Relationship material

Posted on 11 Nov 2014 by The Manufacturer

In a bid to build better relationships with their customers, Granta Design turns to Huthwaite International’s SPIN® Suite to teach the company new skills and processes.

Granta Design is based in materials information technology, within the ancient university city – but more importantly the modern technological hotbed – of Cambridge, UK.  Its ‘materials information technology’ (specialist software tools, materials data, and database solutions) help engineering enterprises in industries such as aerospace, energy, automotive, industrial and consumer equipment, and medical devices, to understand the materials involved in their design and manufacturing processes, and so make better, safer, more economic and environmentally sounder decisions.

Unsurprisingly, it is a highly specialised and technical area: a strong differentiator for Granta, but a challenge for its sales, marketing, and services teams. Implementing Granta’s solutions involves engaging not only materials specialists within client companies, but many other professionals (for example, in design, simulation, supply chain management and environmental teams) who use data about the company’s materials. It also requires support and investment from senior managers. To build the broad-based and high-level relationships that are required, the Granta team needs to go beyond talking about the technical capabilities of their solution, and focus more on the desired business outcomes for the company and each of the individuals involved.

Vice president of Business Development, Richard Painter, is in no doubt that Granta’s technologies have the power to help customers make fundamental improvements in entire business processes; the question is: can enough customer interactions take place at the right level? Can the Granta team have the right discussions with senior people in the wider business, identifying opportunities for materials information technology projects and enabling these projects to progress?

This is the kind of task that the SPIN® Suite has been enabling companies around the world to address for four decades.  Huthwaite International’s intervention began with customised training for the Granta Account Management Team, using the SPIN® model for call execution. It taught them how to work with customers consultatively, to frame questions in a way that led to a better understanding, on both sides, of the negative implications of trying to innovate without the assistance of Granta’s technology, and the improved outcomes if they did deploy them.

The implementation stood out from many other Huthwaite projects by virtue of the use to which many of the Huthwaite tools and models were put – and one in particular.

The Persuasive Case Analysis, or PCA, is an aid both in the training itself, and afterwards in the workplace, enhancing reinforcement and integration. It is a vital tool for making sure that the conversation with a potential customer heads in the right direction, asks the right kind of questions and investigates difficulties at the right level, in the right order.

So adept have the teams from Granta become at designing PCAs that they have been able to construct them at increasingly detailed and tailored levels, giving them what are essentially precision navigation tools not just for the sectors in which they operate, but also for the subsectors, for the individual customer companies, and for individual opportunities within those companies.

“Yes,” says Painter, “Of course our discussions will end up with a focus on the features of our solution at some point, but the PCAs help us to shape our questions so that the discussion is led by an in-depth understanding of the customer’s problems on one hand, and desired business outcomes on the other. It gives us a framework for our account managers to develop a true understanding of the former, and the ability to deliver the latter. In Huthwaite language, it enables us to work towards a much higher order of Benefit Statement – one that is much more persuasive at the level at which we need to operate.”

There are some real adherents of the SPIN® method and particularly of the PCA in Granta now. As Painter says, “It has given our team the confidence to talk about pay-offs, and a platform on which to demonstrate experience and give relevant anecdotes of situations similar to the one they are discussing with a customer.”

Guy Aston, who ran the original training at Granta, is most gratified not only by the skill the delegates have shown in understanding the principles and skills of SPIN®, but also by the way Granta has set up shareable repositories of exemplar PCAs, and has a well tooled process for developing new ones to meet whatever customer situation it might face. “They have become living, breathing documents,” he says, “and important components of the planning conversations as the Granta team work out how to meet the needs of specific sectors or customers.”

Of course, customer discussions must be congruent with the broader communications of the company, so Granta’s marketing staff has been through specially designed SPIN® Marketing workshops, in which the PCAs have naturally been the centrepiece. This helps to make the tools (web pages, brochures, newsletters, white papers) that Granta provides to explain its technology consistent with the conversations that its sales and service teams have with customers, increasing clarity as those customers navigate a complex subject. It also shows Granta taking full advantage of the shared learning experience, elevating the collaboration with Huthwaite International above the simple training course, into a fuller, more rewarding exploration of the SPIN® Suite.

For more information visit Huthwaite’s website.