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Teaching Our Customers

by David Brock on October 12th, 2012

There’s a lot of talk about the role of the sales person as a “Teacher.”  It’s an important concept, but one that’s always been a key element of the sales person’s role.  But I think there is a lot of misunderstanding of what effective teaching really is.  So much of the literature seems to focus on Teaching As An Event.  There’s a lot of discussion around the Teaching Pitch. I’m probably overstating this, but it conjures up the image of that single impactful presentation where the customer immediately says, “Yes,” and pulls out an order form.

Somehow focusing on an event and the Teaching Pitch seems an incomplete representation of the role of the sales professional as a Teacher or how our customers learn, make decisions, and achieve outcomes.

I’m fortunate that one of my clients is a leader in the professional development of Teachers.  Specifically, they are transforming the practice of teachers in K-12, improving their ability to achieve desired outcomes with children.   I’ve learned a lot about Teaching from them and what it means for the sales professional as a “Teacher.”

Like sales people, teachers are focused on outcomes.  For example, over the course of a year, they seek to develop the skills of the students to achieve certain levels, to demonstrate certain capabilities.  Likewise, sales people need to help their customers achieve specific outcomes in their businesses.

Teachers are increasingly metric oriented.  Testing (good or bad) is one of the important indicators of whether teachers are achieving the desired outcomes with their students.  Sure there are a lot of arguments about whether test scores are the right metric or whether they are measuring the right things, but the important thing is tying outcomes to the ability to measure the outcomes or progress to achieving the outcome.

Teaching and learning is a journey, not an event.  A single class, lecture, or homework assignment is insufficient to achieving the outcomes teachers desire.  Effective teaching is a journey– a series of things that happen in a relatively structured manner (sounds a lot like a process) to achieve outcomes over time.  There is a structured set of experiences teachers guide students through to achieve the outcomes they want.  Teachers have a plan, usually starting in September, culminating in June to achieve specific goals.  Lesson plans, curriculums, classroom experiences, homework, learning from peers, self learning are all elements executed in a structured manner through the school year that enable the teacher to achieve the outcomes they want.

So effective teaching is really about a process or plan and the sharp execution of that plan. Any part of the plan that is missing, skipped, or poorly executed adversely impacts the outcomes they are trying to achieve.  For the plan to work, each student has to buy into it and own it for themselves.

Likewise, for sales people, the Teaching Pitch, is just the starting point.  To be effective, the sales person really has to guide the customer through their buying journey.  There is a plan or process, our customers buy into, that we execute together to achieve the desired outcome. 

There are a variety of important elements of the plan–often the student learns by themselves or in collaboration with their peers.  We see that with customers leveraging the web and other self-education tools, talking with other customers and learning from them.  Teachers incorporate this into the process–but structure it–they recognize their students may not know how to learn, or may structuring their learning process in an ineffective manner.  Teachers guide their students through the learning process to achieve the desired outcome as effectively as possible.

Customers are the same, they may not know what questions they should be asking, they may not know where to look, they may not know how to assess the information or learning they get, they may not know how to buy.  Sales people as teachers are, in fact, create their greatest value when they can help facilitate this process for the customers in helping the customer learn and progress to making a decision.

Teaching is also not about telling, but about creating an environment where the student is driven to learn, wehre it helps them achieve something.  It’s interesting, as I talk to teachers, often it seems to be as much about collaborative learning as it is about what the student learns.  As sales people we can and should really be leveraging this.  Our customers are not children, they have a rich experience base, we can learn as much from them as they can from us.  In achieving outcomes, our shared experiences and shared learning is probably greater than what we do independently.

It turns out collaboration is important in teaching.  My client has shown there are profound improvements in the impact teachers have when they collaborate with each other, assessing how they can improve the learning experiences of their students and the ability to achieve the outcomes.

Collaboration is critical to sales.  Leveraging the right resources, both in and outside our organizations, bringing them to bear with the right person, right message, at the right time is critical to our effectiveness.  Learning from our peers, adapting their best practices to our own work improves our ability to help our customers achieve the objectives.

Technology helps, but technology is not the solution.  Use of computers tablets and other devices are helpful in creating high impact learning experiences.  But put a computer in front of a child doesn’t mean they will learn or achieve goals (they may just be playing games).  Likewise, technology helps us and our customers, but by itself, technology is likely to be insufficient.

Ultimately the student–and the customer is in charge.  Regardless how good the teacher or sales person, without a student/customer willing to learn, interested in changing, driven to achieve outcomes we will be ineffective.  At the same time, the teacher has a great impact in creating that thirst for knowledge and the drive to achieve something.  Sales people can do the same with customers.

I’m just a lay person.  I continue to learn from my client about what Teaching For Impact really is.  I do know it’s not a Teaching Pitch.  It is a structured journey and process.  It requires deep engagement of the teacher and student.  It is focused on results, the success of the teacher only comes from the success of the student.

I’d love to hear from teachers about what teaching is really about and how sales professionals become great teachers of their customers.Book CoverFor a free peek at Sales Manager Survival Guide, click the picture or link.  You’ll get the Table of Contents, Foreword, and 2 free Chapters.  Free Sample

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2 Comments
  1. Hi Dave,
    I think the idea that customers must be educated over time about your product or service is a great one, and it’s something big brands like Apple and Google figured out a long time ago. Yes, there are the big events unveiling the latest tablet or Google feature, but the focus is on an overall experience. It’s an experience these brands manage to have with their customers almost every day.

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