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Sep 14 21

Are You Important To Your Customer?

by David Brock

I have to admit, and apologize to a few folks, I lost it in a meeting today.

We were talking about an account strategy. The sales person wanted to meet with the top executives of a very large corporation. I’d been asked to help strategize this and help figure out how they attract the attention to the top executives.

“How is what you do important to these executives?” I asked.

“Well they spend a lot of money on us,” replied the sales person, “They should be interested in talking to us.”

“I know they are one of our largest customers, but why would they be interested in talking to us?” I replied.

The sales person was getting frustrated. “Well they are important to us!”

“I know they are important to us, but why are we important to them?” I replied.

The sales person was getting frustrated, he just wanted to get on with the conversation to meet with a senior executive at the company and my questions were slowing him down.

While he was trying to respond, I happened to be looking at that organization’s 10-K.

“They spend a lot of money every year with us, so we have to be important to them,” he said definitively.

“Well last year, what they spent on us was less than 0.01% of all their spending. We’re a rounding error in their P&L, so why are we important to them, why should they want to meet with us?” I replied.

As you might guess, the conversation stopped…..at least for a few moments. The sales person was annoyed, I suspect he thought I was derailing his strategy and not supporting what he wanted to do.

This sales person isn’t unusual. Too often, we think that just because the customer is important to us, just because they may spend what we think is a lot of money, we may not be important to the customer.

We have to be able to articulate our importance, in business terms to our customers, not based on what they spend. The reality is our importance probably has little to do with how much the customer spends on us, but rather what we help them achieve.

In the case of this particular account, looking at the same 10-K, then looking at their most recent analyst report, we were critically important to the customer. As we looked at their top 4 strategic initiatives, my client’s solutions were on the critical path of 3 of them. While we were a small part of the overall spend, the ability of the customer to achieve their goals was entirely dependent on the solutions my client provided. (Think, “For the loss of a horseshoe, a kingdom was lost.”)

Sadly, the sales person never understood this. He never took the time to put the pieces together, or connect the dots. He didn’t realize, also, that he could dramatically expand the relationship by serving more of this organization’s needs.

The sales person should have been able to start figuring this out, but he never took the time. There was reason for the top executives of the company to meet with us. While what they were currently spending on us was small, from their point of view, it was important to what they wanted to achieve.

More importantly, the sales person suddenly realized, we could and should be selling much more to support this customer’s ability to execute their strategy.

The sales person was lucky in this case, it turns out we had the opportunity to reposition our solutions and grow quite substantially with the customer. We had figured out why we were important and why these top executives should invest their time in talking to us (plus we now knew what to talk to them about.)

But what if things aren’t so dramatic? We have to do the same thing. We always have to be able to answer the questions, “Why are we important to the customer,” and “Who are we important to?” We should always be talking to the people with whom we are important. But that may not be at the top. And trying to meet with people with whom we can’t create direct value is a waste of their time, and tarnishes our brand equity.

If we cannot determine who we might be important to and the value we create with them, we have no business selling to the customer.

Sep 13 21

Stop Wasting Time Prospecting!

by David Brock

95% of our prospecting is just wasted time, so just stop it! It’s too much time to find that 5% who want to talk, and if they really do, they’ll reach out to you anyway, inbound is so much easier.

Think about all the time you are wasting. You are sending those 1000’s of emails–granted, it doesn’t really take that much time, you’ve automated it. You only have to hit a few keys and you can send 100’s of emails to unsuspecting people. “Dave, I’d like to tell you about our products….”

You follow those with phone calls, that’s much more time consuming, even if you have an intelligent dialing system that only connects you to the few people that pick up the phone. “Dave, I’d like to tell you about our products……”

And you know that multi-channel is important, so you have automated tools to help you reach out to 100’s of unsuspecting people on LinkedIn. You can send an invitation to connect, “Dave, let’s connect. I’d like to tall you about our products…” or an InMail, which eliminates the “let’s connect” element.

Technology has saved us a lot of time, it does much of the work for us. But it still takes time to do that. And we know it takes 14 plus touches to get someone to respond, so we recycle, “Dave did you get my email/phone call/LinkedIn note about how I’d like to tell you about our products….”

