I’ve always sought to understand my prospects’ and my customers’ business better than they do. I study target market sectors, understanding the dynamics in the markets, key issues the players face, key trends, potential opportunities, threats. I look at financial performance, key operational issues, disruptive strategies and so forth.
When I target a prospect, I do a deep dive into learning as much about them as I can. If they are public, I analyze their financial and operational performance. I compare that performance to their competitors. I look at everything I can trying to learn as much as I could.
My goal was always to understand their business better than they do, using that, to bring insights and ideas about how they might do better, opportunities they might have, how they can grow. Even helping them understand what they are doing wrong.
I’ve come to realize there’s a lot of arrogance in that thought. The idea that I can understand their business better than they do is simply wrong. The idea that I create value by showing them this knowledge actually creates no value. Possibly it alienates them. Afterall, who wants a “know it all,” who hasn’t been deeply involved, telling them what they should change.
I’ve realized, my greatest value is not to understand their business better than they, rather to help them understand their business better than they currently do. To help them identify problem areas, opportunities to grow, things they can do differently.
They will always understand their business better than I do, after all, they live in the business every day! But what they may not understand is, “Can they get better? Can they do things differently? Are they missing something?”
I don’t necessarily know the answers to those questions, but the value I create with them is helping them ask those questions of themselves, to help them think differently, to help them understand how they might move forward. Often, it’s because I don’t understand their business as well as they, but because I ask questions out of ignorance or inexperience, it causes them to pause, reflect, rethink.
One client, who’s now a good friend said, “Dave, sometimes you ask the dumbest questions about our business. But we’ve forgotten to challenge ourselves with those questions, as a result we’ve missed a lot of opportunity.”
We can never know our customers’ businesses better than they. But we can help them think differently about their business. We bring deep experience of others who face similar challenges or problems. We have experience of how we helped them better understand those issues and how, together, we helped them address those issues. We know questions they should be asking themselves, but get to discover the answers to those questions with them. We know how to take those answers and help them understand how they might address them, and where we can help. We learn, together, how to move forward helping them develop and implement plans to address these issues.
While it is impossible for us to understand our customers’ businesses better than they, we still have to understand as much as we can. All the research I mentioned I always did, I still do, but that prepares me to help them challenge themselves with the important questions and issues.
There are some things we can know better than they. We can become more knowledgeable about problems and how to address them. We can become more knowledgeable about questions they might challenge themselves with and what they might do. We can become better at helping them manage the process–because we work with others in doing the same things. We can offer broader and different perspectives to help them think differently, because we see so much more than they get to see.
It is the height of arrogance to think that we could possibly understand our customers’ businesses better than they. But the greatest value we can create is helping them understand their businesses better than they currently do, and helping them learn how to grow and improve, continually changing and outperforming their competition.