I was meeting with a group of sellers, talking about engaging their customers. I asked the question, “Who are the people, at your customers, most important to your ability to sell something?
They cited a number of people, “CIOs are usually the key people involved in a project. Also, IT project managers, systems engineering managers, business analysts. Then there are the finance people, the controller, and CFO…..”
I probed further, “What does a CIO do?”
Quickly a response came, “They are responsible for managing the IT organization and delivering IT services in the company….”
Then I asked, “What is it they do to make sure those things are done?”
Again, a response, “They look at the projects, they manage budgets, they make sure their teams are getting their work done?”
“How do they do that?” I asked.
The answers started slowing down, I could tell by the expressions on people’s faces they were thinking, “Why is this guy asking all this stuff, why do we care….” Others, were struggling with developing answers, they really didn’t know.
I asked, “How are CIOs measured? How do they spend a typical day? What other organizations are they dependent on to get their jobs done? Who depends on them? What are the biggest changes that have impacted them over the past few years? What are the biggest things they are concerned about for the coming years?”
The more questions I asked, the fewer the answers were.
Some of the sellers, tried describing the role in terms of what their products did. “CIOs are concerned with programmer productivity and our products help improve programmer productivity!” But when I asked, “Why are they concerned with it, how important is that compared to everything else they do,” they struggled to respond.
We moved on to talk about the Controller. I started asking the same questions. And the pattern of answers was the same. The first few questions people could answer, but the more I drilled down into the job of the Controller, the more they struggled.
The responses, when they were able to respond tended to focus on, “This is what our products do to help customers in these roles….” But the more I probed, “But tell me about their jobs, what they do, how they succeed, what worries them, how they spend their time, …,” the more they struggled.
Every time I engage sellers in these conversations, at best, they describe, how their products help the customer, but they don’t understand what their customers actually do.
Sometimes, though very rarely, I encounter a seller that responds, “I used to be a CIO for an organization. They went on to discuss in great detail, “This is what my manager held me accountable for, these are the biggest challenges I faced, this is how I was measured, this is how I spent my days, these are the organizations my team was dependent on to succeed, these are the things that kept me awake at night (Yeah, I know we aren’t supposed to ask that, but people still describe that when you ask about their jobs.). And those people would also say, “This is why products that we sell were so important in my ability to do my job….”
And, as you would expect, these individuals have an ability to connect with customers in a more meaningful way, because they have done the job or had similar roles.
Clearly, it’s unrealistic to have our sellers actually having served in the roles we sell to. But if we are to connect with our customers most impactfully, the more we understand their roles, what they do, how, what drives them, is critical.
How do we do this?
Well, we could ask our customers about their jobs. Rather than talking about our solutions, we can get to know them, and what they do. Customers actually love this–because it’s all about them and their success. It put them at the center of the conversation rather than our products.
But there are other ways to learn about our customers. Within our own organizations, we have the “personas” that we sell to. We have IT people, finance people, product development, support, marketing, HR, admin, legal, sales, operations. We may have many of the same roles and functions we target in our customers. And those people are likely to have a lot of the same concerns, challenges, aspirations that our customers have–so we can learn from those people in our own organizations.
We can, through these conversations, begin to “characterize” and understand these roles and how we might more effectively connect with them.
I’m a tremendous fan of Stephen Colbert’s “The Colbert Questionert.” It’s a comedy routine, where he claims to be able to completely “know” a person by their responses to the same 15 questions. It’s hilarious watching his interviews of guest, using the Colbert Questionert. (It was fun to take it myself).
Using that, though not for comedic purposes, I’ve developed “The Brock Questionert, A Guided Interview To Understanding Our Customers.” It’s 19 questions that begin to characterize our customers, their role/responsibilities, their challenges.
It’s a starting point to a deeper understanding of the key personas we must engage at our customers. Clearly, we have to learn about their companies, them as individuals, their behavioral styles, and the specific challenges. But the Questionert is a starting point to better understand our customers and what drives them.
We’ve been piloting the Questionert through the sales teams of a number of our clients. Dr. Howard Dover is using the Questionert as a key part of his Digital Prospecting course at UTD. Within a few months, we will have 100’s of interviews that we can characterize to both shape more impactful/personalized outreaches and enable sellers to engage customers with deeper understanding of their roles.
For the Brock Questionert, just email me. I’m glad to send you the questioning guide. And learn, how you can both contribute to and access our library of interviews of personas in roles you want to sell to.