Again, this is one of those posts where I have to issue a disclaimer upfront. This may be my own ignorance of programs leading sales enablement organizations are implementing. It’s driven by an observation about discussions I hear among sales enablement folks and observations from perusing my feeds.
Something I seldom see in sales enablement training and development programs are things that help sellers better understand the worlds of their customers. SE tends to do an outstanding job on product training, sales skills/process/methodology, relevant content, and tools.
I don’t see much of a focus on “who is our customer, what do they do, what are their industries, how do those industries/organizations work?”
Reflecting back numbers of years, my first customers were major money center banks. A standard practice in my company was to send people to industry training to better understand our customers and their industries. I remember spending a week at our “Financial Services Center” in Princeton NJ. We didn’t get training about our products or solutions, the sole focus of that program was to help us better understand banks and banking. We learned about corporate banking, retail, trust, international/funds transfer, check processing, credit cards, factoring, treasury, and all sorts of things. We learned the language of bankers, challenges bankers faced, key performance metrics, trends and issues in the banking industry, key players. We had speakers—not people talking about how they used IT solutions in banks, but they were bankers talking about banking.
At the end of the course, I was better equipped to understand my customer, to be able to talk to them about their challenges, to learn more about their growth strategies. I was able to talk to them about their business and banking.
A year later, I got the opportunity to attend a banking course at Wharton. It was a course for bankers conducted by bankers, looking at the critical issues and strategies facing bankers. I was one of 3 people who didn’t work at a bank.
Later I moved to managing a large part of the manufacturing industry segment. We ran similar training programs for our sellers who worked with manufacturers. New sales people went through a week training program, and we ran yearly updates for sellers on critical issues in manufacturing. Since we ran the program at one of our plants, we had managers from various functions talking about their jobs, challenges, key metrics, and so forth. Our people spent time on the manufacturing floor and in other areas of the plant. They learned how to walk through a manufacturing facility to see how it worked, where there might be roadblocks. Again, this program had very little focus on what we sold to manufacturers, it was primarily focused on how we better understand and talk to our customers about their manufacturing challenges, using their language. For a week, sales people could “walk in the shoes” of their customers.
Additionally, each of these “Industry/Market Centers” would publish a monthly newsletter focused on key issues/trends in their respective markets. It was helpful in keeping us current and in shaping things we might talk to our customers about.
That was a huge investment of time and resource, but at the time it was immensely powerful. It provided us the ability to relate to our customers in ways that were important to them. We learned how to probe their problems/challenges. While none of our people were “experts” in banking, manufacturing, or any of the other industry segments in which we provided training, we had a greater ability to engage our customers, than if we didn’t have the training.
As I look at SE programs, and as I look at my feeds on hot issues within SE, I never hear any discussion about industry/market training (I may be looking in the wrong places). It seems it would be pretty easy to put together eLearning classes on the issues, or to record interviews with customers about what they do, what they worry about, how they work. When I see these interviews, they are usually about why they love us, not about what they do, how they work, etc.
Some years ago, with a client, we led a number of discussions with customers in functions their solutions supported. We talked to engineers about their jobs, problems, and so forth. Financial people, IT and others. These discussions were never about how they used my clients products, but about them and their jobs. We titled it “A 1000 questions you wanted to ask your customers, but never had the courage to ask…” The ground rule for the discussions was the questions would have nothing to do with what the client sold.
Sales people struggle to connect with their customers. A large part of it is they don’t understand their customers, and their businesses, so they can’t have relevant/high impact conversations. It seems like a pretty simple, but high value add set of programs that SE can put in place.
Are any of the SE readers of this doing something? Would be great to share what you are doing in the comments.