"Before and After" is a classic
"Wheel of Fortune" category. And it's also a really
good strategy for both product management and revenue growth.
At a recent meeting of Chief
Executive Boards International, the idea of "Look Before and
After" was suggested as a way to identify opportunities with existing
customers. In some cases, you'll need to source or develop a new product
or service. In other cases, it will identify customer needs that may
already be in your bag -- he's just buying them from someone else.
So, here's the idea. Your customer uses another product or service just
before or just after he uses your product. Upstream or downstream in the
manufacturing process. Upstream or downstream in the white-collar
workflow. Upstream or downstream of anything you do for a customer.
That's how UPS and FedEx got into the fulfillment business. They looked at
their customers and saw a warehouse full of products and a picking,
packing and shipping crew upstream of their pickup. And they said:
"Why couldn't we do all of that for our customers?" They're
doing billions of dollars a year in logistics and fulfillment as a result.
They warehouse, pick, pack and deliver goods their customers never touch.
Want a second reason to do this? Bundling of products or services
"before and after" increases the customer's switching cost.
He'll have to go find someone else to supply or do those separate things
in order to unseat you.
And, finally, you want to be seen as a problem-solver. When you're looking
for "before and after" opportunities, ask the customer
open-ended questions like: "What's the biggest problem you're having
in your _____ process?" (referring to the place your product or
service is used -- or before or after) That's a whole lot better question
than "How can we help you with other things?" That question
requires a LOT of imagination on your customer's part, and won't be nearly
as productive. It's much easier for a customer to react (what's the
biggest problem?) than to think (how can we help you?).
Teach your sales people to do this, and ask regularly for the results. By
the way, if you haven't been on a sales call lately, tag along with some
sales people and visit some customers. Look at and ask about "before