How About Hanging Out Where Your Customers Hang Out?


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When I started my sales career, I sold computers to large banks on Wall Street. It seemed obvious at the time–and since–that the way to really understand what was going on in the industry and with my customers was to hang out where they did. I started going to things like the American Bankers Association meetings, I read their journal. That was where you really learned what was going on in the industry. I have lunch in the cafeteria’s of my customers, talking to people, learning what was going on. In some cases, I found it funny, my customers would come to me to find out what was happening–I got around more than they did.

I’d talk to lots of bankers and brokers. I even tipped a few beers at the the favorite watering holes around Wall Street, talking about what was going on, hearing different views, becoming enmeshed in the worlds of my customers. It was important to absorb everything I could, because then I could present new ideas to my customers, or jump on new opportunities very early on. I even started playing squash, both because I liked it, and because lots of bankers in Wall Street at the time hung out around the squash courts.

It served me well, I got a sense of what was going on in the industry, what the latest issues were, even the latest rumors. Many of the people I met became friends, they in turn introduced me to others people in the industry. After a few years, when I needed some information, I could pick up the phone and call any number of people to get some insight or even an introduction. I found, because people knew I was knowledgeable in a certain industry or another, they would start calling me to see what was going on or to ask my opinion.

Over the years, as my career progressed and I moved into different sales jobs and territories, it just seemed natural to hang out where my customer hung out. I became an avid conference attender, reader, trade show participant–wherever my customers were, I tried to spend time.

By now, most of you are saying, “Well duhhhh…, even the greenest sales person knows it’s great to hang out where customers are!” It’s obvious and part of Sales 101.

That’s why I’m confused these days. See, customers are hanging out someplace new, they’re online. Sure they’re still attending conferences, reading the journals, hanging out in local water holes. I’m also hanging out with a lot of customers on bike races and triathlons, so they’re still in the traditional places. But more and more, they are hanging out in a new place-on the web. They are researching, learning, participating in forums, discussion groups.

Customers are shifting where they’re hanging out–increasingly it’s moving to the web. It varies based in industry, where you are in the world, and even the level the customer holds in an organization. Over the last two years, I’ve been conducting an informal poll of sales people I meet. I ask them, “Other than from you, where do your customers learn about your types of products and solutions?” Web based research is always in the top 3 responses I get–whether it’s a consumer product, a sophisticated financial offering, a complex manufacturing system. People are getting information about what they might want to buy from the web.

Now this brings me back to my point of confusion. If “in the old days” hanging out where your customers are was what every sales person did, why do so many refuse to hang out where there customers are today? Why do sales people resist participating in social media–listening, learning, discussing, stating their views and opinions? Why does the discussion spark such heated debates? Why does it, at times, seem so polarizing?

Miles Austin, wrote an interesting piece along a similar vein. It’s worth checking out The Invisible Sales Rep. Todd Youngblood extended the discussion in his post, All Sales Reps Should Blog (though I’m still in the blogging is optional camp).

To me, it’s just a matter of Sales 101, hang out where your customers hang out. They’re still hanging out in all the traditional places—we have to be there. But they’ve discovered some new place to hang out–we need to be there too. If you aren’t hanging out with your customers, you can be sure your competition is.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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