We do that a number of times, finally sending a note/call/LinkedIn message, “I just wanted to check one more time to see if we can talk…..I won’t bother you any more…..”

We actually bother them another 2-3 times, just to be sure.

We do this, knowing we will get very few responses, but our managers our measuring us on the number of outreach attempts we make every day. “How many emails, how many dials, how many LinkedIn messages did you do? What were the results? Do MORE!!!”

We are wasting our time. We know the customers don’t want to talk to us. We know the one’s that do are already searching and reaching out, because they have their digital buying journeys.

If that’s the method of prospecting, just STOP! You are wasting your time. Clip this article out and show it to your managers to help convince them.

Go back to your desk and work on your resume, because you know your manager will fire you and hire someone to go through the same cycle again.

But there are a few sales people that have very different results. They don’t go through the same routines, but somehow their prospecting works. But they approach prospecting differently.

Rather than finding people who want to hear about our products, they find people who they can help and want that help.

First they do their research. They focus on their ICP, they know those are the segments where they can help the customer. They narrow it further, figuring out who, within the ICP, might need the help now! Their deep understanding of the customer, business, and these problems helps them identify those who are likely to be most in need.

Because of their deep knowledge, because they have a history of being helpful, their customer help them. They say, “Go talk to so and so, tell them how you helped me….” or “Let me introduce you to so and so, I suspect they need your help….” These referrals are interesting, they are never, “These guys have a fantastic product you should buy!” They are always, “These guys helped us solve this problem, you might want to talk to them….”

These sales people talk to the prospects about their work, where they have problems, where they have opportunities. They talk to the customer about things similar customers are doing, connecting those people with each other to learn. The conversations are different because they are curious about what the customer is doing, they want to learn, they care. They don’t talk about their products, because they know the customer doesn’t care–yet.

They know the customer wants to talk–about themselves, and what they want to do. So they ask the customers questions to get them to share those. They ask what’s standing in their way and what they are doing about it. They recognize the customer may not know there is something they might do so they bring insights and stories.

And they still don’t talk about products.

Their focus is only on the customer, helping them learn, helping them think, helping them realize they might change.

They keep pursuing these conversations, waiting for the magic words, “Can you help me?”

If your customer doesn’t want help, telling them about your products won’t change anything.

If your customer doesn’t recognize they need help, telling them about your products wastes their time–if they give you that time.

If the customer doesn’t want you to help them, then telling them about your products is wasting everyone’s time.

These helpful sales people do struggle in their prospecting, primarily because of all that everyone else has done to poison the well, talking about their products. But they have a higher chance of breaking through, because their outreach is different, and eventually a customer will listen and want to talk.

These sales people don’t focus on volume. They don’t widen their search to get higher numbers of prospecting calls. In fact, they narrow their search focusing only on those people highly likely to need help.

If you don’t know how you can help a prospect–not generally, but specifically. If you don’t know if the customer is likely to be interested in getting help. If you your desire to sell a product is stronger than your desire to help. Stop prospecting! You are wasting your time and your prospects’ time. Work on your resume instead.

Sep 13 21

Are We Having The Right Conversations?

by David Brock

I was talking to a great sales person the other day. We’ve been talking for several months about how to improve his prospecting. In our last discussion, he said, “Things have changed completely, I’m now having the right conversations with my prospects!”

It’s a common challenge, we struggle to get our customers to respond, we struggle to engage, we don’t make the progress we hope for.

The problem is we usually focus on our agenda, the things we want to talk about. Too often, that’s about what our company does and what our products do. Sometimes, we present these in the context of “Do you have these issues, we can help……..”

Sometimes, we may try to identify the customer potential needs for the things we do. Yet too often, the customer doesn’t know they should have those needs. Or we want to talk about their problems and challenges, but they may not have those problems–or at least recognize they have those problems.

We have to shift the conversations we are having with our customers. We have to engage them in discussing the things they want to talk about. It may be about the problems and challenges–they may have recognized there are things they could do differently.

