Accurate, real-time information about your customers, markets, competitors, and so on, is the sine qua non of everything that management does. Without it, you cannot make rational strategic product/market investment decisions, you can’t develop products/services that meet market demands, you can’t promote effectively, and you can’t sell effectively. Everything depends on a clear, in-depth understanding of what we call Environmental Influences.
It can be a lot of work to acquire all of that information continuously. But there’s a tremendously under-used resource at your disposal: your field sales force. Yes, we are always warning clients to not believe everything their sales force tells them about customer needs (the answer is almost always “cheaper”, and is always short-term focused.) But if you train your sales force to spend a little time asking forward-looking questions about customer needs, competitive moves, market shifts, and so on, you have a ready source for the information.
Now, you want your sales force selling, not doing market research, right? Well, maybe no. Maybe—in the big picture—the availability of such rich information from customers so easily through a channel (the sales person) that already has a relationship with them, is extremely cost effective. If that’s the case, how do you get your sales people to ask the questions and get the information back to you? Well, how do you get them to do anything? You pay them; you incent them! It really is simple.