(Interview with Michael Ærø)
Michael Ærø is a partner at Implement Consulting Group.
With 14 years’ experience under his belt, Michael has always been passionate about accelerating commercial transformation in the IT industry.
From a sales rep to director of business development, Michael’s career evolved in the spheres of sales and marketing. Since 2005 Michael has been working with sales performance improvement projects and have been responsible for implementing the sales methodology called Solution Selling® in multiple organizations, as well as designing sales processes and drive different go-to-market initiatives.
Michael shares a special connection with SuperOffice – he has been working in our company for over 8 years, busy managing teams, improving sales and developing our brand. Today, we talk to Michael about the meaning, importance and challenges of growth for modern businesses.
Q.: Growth is named the top strategic priority for CEOs of mid- and large-sized businesses in 2019 and 2020, according to Gartner’s research. In your opinion, what are the reasons for growth being the main concern for businesses these days?
Growth has been an ongoing “quest” for most companies the last 3-5 years. But today, it’s business critical.
I think the main reason for an increased focus on growth is the fact that when the world is moving so fast and is fueled by many new “dilemmas” or challenges, like subscription-based economy, disruptive technologies and innovations, globalization, and digital transformation, that executive boards and senior management teams come to a conclusion that they need either grow fast or die.
Whether it is a small company or a larger enterprise – they all understand that the only way to survive is to outpace these new digital and technological challenges. While there are many ways to grow, be it by acquiring more customers or by capitalizing on your existing customer base, CEOs of any sized companies just want to grow.
Q.: Why is growth beneficial for B2B companies in particular?
While growth matters to all types of companies, there are different drives and challenges for B2C and B2B businesses.
For example, B2C sector is very much challenged by the internet technologies, as well as new distribution and communication channels. All of these novelties push retailers to re-invent themselves and carve out a space in the new digital reality.
When it comes to the B2B sector, it’s a completely different scenario. Although technology also plays a major part in the transformation of B2B companies, growth can be mostly achieved by equipping the sales force with the right capabilities, communication skills, strategies, processes, etc.
Yet, the common challenge that stimulates growth in both sectors is digital transformation.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what business you’re in, if you don’t transform yourself into some kind of “IT company”, then you’re toast.
Q.: What are the key benefits for a company that decided to embrace growth? And why?
Growth forces organizations to adapt faster, be more agile and more innovative. It’s like a snowball effect, which makes it easier and easier to grow. Also, there is the positive economic side-effect of growth which leads to the ability to invest more in the market and maybe even take risks that may lead to great breakthroughs. But for that you need to “rock the boat”.
Q.: There are many ways a business can grow: expansion into new geographical markets, diversification of products and services, franchising, cost cutting, investment in IT technologies, digitalization, acquiring new companies, changing a business model. Which ones do you consider the most effective today, and why?
In my opinion, in order to drive growth, companies need to embrace, first and foremost, digital transformation by employing the best-practice technologies, such as Big Data, business intelligence, Machine Learning, CRM, etc.
Nowadays, it’s very important to see yourself as an IT company, no you matter what industry are in. This means – embrace technology. But not all new technologies. I am talking about the technologies that can help the company be even more customer-centric and drive growth.
"It’s very important to see yourself as an IT company, no you matter what industry are in. This means – embrace technology."
However, I still see many organizations that are under-utilizing the digital platforms and thus miss out on an opportunity to grow. And I am not just talking about onboarding AI/Machine Learning and stuff like that, I am also talking about revitalizing CRM systems to support the new way of working in sales.
That being said, there is still a lot to be done when it comes to the “human element”, meaning sales still have to become even more customer-centric, while customer service or customer experience need to be razor sharp to reduce customer churn and drive up-selling or cross-selling to existing customers.
Q.: Talking about the “human element” in business growth, why do you think investing in the human part of sales or customer service is important for companies that aspire to grow?
Today, there’s a lot of emphasis on Big Data, AI, Machine Learning, and being data-driven in business, etc. While all of this is very important, there is one pitfall: we never finish the transformation that we’ve started in sales and customer service; i.e. moving away from being product-centered to being customer-centered.
I think it’s a mistake to just focus on the introduction of new technologies and forget about the human element of business – the capabilities and skills of the sales and service people.
"You can’t just do the “digital part” because it’s more fun, you need to remain human."
