Having just returned from hosting a very successful networking event in Helsinki, where we shared best practices about boosting the sales and leadership capabilities of the technical populations in some of Finland’s leading businesses, I’m struck once again by the similar challenges facing many Finnish organisations. Time and time again, participants shared their experiences, questioning how they can strategically align and enable their entire business to sell the value that their products and services provide in times of continued economic contraction across the globe.
In a country renowned internationally for outstanding technical excellence – and where some 700,000 people work in the technology sector either directly or indirectly – it’s estimated that technology businesses contribute to over 50% of all Finnish exports. While it’s an incredible statistic and one to be proud of, it can also be a potential problem in times of economic strife.
It has been proven that many Finnish businesses provide products and services that are technically superior and of a higher quality than those of their competitors. When customers are confronted with difficulties, however, the list of things they require of a product or service changes considerably: budgets are cut, delivery times are reduced and the focus shifts to price. Suddenly customers that were previously very discerning are now prepared to make all sorts of compromises about the quality and specification of the product or service they want. Apart from resulting in a reduced number of units, the transactions themselves become much more commoditised in such situations.
The impact of this seismic shift in the way that customers buy and what they want from a product or service reverberates in an economy. It’s especially true for one like Finland’s, where high quality technical products provide such a significant contribution to the national purse and where exports are a key part of the picture.
So the question is, can anything be done about it and if so, what?
From my experience of working with leading edge businesses such as KONE, Caverion, Outotec and Wartsila over the last 15 years, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’ – but one tempered with caution and strategic consideration. Any business can cut prices, reduce quality and slimline specifications and that’s just not a long-term solution to this particular problem. (In fact, I’m not sure it’s even a short-term remedy, otherwise it would have been done and would be reaping results by now.)
There is no ‘quick fix’ or magic formula’, and in our complex world, it would be naïve to suggest that this is the only issue to address in order to return to an environment of growth. But in terms of positioning our businesses to be able to communicate the value our products and services bring, there’s an opportunity to systematically improve the way that people think, solve problems and communicate both internally and with our customers.
Fundamentally, we need to stop selling to our customers based on the great features of our products and the comprehensive processes that we follow. We need to step into our customer’s shoes, wherever they may be, and understand the real drivers behind their business challenges and needs. Only when we truly make that transition, when we combine our technical expertise with outstanding behavioural capabilities, will we be able to transform our offering so that rather than pushing our products at our customers, our solutions are aligned to the whole value chain. Our collaborative approach then becomes central to the success of our customer’s business.