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Techniques & Tools Liquid Chromatography

Breaking The Rules

I love to rethink behavior patterns and business processes, especially if they have become well accepted by the majority of market participants. Why? Because I truly believe that in a rapidly changing world, the rules of business also need to change. Therefore, I fully advocate ‘breaking the rules’ with my staff and have proved that it can be of significant value to both our customers and our company. Here, I describe two examples of rule breaks that we have successfully employed and used intensively.

When we analyzed the sales process in our market, we recognized that selling was still very much focused on offering customers a dizzying array of options, comprising hardware, software and services from the portfolio of the supplier. Apparently, most sales people genuinely believe that, regardless of the needs of the customer, they will have a product or service that matches perfectly. The product catalogue is very often the sales person’s main tool and is used to impress the customer and win their business.

However, if instead we let customers precisely describe their situation, the challenges they are facing, and the financial consequences they are shouldering, a different scenario often emerges. How do we build a deeper relationship with customers? It’s simple: by asking open questions that allow people to think and collect together their ideas. It is fascinating how much can be learnt by asking the right questions. As a result, we have pretty much abandoned the use of product catalogues in our sales process and, because of that, our sales force don’t always assume that we have the right or best product or service to fulfill the customers needs – a fact that is a quiet truth for many, if not all, service providers.

Taking the above philosophy a step further could be considered dangerous, but is actually quite logical. With such in-depth knowledge being shared with our sales people, we feel comfortable about offering all possible solutions and, by doing so, enable customers to better manage the challenges of the future. It is typically a surprise to our customers that, included in our proposed list of possible solutions, there may very well be a recommendation to connect with one of our direct competitors. Why do we include this option and risk losing business? We do it because – shelving profit for a moment (difficult I know) – the deeper relationship forged with our customer warrants the sharing of best knowledge. Likewise, most people would not feel comfortable about recommending a product that didn't match a friend’s needs or budget – trust is at stake. And with trust comes the potential bonus of long-term business rather than one-time sales.

I truly believe that in a rapidly changing world, the rules of business also need to change.

The second rule break is about challenging something that is ingrained into us all from our earliest days at school in order to change the very culture of our company. To prosper in the HPLC market, we rely heavily on innovation. This means that it is important for everybody involved in this creative process to explore new fields – and, therefore, to take risks and fail. And while many companies claim to accept mistakes as part of their culture, we once again take things a slightly scary step further. We actually demand that everybody takes ownership of at least one major mistake each year, which is cheerfully acknowledged in our annual appraisal meetings. Why do we give this idea so much weight and go as far as asking the managing directors to openly discuss the mistakes they have made? It is because we strongly believe that, alongside the willingness to fail and thus make mistakes, we generate the potential to develop and successfully market truly new products and solutions.

For us at least, breaking the rules is working. It differentiates us from competitors and has increased our credibility as a partner. On those grounds, I’m always on the look out for new rules to break – or at least bend.

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About the Author
Alexander Bünz

“I do not believe in coincidences. Rather, I very much enjoy watching how life assembles itself like a beautiful puzzle.” It is with this philosophy that Alexander Bünz’s career developed. He became devoted to chromatography during high school, received his PhD on thermodynamic properties of supercritical fluids, and discovered new media for the electrophoretic separation of DNA fragments as a postdoc at UC Berkeley. Alexander then got bitten by the business bug and worked in several positions in the chemical industry before receiving his MBA at the TSM Business School in the Netherlands. In 2007, he became managing director of Knauer, Germany.

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