If You Are Learning Your Customers’ Needs, You Are Too Late

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Classically, as we qualified and engaged our customers in solving their problems, sales people focused on understanding our customers’ needs. Our questioning process was focused on identifying pains, needs, and problems so we could present a justified solution addressing those issues.

Don’t get me wrong, these are still important parts of the selling and buying processes, but if this is where we are first engaging the customer, then we aren’t maximizing the value we can create, and we aren’t maximizing our ability to win.

Intercepting our customers at this point of the buying process is too late. By this time, the customer has already well defined their problem, they’ve organized to solve it, they have probably done a lot of research in assessing alternatives. In fact, unless you are on their short list, there’s a high likelihood they won’t even want to see you or give you a chance to assess needs.

Sales people create the greatest value by engaging customers much earlier—before they even recognize they should do something. Customers may be so busy or so sheltered they may not recognize they have a problem or there is a different way of doing things. They are focused on their day to day operations and may be blind to the fact they might be missing opportunities.

Sales people get to see lots of customers and different ways of doing things. Sales people have the time to look at emerging opportunities and understand how the customer might take advantage of them. Removed from the day to day chore of running the business, sales people has a different view and may not be blinded as customers might be.

Customers expect sales people to provide insight, to help them learn how they might improve and grow. Customers may not know they should have needs or what those needs are, because they haven’t recognize the opportunity. They may be numb to the pain, so they don’t know their pains.
Sales people must engage their customers earlier, creating the awareness or vision to do something different, helping the customer discover they have needs and pain, helping the customer define the problem and what they want to do, helping the customer organize to solve the problem, and define their needs, requirements and priorities.

We need to understand our customers’ needs and priorities. However, if that’s the first time we are engaged, your competitor may have been there before—creating greater value and positioning themselves to win.

Are you engaging your customers appropriately?

3 COMMENTS

  1. If it weren’t for quarterly quotas and the relentless pursuit of shorter onboarding cycles for sales reps, I’d say your recommendations would be easier to achieve. Most sales managers don’t encourage longer-term relationship building. I think it’s referred to pejoratively as going after ‘science experiments.’

    Somewhere along the way I’ve heard “If they don’t really have a problem, you should be spending your time elsewhere.” How do you correct that? Most salespeople are loathe to farm longer term opportunities, only to have their quarterly numbers tank, get fired, and leave the ripening opportunities for the next rep to come in behind them and reap the financial rewards. A change in sales culture, strategy, and tactics are needed.

    Difficult as it might be, I believe sales strategies need to embrace a longer time frames–not shorter. Although it seems counter-intuitive, if reps and their managers had a common understanding of being in the game for the long haul, outcomes might be better.

    To your point, be about more than just “going after the sale.” Be involved. Join the local Rotary or chamber of commerce. Sponsor the monthly breakfast meeting for your local tech council, invite nascent prospects into your solutions center to talk about business challenges. Share expertise, even though there’s no immediate need for a prospect to buy.

    If your sales strategies are centered on listening for “trigger events” so you can come in riding a white right-solution-at-the-right-time horse, you’ve failed to create a valuable personal foundation, and likely ceded the inside track to your capable competitor.

  2. Andy, great comments. I think what too many sales people and managers fail to recognize is the paradigm has already shifted–so the traditional means of engaging our customers is no longer sufficient or competitive.

    Customers are looking to actively disintermediate sales. They are leveraging web based content to help them shape and define their problems. They are engaging sales only when they have fully defined what they want to do and have come up with a shortlist. This dramatically decreases the value we can create.

    The new role of sales is to make customers aware of new opportunities, different ways of doing things, providing customers insight. This means earlier engagement, but maximizes the value we create through the process.

    Those managers that haven’t seen this are doing their teams, companies and customers a disservice.

  3. Dave,

    Your post and Andy’s recent post clearly point to how sales is undergoing transformation as we confront new buyer behaviors and evolving technologies. Simply stated – I believe Marketing is informing while Sales is engaging in our new buyer’s world today. The paradigm shift and transformation needed is how sales can execute engagement readiness to help customers not only identify problems but also how to navigate problems.

    The new role of sales management is focused on engagement readiness and you are right – if they haven’t seen the light they are doing their sales teams a disservice. In my opinion, the new role of Sales actually creates more value impact – while the opportunities have shrunk the actual potential for impact has dramatically increased.

    Good discussion gentlemen!

    Tony Zambito
    @tonyzambito

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