I’ve been writing a lot about the importance of sales people challenging their customers—bringing them new insight, ideas about how to improve their business, opportunities to grow the business or improve their operations. It’s important for sales to differentiate ourselves by engaging our customers in different conversations than we have in the past.
However, before we challenge our customers, we have to earn the right to challenge them. We have to first challenge ourselves–to assure we are capable of engaging in a meaningful conversation. Challenging is not about the ability to deliver the latest snappy presentation, but to have real insight about the customer themselves.
To effectively challenge our customer, we have to first challenge ourselves.
- How well do we understand the markets in which our customers compete–their competitors and customers? Do we have a good understanding of their marketplace dynamics?
- How well do we understand our customers’ business strategies and priorities? Do we understand their business drivers, key performance levers and key performance indicators?
- Do we understand their goals and performance at an operational level–particularly in the areas that we impact. Do we understand how these operational level goals relate to the strategic goals.
- Have we spent the time in their organization, seeking to understand how things work, how things get done? Do we know how to get things done within their organizations?
- Do we have deep knowledge of how our solutions can contribute to the attainment of their operational goals, and can we communicate those in terms important to the customer?
- Can we translate the concepts into specifics about the customer’s business?
It’s important to be equipped with the knowledge and data to challenge our customers. But knowledge and data are not sufficient. Do we have the relationships, credibility, and trust with the customers? Challenging the customer without having the credibility and trust of the customer is merely an intellectual discussion.
Our job is to help our customers think differently about their businesses, to show new opportunities and new ways they can achieve their goals. We have to be knowledgeable about business, we have to be knowledgeable about their business, and we have to have earned the right to challenge them.