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How Do They Make Money?

by David Brock on February 11th, 2014

No, I’m not talking about you, I’m talking about your customers.

At the core of everything we do as sales people, it’s about making money, that is producing revenue for our companies.   We know how our companies make money, it’s through the revenues we create in selling the products and services.  It’s also through our companies’ abilities to develop, produce, deliver and support those products/services profitably.  Easy, we get that.

But that’s not what drives our success as sales people.  That’s not what creates our ability to engage our customers.  They don’t care about how we make money–some seem to don’t care that we do make money (but that’s really a misunderstanding).

What drives our success as sales people, at the very core, is understanding how our customers make money  — then showing them how we can help them make more!

This applies to everything–from the most complex IT solutions, manufacturing equipment, parts/components, to paper clips and toilet paper.

Customers shouldn’t be buying anything, unless they know how it helps them make money.  It’s our job to connect the dots to help them understand this.

There are basically two ways to make money—drive the top line (revenue growth) or the bottom line (profitability/growth).  Usually the latter is achieved through helping them reduce costs.

Everything the customer does, consequently, everything we must do with the customer has to contribute to one or both of these.

If we sell embedded products/components, we help them make their products better–whether it’s improved functionality or performance, improving their quality to improve their customer perceptions/reduce warranty costs, provide capabilities their customers want, or many other things.  We help them sell more or reduce the costs of supporting those products, by reducing failures.

If we sell capital equipment, systems, services, even consumables (this is where paper clips and toilet paper come in), we help them and their people be more productive and efficient.  We help them sell more with out increasing their spending proportionally.  We help them reduce costs.  We may help them generate revenue through finding new customers, acquiring them, and keeping them happy so they buy more.

So it’s critical that we understand how our customers make money and how what we sell helps them make more!

Sometimes, the people we work with in the buying process may not understand this.  It may be an engineer looking for a component, an IT person satisfying a user need, a manufacturing executive looking at a new machine tool.  It may be a facilities or HR person looking at a new food service provider or janitorial services.  They may not be focused on how they make money–they’re just doing their jobs.

But we have to help them understand, we have to help them understand why it’s important, because their management cares! We help our customers get what they want by helping them respond to questions their management will pose–and those questions always have to do with how does this help them make money.

This applies to every customer!  Clearly, with commercial organizations we know they have revenue, profitability, growth, share, and valuation goals.  Not for profits aren’t dissimilar, they need to attract donors and development funds, they need to deliver on their mission cost effectively.  Government organizations need to get the most out of the tax dollars they are spending.  So while the phrasing may be awkward, every customer cares about how we help them make money.

Do you understand how your customer makes money?

Do your customers understand, specifically, how what you are selling helps them make more money?

Can you connect the dots between your customers’ goals and the people in the organization doing the buying?

Are you making them comfortable in communicating this value up the food chain, as they look for approval?

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6 Comments
  1. Brian MacIver permalink

    Brilliant!
    Another Sales Thought Leading Article, Dave, thanks.

    You, and I, rememeber the ‘Golden Rule’.

    “They who HAVE the Gold, they MAKE the Rules!”

    If you know how the Customer [or Prospect] make money, and if you know how they can make MORE money,
    then YOU have the GOLD,
    and YOU make the Rules.

    • Thanks Brian. We may not make the rules, but we at least can engage the customer more effectively.

  2. Dave, you make me thinking…Let me share a few thoughts in addition to your post!

    Of course, a business has to be profitable. And good business should create good money. No doubt. I also buy your argument that as sales professionals, we should follow the money, understand how they make money and help customers to be more efficient, more effective, etc.

    But is this the core of what we are doing? In my opinion this perspective is a bit too narrow. I think, these are the financial results, but the core is the way how to get there.

    The core what we are doing are the activities, processed in excellence that create value, and not only for our customers, but also in a way that they can create more value for their customers and their stakeholders, not only their shareholders.
    And to do that in excellence, we need not only to understand how they make money, we need also to understand what’s their core belief, what’s the value they want to create for their customers, what is it they stand for in their markets, what is it how they want to make a difference?

    So, the financial goals are the tangible results. But we need to uncover and to understand a lot of intangible things along the way to really make a difference.

    • Thanks Tamara, I think we are really speaking of the same thing. In order to answer the question, How Does My Customer Make Money, we have to understand the underlying goals and strategies they are driving to make money. We have to understand who their customers are, what value they create, what opportunities they might have to create more value (How to help them make more money). If we don’t understand their strategies, goals, markets, customers, competitors, capabilities, and so forth, we cannot answer the question How Do They Make Money, nor can we answer the question How Can We Help Them Make More.

      The financial goals become outcomes they hope to achieve through all the work they do. So as sales professionals, we have to understand the outcomes, and how we can contribute to achieving those outcomes.

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