Customers define what good looks like

When firms think about how they can provide value to the customer, the focus is often too narrow and from the wrong perspective.
With markets maturing and shifting from being seller-led to buyer-led – as supply starts to outstrip demand – many companies continue to think of the services delivered from their point of view. They hold on to the notion that competitive advantage comes from within their organisation’s expertise, experience, longevity or size.

There’s too much emphasis on positioning and selling themselves from the perspective of what they do and how technically good they are. For instance, they may show customers case studies of projects they’ve worked on for previous clients. However, they’re often focused on technical competence and based on projects they perceive as being similar technical considerations. However, the customer’s main priorities may not be technical.

But customers are looking at it from the other end of the process. To them, the most reliable and rewarding purchase is the provider they can most put their trust in to make the most reliable and rewarding purchase. In assessing providers, the company’s technical competence is a given – and, more importantly, there’s little to distinguish each of them.

Instead, customers are looking at the more personal aspects of the project – in terms of how they might work together and if the providers truly have their interests at heart. These are less tangible than showing someone a finished building. But how customers feel they’ll be understood, valued and respected is just as important, if not more so.

The final buying decision is based on how well the company understands them and their priorities. They want to see case studies of projects where the same priorities and concerns have been addressed most effectively – in terms of the personal outcomes not technical capability.

As contractors we have placed too much emphasis on the ‘bricks and mortar’ of the project, rather than the wider priorities and outcomes the customer is hoping to achieve. Very often, buyers want an advisor not a provider. And yet, as suppliers, companies often position themselves as providers, focusing on the cost of delivery, rather than a more advisory/partnership role of helping customers achieve the best outcome.

Despite consistent evidence and experience that customers prioritise best value over lowest cost, when pitching for work we are convinced that our prospect is only looking at buying on cost. Every purchase, even for the same individual, has a different set of parameters and priorities and as a supplier, we need to understand these before anything else. Because it shapes everything else. The opportunity to achieve the best customer outcome emerges long before the first brick is laid.

Moving away from this entrenched thinking represents a major culture shift from cost to value. It requires contractors to not only change how they approach projects but also to re-define the nature of their relationships with customers. From a relationship that focuses on customers understanding contractors and their capabilities, to one where we understand them and what they want. Flexibility and a willingness to adapt how the project is structured and delivered needs to come from the contractor not from the customer.

Putting the customer, not ourselves, at the centre of the process helps build the trust and transparency. This can deliver better outcomes for both parties if they can build a relationship based on shared goals at a cost that is worth the benefits achieved. This is very different from the traditional adversarial approach of seller and buyer trying to beat each other down to get the best deal for themselves. It’s difficult to build trust and both commit to the buyer’s goals if these are the motivations. And it’s a relationship that discerning and sophisticated buyers are increasingly rejecting in favour of working with firms that understand them.

At Osborne, we are making the transition from focusing on the product to concentrating on the experience for our customers. We aim to develop many of the long-term relationships we already enjoy with customers beyond an appreciation of our technical capability. To one of trust built on their belief in our understanding of them and delivering outcomes that meet or exceed their expectations.

“Osborne funded and built out the development which we leased from them in time to accommodate students at the start of the new term. This greatly enhanced our student offering. Osborne went the extra mile to meet our requirements and to keep us fully informed throughout the whole process.  We are exceptionally pleased with the end result and are already talking to Osborne about other projects.” – Tommy Geddes MBE, University of Winchester.