Have you ever noticed when senior executives get a new methodology itch? They read a book and see it as the hammer to their problems, all of which have suddenly become nails? They hear a speech and the guy on the stage is the answer to all of their problems? A board member becomes adamant about a particular issue and everything else becomes secondary?

Beware old wine in new bottles, especially if your executive is doing the pouring. I heard recently it’s what they’re serving at a couple of recognizable F100 companies — one in particular is the old SPIN Selling technique rebranded as CCV—“Creating Client Value.”

This particular methodology is the latest “old wine” being uncorked around executive suites. We’re talking about large enterprises, typically in highly monopolistic industries. Disruptive technologies like social and mobile are transforming their markets and these organizations are being challenged to evolve. Talking about “creating client value” may be a good place to look for innovation, but not the way I’m seeing it executed. In the past, growth for these organizations has come through acquisitions. If you buy innovation, you never learn to DO innovation. An exec deciding “we’re going to do CCV” isn’t enough to transform their enterprise into an innovation hub.

I met the “CCV” method two decades ago when I was in sales management. Sales guru Neil Rackham named it in 1988 when he published SPIN® Selling. That book became McGraw-Hill’s best selling business book ever, with sales still growing. Rackham’s research on sales negotiation is still required reading at many business schools. Back then there was nothing wrong with Rackham’s SPIN—which stands for Situation, Problem, Implication, Need-payoff. It was one of the first models of consultative selling. But in today’s marketplace, where consumers are engaged, empowered, and above all, distrustful of most corporate sales and marketing, “creating client value” misses the point. It is too attached to “how we sell,” when we need to be asking “how do our target audiences buy?” What engages them and influences their thinking and call to action is dramatically more critical for any organization to hear and act upon.

Corporate inertia is also a big problem here. An exec gets an itch—he comes up with an idea he thinks will scratch it. He commands his organization to execute on the “scratch” strategy. But his whole organization is so bloated, so inept at change that it will take a year’s worth of time and resources to roll out the strategy. Who knows what worthy initiatives get shelved to focus on scratching the exec’s itch. And in the end, what will he have? Wasted time and money, and very little traction, because his strategy was flawed from the start.

Take for example MegaCo—a real company in the financial services sector, but I’ll be polite and not name names. MegaCo is a highly recognized brand and one of the top three players in its industry. The CEO of MegaCo is so focused on what’s going on inside his company that his idea of how to stimulate innovation is to reengineer internal processes, versus investing more diligent resources to really listen to his market! His company is running an obsolete CRM platform, so he assigns an ultra conservative, 30+ year tenure exec who couldn’t spell innovation if he tried, to lead the salesforce.com implementation. He invests massively in installation and training but he has seen little to no adoption in key areas of their global business —in essence, he can’t get key individuals to see “what’s in it for me.” Two years ago, I counseled him to capture and share stories of the first successes achieved with the tool, to get the broader audience interested in engaging it. He ignored me. Now it’s two years later, he’s spent $10 million+, and he has nothing to show for it!!

Another Fortune 100 company is one of the most successful brands in the world. Its former CEO always had the right mindset for innovation. So how did this giant of an organization fall asleep at the wheel and miss becoming a player in the emerging mobile revolution? How does any large, seemingly capable organization miss key market trends dramatically impacting their share of wallet? How many organizations do you say everyday, who are the next Kodak, Borders Bookstores, or Blockbuster Video and don’t know it?

These companies often miss a crucial inflection point in their markets because, as they grow, their levels of management bloat grow. Their ability to innovate gets drowned out by the sound of corporate executives bellowing about whatever itch they happened to be feeling. The whole organization, in each case, is organized around saying “yes” to leaders, no matter what. And so it comes about that yet another large Fortune 100 company announces it is adopting CCV, and boldly goes 180 degrees from the way forward.

When companies organize around scratching executives’ itches, the outcome goes one of two ways. Either the idiot with the itch sees his strategy come to nothing, and he gets fired, or his strategy happens to work, and he gets promoted, looking all shiny for having done the right thing. But at a foundational level, both outcomes are harmful, because the organization has not addressed its fundamental problem of inertia. Its leaders must change how they view leadership. They must listen to the market—by which I mean employees, customers, partners, and the media—understand key trends dramatically impacting their evolution (what I call faint market signals), and infuse a great deal of agility in the execution of their strategy.

Organizations that are trumpeting their adoption of “CCV” today have one thing right. I believe that placing emphasis on sales and marketing is strategic in today’s marketplace. Customers have plenty of options; there is a real need to communicate the advantages of your product or service over competitive offerings. And an even greater need to listen louder to what the market is saying, in order to perceive real or impending needs and segment on those needs. But firms today—especially those in industries being disrupted by technology (can you show me an industry that isn’t?)—need to find a better way to invest in innovation than serving old wine in new bottles like “CCV.” Stop talking about how you sell and start listening to how your customers buy.

Nour takeaways:

  1. The cure for corporate inertia isn’t a “slave” for some exec’s itch—it is dramatically improving your ability to innovate.
  2. The way customers buy has evolved. If you’re not listening to what employees, customers, partners, and the media are saying to each other, you will never know how.
  3. Unless you learn to lead differently, with a focus on listening to customers and segmenting on their needs, you will never change your organization.
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