each specific area with many years of experience in industry. Lots of consulting firms have an expert who can also answer all kinds of questions – what we call generalists. But how many of them have actually experienced these things in industry, in detail? So I always make sure we send experts to the customer for each project. It means we have to invest a bit more time and effort internally, but it results in much better outcomes. Using experts from industry, who also have years of experience in business coaching, also helps our customers to give teams and employees the right skills.

What sort of problems do your customers approach you with?

Our customers mainly approach us with six questions. The first is: How can I generate good growth? The answer to this is different for every client. Some customers mean the classic thing with this – more turnover and profit. Others want more customers, so they become less dependent on big clients. The second question we hear a lot comes from automotive suppliers trying to become less dependent on car companies. They work with us to look for new target groups and fields of business. They also tend to ask us about the best way to use communication channels. We’re living in a time when people have lots of different communication options in their private lives, so they also expect that of their suppliers. If you don’t put out the right messages through different communication channels you’ll be ignored by potential customers. And if you invest lots of money in the wrong channels, you’ll lose money without gaining customers. We help identify the right measures for each company. One issue that’s often forgotten but can significantly raise turnover, especially for big companies, is the mental strength of the workforce: Sales people with strong personal resilience generally produce 20% higher sales. So we’re often asked to bring in our special team that coaches sports squads, to help set up the best team of sales people and managers. This does staff a lot of good, and it’s good for the company. But lots of firms are also coming under pressure from clients – for example, more and more firms are being asked to integrate their processes into customer ERP systems. Making processes as automated as possible for customers can also be quite challenging for the company acting as a supplier. This is where our specialists can provide support. We also get a lot of calls from company owners and investors who want to find out how the company really is doing in the market and what options there are for the future.

People know that digital transformation is a new challenge for the business, but what does that actually mean in concrete terms for marketing and the sales department? And what does a company have to do to deal with this trend successfully?

This development is a major opportunity for sales organizations. Lots of companies have slept through developments and that’s allowing small and medium-sized companies to catch up quickly. Companies that have already involved sales in digital transformation make a good impression on clients, they find it easier to recruit specialists, and they’re much more agile. But the challenge lies in introducing the right measures and getting sales on board. Exploiting the new opportunities offered by digital technology allows you to manage customers individually. And that leads you into new markets.

By definition, the job of marketing departments is to carry corporate communications forward into the world of digital solutions. This takes high levels of digital technology in the marketing department, so people can make the best use of all marketing channels. But to do that, you need a clear strategy so that information has the desired effect, as defined in advance.

Which trends do you think will determine the future of marketing and sales? And what can or should companies do to prepare for this now?

The main trend at the moment is about making the sales organization more agile. The tendency these days is for more and more purchasing departments to be led by senior management. The implication of this for us is that we’re not being allowed to plan the sales process as much as we used to be; we have to set up everything according to the buying process. To do that, you need more agile sales processes. Lots of companies are struggling to make headway in marketing through classic “outbound” marketing based on advertising or trade shows. The challenge is to understand the client better – specific contacts and the customer journey – and to give them interesting content and tools on certain topics in the form of “inbound” marketing, so they can be helped with the evaluation process, on the way to successful selling.

We’re also already preparing our clients for the new trend of “overarching value argumentation.” Overarching values are the big topic of the future – not just in terms of communication with end customers but also with B2B clients! At the moment it’s a lot about sustainability but in the future that will expand to other topics. The firms that succeed in conveying clear selling arguments through the right channels will gain significant competitive advantage.