My article, How B2B Customers Make Decisions, sparked a lot of discussions in LinkedIn, Twitter, comments and emails. John N. (a good friend and client) raised an interesting question, “How do we get those lower level questions about how to make our customers’ work lives better?”
It’s a great question!
Truly understanding what makes each buyer tick, what their hot buttons are, their dreams and passions, what keeps them awake at night (I still think that’s a powerful concept), and so forth is really at the core of every sale. Customers tend to wrap business rationale around emotional/personal decisions.
Part of the challenge in discovering this is how we and the customers engage each other. Once we find a customer who’s willing to talk, who has a business problem they want to address, who wants to learn more about how they might better address opportunities, both we and the customer become hyper focused.
The focus is on those issues, or the deal. If we are selling consultatively, we go through a discovery process, we try to learn, to diagnose, then ultimately present our solution in a value based context. If we are really good, we are creating value in every interaction with the customer.
Customers, naturally, engage at that level–it’s the way we’ve trained them. It’s the way we challenge them, it’s the questions we ask that drive the responses and engagement.
Consequently, we both become focused on the problem or the deal.
Making our customers’ work lives better doesn’t start with the deal. It starts with the people–independent of the deal, problems, or issues we are focused on.
To make our customers’ work lives better, we have to understand who they are, what their dreams, goals, aspirations are (It’s not to cut inventories 10%, or reduce DSO 20%, or improve win rates by 15%, or to reduce costs by 23%). We have to understand what drives them, what they get excited about, what frustrates them, how they feel about their work, their company, and their accomplishments. We have to understand how they are measured, how their individual performance is evaluated. There’s what makes them feel good, how they want to grow and contribute.
To make our customers’ work lives better we have to understand them, as individuals.
None of this has anything to do with the “deal” or our business discussions with the customer. Because of this, both we and the customer tend never to take the time to have those conversations.
As a result, we never learn how we can make their work lives better. We never learn how to translate the discussions about the “deal” to the impact on making their lives better.
Our discussions leave us with a partial understanding–usually the concrete business issues like inventories are too high, DSO is killing us–but we never get to the root of dissatisfaction, fear, future promise.
By not understanding our customers’ as individuals, we are missing a huge amount of discovery that impacts our ability to do the deal.
Our conversations can’t be just focused on the deal. We have to learn about our customers–it doesn’t take a lot of time. Often, it’s simply keen observation, maybe a few conversations about who they are. If they are distracted, frustrated in meetings, understanding what that is can help us learn who they are.
People buy from people. If we are to help them buy, we have to understand who they are as people, not just the business problem they want to solve.
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