Understand needs, co-create solutions

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By Raju Mandhyan

HAVE YOUR efforts at driving positive change been challenged? Have people turned down your offers to grow and evolve even as all your intentions were to their benefits?

Yes, it is important as a leader to have visions and hopes for your people. Yes, AND it is important that a leader have a heart and be caring and compassionate as expressed in my last leader.

Yet all good intentions do not necessarily generate effective and relevant solutions. All good intentions do not get bought into just because they look, sound, and feel good. All solutions or innovations in product, processes, and professions must be targeted. They must have relevancy and focus towards that relevancy.

What is true in leading change is true in sales and marketing. What is true in sales and marketing is true in life and at work.

In his book, What the Customer Wants You to Know, Professor Ram Charan shares the story of Unifi Inc., a textile maker in Greensboro, North Carolina. This is a company that was in serious trouble in the past caused by low-priced goods from China and India flooding the US market. Prof. Charan writes about how the CEO placed their Chief Information Officer in charge of sales.

Instead of utilizing traditional methods to motivate and move sales, the CIO assembled his whole sales team and asked them not sell but to instead just focus on gathering maximum information about their customers. His sales team studied the business models of each of their former customers and their prospects to learn about their supply chain as well as the businesses of their customer’s customer. Day after day, the CIO pushed the sales team not sell but to learn, so they hit the road to learn everything, including the end users’ consumption habits of the textile they made. Unifi Inc. represented by the sales representatives, figured out how mothers, fathers and children perceived the fabrics and the goods made from fabrics they manufactured.

Prof. Charan claims the process was unusual and extremely frustrating for the seasoned business-to-business sales persons. They found it unproductive and tiresome. But after several weeks of information gathering and insight accumulation about the consumers and the end customers, business began to gradually pick up. The customers, dealers, and other converters of their raw material were amazed by the unusual approach of the Unifi sales team and they eagerly offered insights and tips for changing the game. The learning held relevance across industries, business models and economies engaged in all kinds of textile and fabric. Information and insights into the customer’s business made up the art of giving value for the customer. Eventually, business picked up for Unifi Inc. and they successfully got out of the red and thrived for many years after.

The story illustrates the fact that deeper focus and understanding of a client not just builds rapport, it builds long-term trust and aligns visions easily.

Regardless of what industry we might be in. Regardless of the kind of organizational setup we may have, and regardless of the purpose of our organization, every entity requires that it serves someone or something bigger than itself. When we sell to and serve something bigger than ourselves, that entity becomes our customer.

If we would like to drive change in our organizations and our communities, then a deeper, authentic intimacy of knowledge about them needs to become the crux of our focus. When we learn to view something with deeper and higher awareness, we learn for them and then serving and influencing them to a better place becomes a co-created solution.


Raju Mandhyan is an author, coach and speaker.