As the 25th Detroit Motor Show began Monday, Jeff Randall interviewed a happy General Motors exec.
At first Mr Randall seemed more preoccupied with what it’d be like soon for all those petrolhead fellas – for the first time in the industry – to be managed by a woman. Thankfully, he moved on fairly quick.
Global Product Development head, Mark Reuss, was then asked a question that every senior boss must face. Pretty much every time they speak to a customer.
With GM’s share price up a whopping 53%, outselling Ford and Toyota in the US, and having the 3rd and 4th best-selling cars in the UK (Vauxhall’s Corsa & Astra, behind Ford in the top two slots), our Jeff was in particular interested in future product plans for their British best sellers. After all, the job title would suggest he was talking to exactly the right person. The instant reply was a shocker;
“I can’t give you all the plans that I have on our future products – that’d be a competitive disadvantage and I’d be in a lot of trouble”
Now. This exposes the shameful truth that, whilst many a C-suite can deride their salesforce attitude and ability (often with justification), when it comes to being customer-facing themselves, they fall lamentably short.
His total answer time was around 35 seconds. He tried to say nothing, whilst making the point investment was being made. It was all in the context of what was good for him. Nothing from the customer viewpoint. Poor.
“But. I can tell you, that if you look at the Corsa, and the Astra and those segments, those are absolutely key volume segments for both Opel and Vauxhall. And I can tell you that we’re spending a lot of time on what those cars are going to be here and what they’re going to be in the immediate future as well the long term future. So absolutely the focus of product development and design here and making those successful for both brands in Europe.”
Potential buyers’ reaction would be resoundingly negative. And don’t fall for that nonsense that this was more of an ‘analysts call’. You’re on it, or you’re not.
I’ve enjoyed several conversations with leaders of firms helping them fine tune how they speak with customers. When pointed in the right direction, they can swiftly get it.
At the end of his interview, the GM guy even signed off with this;
“we’ll just keep plugging along”
He needs help.
I’ll say it again for emphasis. This is precisely the kind of question you should expect to field as an expectant supplier senior (non-sales) executive.
The good news is that this is often a buying signal. That’s right. The questioner is not playing at being a dastardly oppositional-obsessed conflict-junkie journalist. They’re not trying to catch you off-guard. They are genuinely interested. They’re thinking of signing up and want re-assurance that plans are afoot they’ll benefit from along the line too.
Although I’d tend to workshop this through for fifteen minutes or so for exact answers and find the responder’s authentic voice, in this case a few themes are clear.
Know what you want to get across. Are you leading-edge, fast followers improving on a wave, or in a period of stability or consolidation, for instance?
Where is the passion rooted? Is there boundary-pushing excitement, step-change innovation, refinement, cost leadership, or niche and market fragmentation?
Crucially, where are your USPs? Are they being created or maintained?
And finally, how do you focus this all on the customer? How does the joy you bring them sit at the heart of all this?
The auto sector isn’t a fat lot different from our b2b solution world in this sense.
Mr Reuss could have used all sorts of triggers. He could have built on why the product he’s already developed has been so well received. He could have evoked a vision for tomorrow. Integrating technology, improving value, going ever greener; “our customers tell us they want ‘x’, so we’re developing ‘x’. And a touch of ‘2x’ and even aiming for some ‘x²’.”
Saying, ‘sorry that’s classified’, is virtually a sackable offence, right?
So. What are your product plans, Mister Salesperson?