Customer Experience

'Customer In' Vs. 'Product Out': BI Worldwide's Rick Pulito Explains the Importance of Being 'Customer-Centric'

Rick Pulito, Vice President of Market Development at BI Worldwide discussed how technology, mobility and social media affect salespeople in today’s global marketplace.

Scott Robbin: How are you selling differently now? What are the drivers of those changes?

Rick Pulito: Everything is different, and continuing to change in the field of selling. Technology revolutionized the process, and it continues to evolve at a steadily accelerating pace. There are virtually no products or services today that have not been “commodified” to some degree.  The array of choice in front of the buyer is vast, with so many largely undifferentiated products. At the same time, there is no shortage of issues or opportunities that need to be addressed.

It was said some time ago that people don’t sell stocks, people buy stocks. I think this is not just true in the equities market, but in about every category today. There is so much information, insight, feedback and data available that buyers know more than ever before about what they are looking for. As such, it is a lot simpler process to spec out a solution, identify potential vendors and issue an RFP or RFQ.

For those who are in sales, the direction is clear. You need to know more about the customers’ business, their needs, history and trends, the marketplace they serve, emerging factors and how they measure success, than ever before. Armed with a keen perspective and a sound understanding of all the variables in play, the seller can shape the “fit” between them and the customer.

This takes a lot of discovery and, more than anything, active listening and a proactive demonstration of value.

Why is it so important to think “customer in” instead of “product out”?

Let’s face it, there are almost no products or services that are mission-critical and without peer. It doesn’t matter what your value proposition is. Odds are, there are multiple alternative paths that a buyer can pursue. I once had a buyer tell me that when they issue an RFP, the responses are generally indistinguishable from each other. That tells you that if you are going to survive and grow, you had better be able to articulate a clear and relevant differentiation from everyone else that is being scrutinized.

The more customer-centric you are, the closer you get to how and why and what the customer is really buying, the greater your chance of demonstrating relevant value. The old “features and benefits” approach, as well as the past “solution selling” mode is ancient history. It’s all about integration, implementation and measurability.  One size does not fit all anymore. One size fits one customer. Configurability and customization, speed and quality, data and efficacy will win the day.

“Everything is different, and continuing to change in the field of selling. Technology revolutionized the process, and it continues to evolve at a steadily accelerating pace.”

How are you enabling your sales organization to use mobile more effectively?

Mobile is no longer a “nice to have.” Sales enablement means having mobile access with embedded flexibility and access to critical design and delivery information in real-time. We did away with the old model for “sales offices” years ago. The world went virtual. That means communicating, designing, planning and delivering key customer solutions is done from any place the salesperson finds themselves. So many of our customers are matrixed globally, and our team may include human capital and resources from Minnesota to New York to Shanghai or Melbourne or London. We have created proprietary “apps” for our staff and our clients to use that keep processes moving 24/7. You can’t do that from a desktop alone.

How are you enabling your sales organization to use social channels more effectively?

The most basic social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook) are a part of our daily lives and routines. Remember, the marketplace is always looking for something new, something that “fits” their needs. We need to be visible, viable and ready-to-move on their behalf. Would you take a meeting with someone without first “screening” them on LinkedIn, or searching for feedback on them via Twitter, or assessing who/where they do business today? Visibility is key to first-level credibility. Content is essential to articulating your level of sophistication in understanding the customer needs. Some of our salespeople are more advanced in the process than others, but using social media is surely a tablestake in selling today.

How are you approaching improving opportunity prioritization and forecast accuracy?

The more we know about a prospective customer, the better equipped we are to determine if they warrant an investment of time, resources and operating capital to actively pursue. In fact, we pass by a huge segment of the marketplace for the simple reason of economic viability. It is not unusual for our firm, BI Worldwide, to invest $50,000 or more in pursuit of a customer relationship. We fund our sales people as they delve into learning the customer, their organization, channels, customers, products or services, competition, history, trends, goals, strategies, objectives, initiatives and people. This is long before we have a shot at earning their business. That may take months or even years. But when we arrive at the point where we present for an initiative or strategic imperative, we can be very hard to beat.

Forecast accuracy is something we take very seriously, and have rigidly developed over the years. Our account teams are pretty good at knowing when and how much to forecast. The close and frequent communications with our clients help to minimize the “surprises,” good or otherwise.

“The more customer-centric you are, the closer you get to how and why and what the customer is really buying, the greater your chance of demonstrating relevant value.”

How do you use the right mix of compensation to optimize performance and revenue?

I have been with BI Worldwide for 24 years. Our compensation philosophy has not changed that much over time. We provide a reasonable and reliable income stream to our Business Development Directors (BDD) and Regional Vice Presidents (RVP), augmented with a highly leveraged performance component. We have been fortunate to have had consistent ownership with a steady focus on certain core values. One of them is “Grow or Die”. As a privately held company, our ownership, which is highly engaged in the business and continually mapping the future course of the enterprise, we place the customer above all else, encouraging a culture that demands doing the “right” thing over the expedient and creating a long-term viewpoint on careers here, particularly in the sales force. I would venture to say that once a BDD has been here five years, they typically don’t leave.

How do you know what incentives drive successful selling behavior?

Our company has been designing and delivering initiatives targeting sales channel, employee and customer engagement for over 60 years. Incentives and recognition are in the center of our wheelhouse. So we know a thing or two about how to leverage performance to deliver results. It isn’t just about income. And it takes more than an incentive program to compel a professional salesperson to deliver results at a higher level. The process begins with alignment around the mission, vision and values, as well as individual and collective responsibilities and accountabilities. Addressing both the ability and the willingness of a salesperson to change what they do and how they do it, in order to produce meaningful, positive change, is paramount. And a consistent focus on key performance indicators (KPIs) using widely accessible data and dashboards, are all central to drive successful selling beh
avior. An incentive alone won’t do it. It takes a more holistic approach to deliver sustained improvement. Money will only go so far. Non-cash, tangible rewards and recognition are essential to rounding out the “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM) that are key to behavior change.

BIO:

Rick S. Pulito
Rick S. Pulito is Vice President, Market Development, for BIWORLDWIDE, a global leader in the field of engagement services. Over his twenty-four year career with BIW, Rick has worked with clients across a variety of industries, including healthcare, financial services, hospitality, technology and telecommunications. Prior to joining BIW, Rick was Executive Vice President of a Texas-based promotional marketing agency, and has held sales and marketing positions with Corning and American Broadcasting Company. Rick resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His blog, www.ideationz.me, focuses on the matter of change, across organizations, channels and markets.

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