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Knowing About Your Customer Is Not Enough

by David Brock on April 27th, 2010

Everyone in sales knows that it’s important to know your customer.  Sales people keep all sorts of information, both on individuals and the enterprises. 

We know about the likes and dislikes of the people we sell to–those that we deal with every day.  We know their birthdays, families, what schools they went to, whether they like golf, what their careers have been, and much more.  We know about the companies–how they use our products, what the company makes and manufactures.  We usually know their competitors and possibly know about their financial performance.  We know about a lot of stuff about the customer—but so do our competitors.

To be knowledgeable about our customers, to help them identify problems and opportunities, we need to know a lot more.  The list can be long, I’ll get it started, I hope you add things:

  1. What’s our customer’s business model?  How do they make money?
  2. Who are our customer’s customer?  What drives them?  What is happening with them that may impact our customer?  What opportunities does this create for our customer?  What do they think of our customer?  Do they view them as a leader/laggard?  Are they satisfied or dissatisfied?  Why?
  3. What is the structure of the industry and markets that our customer operates in?  What are the big changes that are happening in the industry and their markets?  What is the impact on our customer?
  4. How is the company perceived by their customers?  How are they perceived within the industry?  How are they perceived by their competitors?  How are they perceived by analysts/media?  How are they perceived by their shareholders?
  5. What’s the performance of our customer?  How well are they addressing opportunities and needs of their customers?  Are they acquiring or losing customers/share?  How are they performing relative to the industry?  How are they performing relative to the competition?  Are they gaining? Losing?  Where can they improve?  Are there new opportunities for them?
  6.  What are our customer’s key strategies for addressing the markets?  How well are they executing those strategies?  How do they measure their attainment?
  7. How does the company operate?  Are people/functions well aligned?  What’s the management/leadership style?  What’s the culture?   What’s the formal/informal communication structure?  What’s the risk profile–are people rewarded for taking risk, are mistakes allowed, is the organization risk adverse?
  8. How are the people we work with measured?  Do we know their KPI’s?
  9. What are their goals and aspirations?  How are they perceived by  their co-workers?  How are they perceived by their management?  What is their risk profile?
  10. If it were our company, what would we change, why?  If we were working in the function of the people we work with, what would we change and why?

What would you add?

I can hear some of the comments already, “Dave, you don’t understand, we only impact a very small part of the customer’s business—we sell components—we sell sub-assemblies, why do I have to know all this stuff?’

I like the old parable, “For the loss of a horseshoe, a kingdom was lost.”  It’s our job to understand how what we sell impacts our customers’ “kingdom’s.”  Regardless how small our impact, there is some connection to the overall success of our customer.  It’s our jobs as sales professionals to understand that impact and to make sure our customers understand that impact.  We have to make those connections and articulate it to the customer.  If we don’t the customer probably will not.  Ultimately, this is our value proposition, this is what separates us from the competition.

Do you really understand your customer?  Do you understand how you fit into their success?  Do you understand how you make the more successful with their customers, stakeholders and their industry?

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8 Comments
  1. Dave – A few more items:

    * What environmental factors must they address, but over which they have no control? e.g. government regulations, weather, competition

    * What’s their Corporate Culture? formal/informal, by-the-numbers/family, individual authority/group authority, strong control/weak control, centralized/distributed

    * SWOTs – Strenghts, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats

    * Strategies for each major functional unit

    * Organization

    Todd

  2. Mission, vision, values. How would the client solve “the problem” if he/she had an unlimited budget?

    • How could I forget? Thanks Otis. Out of curiosity, I noticed you work with dealerships. What souls we learn of the individual consumers? Thanks for the comments, please keep visiting/commmenting.

  3. Jean-Louis LAURONT permalink

    Knowing is one thing, using is another.
    I fully agree with your analysis of what I have used to called “extended sales” concept. In B to B, selling to a customer always means that he will sales as in turn eventually to end user or to an upper tier/OEM.
    Basically, it is essential to understand all of the value chain and sales channels to guess about the supply chain (i.e. existing and potential needs, volume and perescpective, trends in general…).

    So not only all thes data collection direct (through customer) and indirect (probably as much of importance or more) not only helps the sales but also marketing.
    Sales people then have to use the regular amount of information in synthesis mode and can – within the respect of ethic, as they might trade with the competitor of this very customer- do the following;
    – provide leads to the customer on an exclusive on non exclusive base
    – probe question involving inflexion or alternative strategies for the customer to adopt
    – exchnage public accessible information that might not be know to customer by lack of time, resources or vision.

    All of this will ultmimately help your customer and therefore your sales and moreover the trust and fidelity of your customer.

    Jean-Louis.

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