As sales professionals, we’re supposed to really understand our customers-their markets, industries, businesses, functions–and their jobs. It’s critical in engaging them in discussions about the things the care about. It’s critical to be able to relate to them on their terms so we are credible and can build a trusted relationship.
So it’s easy to say that. If we’re lucky, marketing has provided us a lot of content and tools to help us better understand. We may have training on the industries and markets. We may have various “personas” that help us understand the roles of the people we call on.
But in reality, we struggle to relate. We can read about “CFO’s”, if those are our target customers. We can get a lot of data about them, even the LinkedIn profile of a specific individual. But unless we’ve been a CFO, it’s really difficult to “understand” them, to “know” what they worry about, how they think, how best to engage and connect with them.
Unless we’ve walked in our customers’ shoes, it’s really difficult to understand what they really do, how they think, what the work of a CFO, VP of Manufacturing, or whoever it is, is really about.
So how do we fix this? We can’t go out and be a CFO for a few years, or a VP of Manufacturing, or a VP of Human Resources, or whatever it might be. Without actually doing the job, how do we better understand what our customers do?
It’s actually not that hard–I’m amazed at how few people do this. But virtually every company has the people doing similar jobs to those our customers do. Or we have friends who do the jobs our customers do.
Your company has a CFO. If you make products, you have a VP of Engineering/Development, a VP of Manufacturing, and so forth. They face similar challenges to those our customers face. How they spend their days is not dissimilar to our customers. The things that worry them are pretty similar. They get sales people calling them every day, they have opinions about why they see sales people, what they want to hear.
So if we really want to find our what our customers do, if we want to try to walk in their shoes, make an appointment with the person who has the same title or holds a similar job in your company.
Ask the 1o,ooo questions you always wanted to ask a customer but were afraid to? Ask them the silly questions:
- What does your typical day look like? How do you find yourself spending your time?
- How are you measured? How does that impact what you do?
- How do you set priorities for your function? How do you manage your team?
- What kinds of reports do you look at to know whether your team is doing what they should? Would you mind walking through one with me?
- What kinds of things do you talk about in your staff meetings? Do you mind if I sit in one sometime?
- What are the biggest difficulties you face in doing your job?
- What are the biggest issues you and people in your function face?
- What are your dreams? What are your goals?
- What keeps you awake at night?
- What do you read to keep updated with things going on in your function and industry? What blogs, what magazines? How do you keep informed and up to date?
- What’s your reaction to sales people who are trying to meet with you? How do you decide which sales people you will meet with, which you will push to someone else, and who you will ignore?
- What do you like to see a sales person talk about in meetings with you?
- What do you see sales people doing really badly when they meet with you?
- What did the best sales person you ever worked with do to earn your respect?
- What about gate keepers? (You may also want to talk to that person’s assistant and ask them similar questions.)
- How do you like to be sold to? How do you buy?
- When you decide to buy something, how do you really get the approval, how do you really get things done?
- How knowledgeable about your function do you expect sales people to do?
The list can go on and on—they’re busy people, so respect their time. But leverage these people in your company. They have a vested interest in your success–it keeps them working.
While every organization is a little different, and individuals are different, you would be amazed at how much your VP of Manufacturing can teach you about what VP’s of Manufacturing do. It will make you much more comfortable in your next customer meeting.
Talk to people who do the jobs similar to those your customers do. Learn from them, they’ll give you a glimpse into their jobs and lives. Later on, you can also talk to your customers about the very same thing.