And here we have a problem: a lot of companies just jump on the “digital bandwagon” trying to become data-driven and they spend all their energy, money, resources on just that. Whereas, there are still salespeople out there in the field, interacting with prospects and customers. And they too need to improve and to become more customer-centric and solution-centric.
What I am trying to say is that you need to create an organization that is fit for humans. You need to constantly train and enhance their employees’ capabilities when it comes to sales interaction and handling customers.
Q.: Let’s talk more about improved customer service and customer-centricity as the benefits of growth. In your opinion, how does business growth affect customer service, customer experience and helps adopt a customer-centric business model?
In a world that is highly competitive, a world that is getting “smaller” all the time, in a world where what you sell doesn’t necessarily differentiate you from the competition, organizations are forced to look beyond the new growth trends or channels and pay even more attention to the traditional areas, like customer service.
Because of increased competition, companies need to constantly refine and reinforce the service they offer, in order to adopt a customer-centric behavior. And a better customer experience is a powerful stimulus for growth.
Q.: Building credibility is an important factor for growth. How do you see companies building credibility and visibility as they grow? Can you give us some good examples of companies that do it well and why?
The are many ways to interpret credibility and how it comes into play. One way of looking at how to build credibility is from the sales point of view. I think salespeople can build much more credibility for a business by what they do and how they do it.
What I mean is they need to use the go-to-market model or the sales methodology that is centered around customers’ needs and demonstrate the value of the solutions that they offer.
To be very honest I think that SuperOffice is a true front-runner with their sales methodology, called SuperOffice Sales Method (SSM)*. This method is truly centered around finding and communicating business value to the customer and solving their business pains.
*Editor’s note: Based on the Solution Selling methodology, SSM is a sales method customized to SuperOffice’s business strategy, target groups and needs. It consists of a defined sales process that takes a sales rep through the various sales phases and sales probabilities. It also defines sales activities required during the sales process and implemented in our own SuperOffice CRM solution.
Q.: You stress that growing companies can improve customer experience by utilizing customer-centric sales methods? How can they achieve that?
A study by CEB, released a couple of years ago, analyzed what creates a truly elegant customer experience, and even loyalty. The study was groundbreaking by stating that it was not about the product or the price you offer, or the quality or even your marketing message, it’s actually about the sales experience that you provide!
Allow me to give you an example. Let’s imagine we are a company that wants to grow. And we have five C-level businessmen sitting in a room deciding that the way to grow is through retaining our existing customers and making them more loyal, because obviously they buy more. So, the five executives discuss campaigns, steps, whether it’s a good idea to send customers this gift or another. The meeting is long, and talks continue.
Meanwhile, at the same time, we have 80 salespeople out in the field visiting potential and existing customers. And if these salespeople do not do a good job, our executive discussion on how we can improve customer experience makes little to no sense at all. Because the 80 people are now totally destroying our new vision by offering poor or mediocre customer experience. And this means – you can kiss your growing ambition goodbye.
What this means is that the importance of sales experience should not be underestimated, as it is an incremental part of growing. The ability to interact with customers and prospects in the right way means creating the right customer experience! A pleasant sales experience is basically as important as anything else. If not the most important. Therefore, the human element should not be forgotten by any means if you wish to grow.
"The importance of sales experience should not be underestimated, as it is an incremental part of growing."
A great sales experience is all about helping the customer out of their troubles by eliminating critical business issues or pains they have. You have to do it by (a) demonstrating to the customer that the capabilities of your product will make a positive impact and (b) quantifying the value of your solution. And that is the great customer experience that SaaS and B2B companies especially can deliver. Sales experience, customer experience and customer loyalty – they all go together.
Q.: Are there any hidden, unexpected obstacles on the way to growth, that aspiring companies should be aware of?
The obstacle is always in us – human beings – and our resistance to change.
So, what are the key drivers behind business growth today according to Michael Ærø?
- Growth is important for any business to simply survive in today’s ever-changing world.
- To grow, a business should adopt a customer-centric approach in its sales and customer service processes, i.e. to provide a positive customer experience by offering solutions to customers’ problems, quantifying the value of the offered solutions, and building long-term relationships.
- Businesses need to maintain “the human touch” in its communications with prospects and customers by streamlining sales processes and behaviors, offering superior customer service quality, and in this way improving interactions throughout the entire customer journey.
- Businesses need to embrace digital transformation and invest in the new technologies that can help them become even more customer-centric and drive growth.
Contact us today to learn more about how SuperOffice CRM can help achieve your growth ambitions.