The sales person I was talking to had shifted his strategy. He was talking to customers about what they wanted to talk about. Before attempting the call, he did some things:

  • He was more focused on contacting customers in his ICP. He knew they the things they would be more likely to want to talk about were things in which he could have a meaningful conversation.
  • He did his homework, researching the customer organization and individuals. He really wanted to figure out what they were most likely interested in talking about.
  • He was prepared, he started developing insights—not about his product, but about things that were happening in the customer’s industry and markets. He didn’t know what would resonate with them, but he at least figured a good starting point.
  • He started trying to set customer expectations before the call, he tried reaching out by email or over social channels to lay the groundwork for a conversation. Not everyone responded, but he noticed something. Often, when he called, people recalled the email. Even when they didn’t, writing the email helped him prep for what he intended to talk about. It helped him structure and plan the conversation.

It didn’t work 100 percent of the time. Customers were still wary of talking to a sales person. But, for the conversations he had, he found significantly greater interest on the part of the prospect in a follow up conversation.

It is tough to engage our customers in conversations. We have to do our homework and be prepared. For those customers willing to have a conversation, we have to make sure we talk about what the customer wants to talk about.

Sep 11 21

September 11, 2021

by David Brock

Today, we will read dozens of heartfelt remembrances of 20 years ago. I’ve already read a few from friends who were supposed to be in those buildings at the time. Their writing brings back stark memories.

I spent the first 12 formative years of my career in Manhattan. Through the 80’s much of my time was spent “downtown” in the financial district. For a couple of years, I actually had an office in Tower1. Windows on the World was a favorite gathering spot. The conference center on the floors immediately adjacent were places both Kookie and I spent lots of time.

On September 10, 2001, I returned from a 3 week business trip in Sub-Sahara Africa. It was my first time to that part of Africa. I had been helping a client set up their distribution network in the region. We traveled all over, meeting with dozens of distributors, developing business plans, kicking off their selling programs. I met so many fascinating people and had experiences I have always treasured.

On the morning of September 11, I was sitting in my office, catching up on 3 weeks of stuff that had piled up. Kookie came running into my office saying, “Turn on the TV!!” It was shortly after the first plane had hit the tower. Over the ensuing hours, we witnessed the tragedies millions of others were seeing at the same time.

We were on the phones calling friends, relatives, colleagues in Manhattan, checking in on them. Others were calling us, asking “Are you still in Manhattan?” Dozens of calls and messages came in from my newly made friends in Africa. Many were Muslim, saying, “I hope you don’t think these actions are representative of what we feel….”

Over the ensuing days, we learned we had lost 3 colleagues. They were people who had worked for Kookie–they were at a conference and had no chance. In the months that followed, all our friends and colleagues in Manhattan had friends, relatives that were in the buildings, emergency responders, or in the area. The list of people we knew directly or indirectly grew.

One of the things I remember so vividly of that period is how it seemed to bring people together. Some in anger around how this could have happened. Some in remembrance of friends and relatives lost. Most just needing and offering support.

But what I remember were people working together, trying to make sense of things, trying to move forward in their lives, trying to understand. There were disagreements in the ensuing months, vigorous debates. But somehow, one got the sense that underlying these things going on, not just in my community, but across the country and world, we were trying to come closer together. While there were differences and disagreements, we found way to come together and move forward.

Fast forward to today, 20 years later. On reflection, I question some of the things that were done in the months/years afterwards. In the moment, they seemed more right than wrong. But with 20 years perspective, it causes one to think.

But more importantly, I look at where we as a society are. Polarized, intolerant, unable to have disagreements and respect differences in perspectives, unable to even agree on facts/data. We are in a world where, “I’m right and you are wrong” dominates, with no attempt to learn, understand, and perhaps shift our positions. We want to move forward, but sadly, not together. As a result we are moving, not forward, but further apart.

We are facing our own tragedies–Covid, Storm/Fires/Other Climatic Events, Racial/Gender/Religious and other divisions. Economic/social disruption, and more.

But instead of trying to come together, we seem to be pushing each other away, often very violently. In moments, it leaves me feeling empty, sad, disillusioned, and hopeless. This morning, though, as I reflect on the events of 20 years ago, I have some sense of resilience. We found ways to put aside differences and come together then. We can surely find ways to do so now.

I hope on September 11, 2041, I can write my reflections on today, saying it was a time of great turmoil, disruption, tragedy, and disagreement. But we found ways to come together.