“I Don’t Know What You Do, But I Know What You Need To Do!”


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We know we have to challenge our customers to think differently, that we have to bring ideas and insight. We try to be provocative to catch our customers’ attentions. But absent an understanding of the customer, being challenging or provocative is just another pitch!

My good friend, Tamara Schenk, shared a story with me. A vendor approached her, stating, “You need to make some changes in the sales enablement strategies you are driving in your organization! You need to do this………” You guessed it, it was a pitch for his solution. I laughed when she told me her response, “Thank you for telling me what we need to do, you’ve never spoken to us, you don’t know our strategies, you don’t know our priorities, you don’t know what we are trying to achieve. Yet you already have the answers to all our business problems.”

As we commiserated about the “poor state of selling,” we chatted about what she and her company were trying to achieve. It struck me, the solution this sales person represented could help them. The problem was, the sales person never invested the time to understand. The sales person hadn’t done his homework, hadn’t taken the time to engage Tamara, and hadn’t started to build their own personal credibility with her and others in the organization.

In contrast, yesterday, I spoke with a team from one of my clients. They were preparing to meet with the CFO of one of their customers (a Fortune 25 organization). This company was a long time customer of my client’s, and they had a good relationship. But they had some ideas for the customer. They had spent time wandering around the organization. They had been talking to people in the organization, understanding both what they were doing and seeing opportunities they wer missing. They understood what the customer was trying to achieve. They saw roadblocks to their ability to achieve their goals–barriers the customer was unaware of, purely because of their lack of experience. My client had a lot of insight about these specific issues. They had experience in helping other companies address this issue. They had specific data about the problems this customer was having and ideas about the improvements they could achieve.

This team was preparing for the meeting, challenging the customer to think differently, teaching them about a new approach to their business, and backing it up with data and recommendations very specific and relevant to the customer’s strategies, priorities, and needs. Based on what they presented to me, the specificity of the data and it’s relevance to the CFO’s priorities, and the potential their insight offers this customer, I know the CFO will be receptive and interested. I know they will at least be able to engage the CFO and his team in discussing these ideas. I don’t know whether they will be successful in closing the deal–it depends on this meeting, but they will have an impactful meeting.

Effective challenging, effective teaching, effective insight must be done in a context that is relevant and specific to the customer. Absent that, it’s arrogance, puffery, and just today’s form of the classic sales person’s approach, “Buy my product.”

Having an opinion, providing insight, getting the customer to think about their businesses differently is critical both to catching the attention of our customers and in creating value to them. But can’t do this blindly, it has to be done in the context of what’s important to the customer. It has to be presented in terms relevant to the customer. We have to do our homework and earn the right to challenge, teach, and provide insight.

Are you preparing to challenge your customer? Do you have insights and are you ready to teach them? Are these insights structured in a context that is meaningful and relevant to the customer?

Have you invested the time to understand your customer’s strategies, priorities, problems, and needs? Have you wandered around the organization to see really what’s happening?

Do you have data that’s specific and relevant to your customer and what the customer is trying to achieve?

Have you tied your insights to that data and can you talk about specific results the customer can achieve?

Can you tie your insights to “stories” and observations meaningful and specific to the customer–observations of what they are doing, things their customers are doing, things their competitors are doing? Do you tie these to the impact you can have on the customer?

Absent this, your provocation and teaching is just meaningless noise!

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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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