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Being Helpful To Customers Must Be For Profit!

by David Brock on May 13th, 2011

I write a lot about being customer focused, about helping customer identify new opportunities, look at new ways of growing, assess new ways of running their businesses.  I’ve long advocated being consultative, facilitating the customer buying process, and creating value in every interchange.   A lot of the discussion focuses on “being helpful to customers.”

This creates confusion and lots of questions, “I’m accountable for selling my company’s products and services, how will I achieve my goals if I focus on being helpful to the customer?”  “If we focus on being helpful to our customers and not pushing our products, how do we achieve our sales goals?”

The confusion is understandable, we’re supposed to focus on the customer needs, problems, and help them in solving their problems.  But this is not in conflict with achieving our sales goals.  There should be no confusion, achieving our goals, selling our company’s products and services is what we are paid to do.  Sales is not a charitable function, clearly being helpful to customers must be a “for profit activity.”

Crassily, I have no business or interest in being helpful to customers that are not willing to consider my solution.  It’s not that I’m not interested in them as people, but I only want to work with customers where my solutions can be helpful to their achieving their business objectives.  I have no interest in pursuing opportunities, facilitating a buying process, helping customers grow their business, without seeing a possibility/probability of their purchasing my products as a part of the process.

This is neither offensive nor manipulative.  If customers aren’t interested in me and what I can do to help them, why do they want to invest their time in me?  Why do they want me to be part of their process?  If customers are considering problems or issues that I can’t solve, what expertise do I bring to help them?  Aren’t I misleading them, aren’t I wasting my time and their time?  If customers don’t want the “help” that we can bring–whether it’s thinking about new ways to improve their businesses, to grow their businesses, help them with their buying process, why do we want to try to invest our time?

As a sales person, we know what “problems” we solve.  We know what needs we can satisfy.  We can only be helpful to people that have the problems that we solve and are interested in solving those problems?  When someone approaches me with a problem that’s not in my “sweet spot,” I thank them for sharing and recommend they talk to someone who can solve their problems–it’s best for them, it’s best for me.  I am being most helpful by connecting them with people who can solve their problems.

If people aren’t interested in considering our products and services as part of their problem solving process, then they don’t want our help.  Trying to give them our help is wasting their time and our time.

Being helpful is a for profit activity.  Being helpful to people and organizations where our products are part of the solution–part of ultimately really helping them is where we need to focus our time.  Trying to be helpful in other areas is wasted and is never helpful.

Are you being helpful to your prospects and customers?

  1. David,

    A most provocative post, many thanks; this is an issue that we all struggle with. For me, it has to do with just where and how one draws the line. How far down the road of disconnectedness should we in determining what leads to a sale?

    The most successful sales person ever in a major accounting firm, I’m told, was one who consciously chose his clients as the most likely-to-succeed in the organizations, and then told them his mission in life for the next 20 years was to make them successful–which he defined as getting their kids into Harvard, if that’s what they wanted.

    Is helping get a customer’s kid into Harvard directly connected to sales? You wouldn’t think so, but this guy was the top salesman among thousands.

    Yesterday I spent a delightful day being introduced to a dozen members of the very large client of “Joe,” the client relationship manager for a major consultancy. There is no direct way whatsoever that Joe will see a nickel of revenue from anything I might possibly sell to his client in the future–yet it’s because he behaves this way that he runs a massive account for this client, and is one of the most successful people in his firm.

    Where does one draw the line? I do not have an answer myself, and I think we all have to constantly ask that question, as it affects how we spend our time. I guess my only contribution would be to say that most of us draw the line too narrowly, not too broadly. I’m sure there exceptions–some of us get distracted by what we used to call “hobby clients”–but the more frequent error, I think, is a case of good old American short-termism. Qualifying prospects too soon, insisting on the deal before the relationship has evolved, the things that make us “ugly Americans” in some other cultures.

    I’d be curious to hear more of your thoughts in response?

    • Great issues Charlie (aside from the fact that I would have thought the sales person in the accounting firm would have had higher aspirations than Harvard 😉

      Qualifying too soon is a problem, we need to invest in our customers. Knowing our “sweet spot,” is different. Too often, I see people straying outside their sweet spot, trying to be “helpful” where they really can’t–and it’s wishful thinking at best. It’s important for us to know where we can be helpful and where we cannot. It’s important the “recipient” of our helpfulness wants our help—that doesn’t necessarily mean a buying commitment. But it does mean where our help is valued, otherwise we are inflicting our help on the customer.

      Does that make sense?

    • Ann Cosfol permalink

      You hit the nail on the head with struggles I have as well. I like “helping” people but spend way too much time when there really is no deal in sight. I may see an opportunity for them but they don’t.

      I think I need to print this article and carry it around with me!!

      • Thanks Ann, until they have a sense of urgency about the deal, it won’t get done. Give them a copy of the article 😉

  2. Hi Charles (and David),

    What you are saying is most certainly true, but it is not in contradiction with what David is saying.. You are talking the actions a sales-rep undertakes to build the relationship with his Customer(s).. David, on the other hand, is discussing what Customers to act upon..

    The sales-reps in your example likely tackled both your and David’s challenge well, for otherwise they would have never been top-tier sales-reps imho..

    Wim Rampen

  3. Dave, this post provides much needed focus for salespeople on spending time where they are relevant. A good lesson for those (many) who mindlessly waste time with prospects who will never buy. To me it highlights the need for stringent qualification. I might add that it also is a reminder to not spend time playing customer service rep as so many seem to do.

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