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How Do Customers Prospect?

by David Brock on October 30th, 2020

Maybe it’s just me, but have you experienced this hugely annoying trend—both in LinkedIn and though email? It’s customers prospecting–looking for solutions to their problems.

Every morning, I find my inbox filled with all these annoying emails/InMails.

“We are looking to buy electronic components to use in a new consumer product we are developing. Can we take 15 minutes of your time to talk about how you might help us?”

“We are expanding our factory capacity and need to add a new assembly line, can we talk about your products as a potential solution?”

“Our IT development backlog is overwhelming us, we need to get a firm to outsource some of our development.”

“We’re running out of toilet paper and fear we will be in deep sh*t! We’d like to buy toilet paper urgently!!!” (OK, I couldn’t resist.)

I don’t know about you, but it’s annoying and time consuming just deleting and spamming all these requests from people who want to buy stuff. Don’t they know I don’t sell that stuff? Why don’t they do their homework?

I imagine they and their procurement organizations trolling the web and social sites trying to find more sellers. I can see them harvesting email addresses from all sorts of sites, so they can broadcast to sales people.

And yes, I’m starting to see those connection requests, “Dave, I don’t want to buy anything from you, I see you are in management consulting…..” Yep, you guessed it. As soon as I connect, I get an email, “Dave we are trying to buy stuff (It’s always completely unrelated to consulting services)…..”

Why don’t they make sure they are connecting with someone who can actually sell them a solution?

OK, I’m just having a little fun.

But customers have an analog to what we do in prospecting. What if we understood how customers learn about new solutions, educate themselves about changes in their industries, about new ways of doing things? What if rather than just showing up, uninvited, in their inbox’s, we started showing up where they are showing up?

We know our customers are leveraging different channels and methods of learning, thinking about change. They search the web. They look at what their competitors are doing. They show up at conferences and trade shows–real or virtual? They find ways of educating themselves about new things? They find (or try to find) our company websites–reading articles, case studies, even product pages.

And they reach out, thoughtfully, to us—not every company—just a few companies and sales people who they think might be able to help them. When they do that, they are very focused and prepared. They’ve done their homework, or as much as they can. They have a rough idea of what they are looking for. They value their time, they don’t want to waste it, as a result, tend to use our time better.

Customers prospect very differently than sales people do. What if we started adapting some of their methods? What if we started mirroring what they do–showing up where they do.

I’m not arguing for purely inbound or relying on marketing and digital programs. Outbound is still one of the most powerful methods of prospecting—though it is more powerful when combined with other channels the customer can leverage.

But what we can learn from our customers–their outbound is very focused, very targeted, and very prepared to address specific issues. What if our outbound started mirroring those behaviors? Might we be more impactful?

Customers do prospect. They look for solutions, alternatives. They look to learn and discover new things.

Perhaps our prospecting might be much more effective if we learn more about how our customers prospect and start showing up where they are and engaging in a manner that mirrors their behaviors.

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