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Are You Selling To Where Your Customer Is Going To Be?

by David Brock on March 7th, 2011

Wayne Gretsky attributed part of his greatness as a hockey player to, “always skating to where the puck is going to be, not to where it is.”  His idea is a good thing for us to think about as sales professionals.

Too often, as sales people, I think we focus too much on where the customer is now, what are their current problems, what are their needs, how do we present something that gets them to buy now.  We struggle at selling–the project may not be a priority, funds aren’t allocated, we get close, but no sale. 

I think much of this is a result of focusing on where the customer is now, but how would things changed if we focused on where the customer wants to be–or needs to be?  How many sales people know where their customers want to be in two years?  Do we ask?  Do we understand their strategies?  Do we know their plans?  Not just at an overall enterprise level, but at a functional level, even at an individual level.  Do we know the goals and aspirations of each person we are working with?  Do we know where they want to be and are we selling to where they want to be or to where they are now?

As sales professionals we create greater value by helping our customer get to where they want to be.  By providing solutions that enable them to get there, perhaps even to accelerate their ability to get there, or perhaps reduce their risk as they pursue their goals.

“But what about addressing their current problems,” some might challenge?  Aren’t we missing an opportunity by not addressing their current problems?  Well think about it a moment, how many customer want to lug or drag their current problems with them?  Part of where they want to be means leaving all their current problems and challenges behind.

A fair challenge might be, “But my customers don’t know where they want to be.  How can I sell if they don’t know where they want to be?”  To me, this is a golden opportunity for sales professionals to really differentiate themselves, creating real value for their customers.  Often, our customers are consumed by “where they are.”  They don’t have a vision or time to think about where they want to be.  Here is where great sales professionals shine.  They can help their customers discover a new future.  They help their customers see different possibilities for growing their business, for achieving new things for their own customers.  They help their customers discover where they can be and, ultimately, want to be.

I was recently with a sales executive.  He had been hired to “clean up a mess.”  Initially, the executive was consumed with all the problems he had to fix.  There seemed to be so much wrong and not enough time or money to fix them.  After he had a chance to vent, I asked the question, “Where do you want to be in 18 months?”  He paused and reflected, his perspective completely changed.  He started to talk about where the organization should be.  He had very clear ideas about performance levels, productivity, positioning, the composition of the sales force, and all sorts of other things.  I sat quietly, taking notes, every once in a while asking a question.  After he had finished, I asked, “If we achieve this, will it address all the issues you are dealing with now?”  He thought, we talked, there were a few things we needed to add to the plan, but at the end of the conversation, we had a clear plan of where he wanted and needed to be to achieve the goals he was hired to achieve and those he wanted to achieve.

Conversations become so much more simple, getting buy-in becomes much easier if we focus on where the customer wants to be or help them discover it.  In you sales efforts, are you skating to where the customer is or where the customer will be?  Wayne Gretsky had it right!

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  1. David, today I had lunch with a new friend who is the general manager of a local radio group. In short, I asked him where he thought radio is headed, what he foresees his stations looking like, and how he expected to get there.

    Business is dynamic and ever changing. Helping our business friends – customers and prospects – comfortably look at the future is one the better things we can do for them.

    • Great illustration of the key issue! Thanks for contributing it Gary (and to think I was tempted to say something about teaching old dogs…. 😉

  2. Dave

    Great analogy to build your thoughts from. Hockey wouldn’t have much of a following if the players all skated to where the puck used to be. To the quick go the spoils.

    Do you find that CXOs as a rule are thinking two years ahead? Or is this part of the service you provide: helping them to become more strategic and less reactionary?

    As Gary said: business is dynamic and ever changing. Which tells me that building capabilities that enable adaptive growth is the key to thriving in a down economy. It’s not about the latest magic bullets. It’s about building a new gun that shoots the bullets du jour with great accuracy.

    Great post!

    Don F Perkins

    • Great issues Don. In my experience CXO’s are trying to think two years ahead—it’s difficult–both plain difficult and difficult to find the time. But it’s critical. I think this is an area in which sales can create real value by helping the customer identify and get to where they should be.

      I think I may disagree with you about the “accurate gun for bullets du jour.” We will never get to tomorrow if all we focus on is today. As a corollary, solving today’s problems will not get us to where we need to be tomorrow. They just get us past today’s problems–but could send us on a random walk. We have to have goals and directions, we have to have strategies. Without these, we have no meaning.

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