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Before We Can “Teach” Our Customers, We Have To First Learn From Them

by David Brock on July 24th, 2014

Teaching our customers is a cornerstone of Challenger, Insight Selling, and just plain good sales practice.  We want to help our customers learn.  It’s actually not that new a concept–we’ve always taught our customers something.  It used to be about our products, or our solutions, or our companies.

Now the context of teaching has changed–really for the better for both customers, sales and marketing.  Today, the teaching that customers value is teaching them about their businesses, customers, markets.  What could they do better?  What could they do differently?  What opportunities might they address?  How do they better engage their customers, shareholders, employees, community?

This past weekend, I spent time with a niece–she’s a school teacher.  Being opportunistic, I figured who better to learn about teaching than from a professional teacher, particularly a high performing teacher (says the uncle, proudly).  I was struck by our conversation and how much I (and we in sales) needed to learn about teaching our customers.

She started reeling off a lot of stuff around critical thinking, problem solving, listening, sharing, collaborating, discovery.  She talked a lot about learning how people learn, learning about each person and how they learned.  She spoke of adaptability–moving from one size fits all to personalized and individualized approaches.  As the conversation progressed, it struck me that we’ve been doing this “teaching” thing all wrong.

Commercial teaching cannot be a well rehearsed presentation, supported by facts, figures, and cool graphics that product management and marketing provide us.  But that’s too often the way we implement commercial teaching.

Effective teaching starts first with learning.  It requires deep knowledge about the things we want to teach–so if we want to talk to customers about their businesses, then we have to develop deep knowledge about their businesses — not the application of our solutions to their businesses (though that’s necessary further down the line), not data about how we our solutions help them improve their businesses.  We have to have a level of expertise and credibility about their business—what’s happening in their markets, with their customers, with their competitors, what are the emerging trends, the new ideas, the risks, the critical issues.  Without expertise, we can’t teach.

But it goes further than expertise in their businesses, it requires us to learn about our customers—the people, not the enterprises.  What do they need to learn?  How do they learn most effectively?  How do we engage them, getting them to think differently?  Are they even open to learning?  What stands in the way of their ability to learn, how do we overcome them?

Our teaching needs to be individualized–adapted to the needs and interests of each person.

It turns out effective teaching is less about telling, but more about engaging, interacting, collaborating, and discovery.  Students learn when they are engaged, involved, motivated, and have some ability to drive the learning/teaching process.

So teaching looks a lot different than the “teaching pitch.”  It’s a lot more about a conversation, sharing differing perspectives and ideas.

According to my niece, teaching is less about telling our customers the answers but helping them discover and develop the answers themselves.

So if we are going to teach our customers, we need to learn about them, from them, and with them.

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3 Comments
  1. Brian MacIver (@Palayo) permalink

    “Our teaching needs to be individualized–adapted to the needs and interests of each person.”

    ‘Tailor’ or that wonderful British expression “bespoke” is the process which enables those “individualized–adapted” conversations to take place.

    A long, long time ago Neil Rackham taught the importance of Content [WHAT we talk about] and
    Process [HOW we talk about it]
    and their effectiveness in Sales Performance.

    The Challeneger Sale refines BOTH Content and Process,
    BUT we, the Salesperson, have to DO the WORK.

    Learning how people learn is part of Teaching.
    Teaching where people Learn
    is a fundamental of Insight Selling!

    Great Post Dave.

  2. Interesting. This is exactly what we call user or customer experience design. Getting input from them through research before doing anything. It might seem obvious to some, but big corporations don’t do it enough.

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