As part of the performance improvement process in any organisation, the first step would be to gain a clear insight of the external and internal factors which define an organisation’s current position in its competitive environment. Some call this activity the ‘situation’ analysis but African Performance Specialists (APS) use different term – we call it the 360 Degree Assessment.

An important aspect of this 360 degree view is to understand and describe our client’s target market, its customers and their buyers, their behaviour and perception about the products and services our client offers as well as the perception about its competitors.

For that matter, APS have designed a process which starts from within the company and gathers opinions from own employees, and especially those who deal directly with customers at any point of contact. The question asked is “in your opinion, which are the Key Buying Criteria used by your existing and perspective customers that drive their decision making process and build their perception regarding your and your competitors’ products and services”.

In the next step, and after establishing a sample of customer organisations based on 80/20 principle, we will ask customers the same question: “in your opinion, which are the Key Buying Criteria that drive your decision making process and build your perception regarding our client’s and its competitors’ products and services”. Within a sample organisation, we will interview key employees following the similar selection criteria used in the step one i.e. employees that directly deal with our client at any point of contact (e.g. buyers, warehouse staff, quality assessors, production planners and supervisors, creditors department etc).

After collecting and analysing data, we will establish a ‘gap’ between opinions of these two groups with the objective to establish how clearly a company understands the needs and expectations of its customers.

Over the past five years I have designed and conducted more than 25 of these studies in companies ranging from banking and life assurance to publishing, manufacturing, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, logistics and mining.

Even within the same industry, each company was specific as its customers provided slightly different Key Buying Criteria. However I found that for manufacturing companies their B2B clients generally buy products and manage their relationship with suppliers based on the following criteria (listed in order of importance): (1) consistent product quality, (2) pricing competitiveness, (3) on time delivery, (4) product customisation and features, and (5) efficiency of client interface. For service providers this list slightly differs as their customers rank (1) quality of service and (2) on time service delivery as equally important followed by (3) price.

The main point here is to establish whether the management of your organisation list the same criteria as your customers (usually the case) but also rank them in the same order. I often find, across all industries which I had the opportunity to analyse, that management don’t always understand its customers’ needs and expectations completely as they ‘swap’ two or three criteria and, for example, perceive that the market (customers / buyers) is driven by price instead of product quality or on-time delivery. This misperception usually leads management towards a wrong strategic choice i.e. wrong focus and allocation of company’s resources. Instead of cutting costs to meet competitors on prices it is in this case more profitable to invest in quality and on-time delivery performance and outperform competitors there so the company can justify a price premium and probably capture additional market share and deliver much healthier return to its shareholders.

One must keep in mind that market conditions change over time as both the external and internal environment change. Therefore your customers Buying Criteria and their ranking may change as well. The best advice is to keep a good information database of your customers’ behaviour and repeat this survey twice a year.

For more information on this subject contact Alex Milovanovich at alex@africanwizard.co.za or visit www.africanwizard.co.za.