The Sales Person As “Contextualizer”


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Context is everything!

Each of our customers is different, each company has different goals, strategies, priorities, challenges, cultures, values. Though they may compete head to head, or participate in the same industry, or the same markets, every company is very different.

People are different. We categorize them by their titles, CEO, VP of Sales, VP of Marketing, or by their persona, or by their behavioral style, or by their role in the buying process (remember economic buyers, technical buyers, influencers, decisionmakers.) But each person’s hopes, fears, dreams, and challenges is unique to them, the situation they face at a point in time.

Every buying journey is different. Though we may be able to “fit” them into very generalized steps, for example problem identification, needs identification, evaluation of alternatives, solution selection; how they navigate the buying process is different–both from other organizations and within their own organization–from decision to decision, and within a single buying journey. The Gartner “spaghetti” chart best describes the variability, wandering, starts/stops, that customers go through.

In spite of all this, we try to “fit” every company and every individual into the same “standard” approach. While we have tools that enable personalization (if we choose to personalize), we have the ability to segment by industry, application, problem, role, where they are in the buying process, we try to plug everyone into a common standard.

Our content addresses a broad audience, both in terms of customers and individuals.

Our sales process addresses a broad range of buying journeys.

We build on “one to many,” where what’s important to the customer is “one to me” (not one to one).

Some, naively, think, AI/ML saves us. The reality is it doesn’t. It refines our generalizations or categorizations, it can help us become more specific, but it lacks that capability to make human to human, contextually relevant conversation in real time.

And this is the role of great sales people. The become the “last mile/kilometer/inch/centimeter in connecting and contextualizing with the customer. The magic of great sales people is their ability to connect, to understand, to empathize, to teach, to engage the customer, individually or as a group. They can help the customer connect the dots between what they are trying to do, how they do it, and how our solutions help them do this. They do it in terms meaningful to the customer now….and now….and now, recognizing the context is different each time, even with the same individual.

Sadly, too much of what we try to do in the name of efficiency and sales productivity, is we move away from that. We script the conversation, based on what’s been successful in past conversations with thousands of customers each in very different situations. We take what can be a deeply personal and impactful conversation and generalize it.

Too many sales people are walking talking brochures/data sheets, not translating it to what’s meaningful to the customer. Even something as simple as “Pay attention to page 2 paragraph 5. This is what you are trying to do, this is what it means to you…..”

Context is everything. Context is fleeting, it changes with each person, each company over time.

The only way we can connect in contextually relevant ways it through sales people that have the capability of understanding and engaging the customer in ways that are meaningful, relevant, and create value with the customer.

For each sales person, how do you become the “contextualizer” or sensemaker for your customer?

For managers, how do we recruit, train, coach, develop, and enable our people to become contextualizers for our customers?

Afterword: Thanks to Hank Barnes for provoking my thinking on this topic.

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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