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You Need To Know What’s Keeping Them Up At Night!

by David Brock on April 27th, 2011

“What’s keeping you up at night?”  It’s a classic question many sales people use to start identifying their customers’ needs and priorities.  In reality, however, it’s a terrible starting point.  It may mean, you haven’t done your homwork in preparing for the call, particularly with senior executives.

Great sales professionals study their customers and prospects deeply.  They understand the industry, they understand their customer’s customers, they understand the key strategies and goals of each of their customers.  As much as possible, they study and learn what’s happening within their organizations.  Great sales people are able to put themselves in their customer’s shoes.  Based on their understanding of all that’s going on, a great sales person should be able to say, “If I were in the customer’s shoes, based on my understanding of what they are trying to achieve, and this executive, this is what should be keeping them up at night…..”

If we don’t haven’t done the research, if we don’t have enough understanding of the key issues, we are not prepared to have the level of conversation our customers expect us to have with them.  Don’t get me wrong–you probably won’t be able to pinpoint the exact issues, but you should be pretty close.  You don’t even have to be “right,” just having some insight into the issues they are or may be facing separates you from everyone else.

Several years ago, I was prospecting a company.  I had done a lot of work in the industry and had a good understanding of the issues each key player in the industry faced, their general strategies, challenges and competitive positioning.  This company was a publicly held company–I researched their website, analyst reports, and financial reports.  I knew no one in the company and was trying to reach the CEO.  Based on my assessment, I identified three exposures the company faced in achieving its growth goals.  I wrote the CEO a letter asking for a meeting, saying, “based on what I’ve seen going on in the industry and your company, I can imagine these issues may be of great concern…”

I followed up the letter with a call to the CEO.  I reached her assistant, introduced myself, asking if the CEO was available.  Immediately, the assistant said, “Yes, Mr. Brock, we received your letter and she is most anxious to speak with you.  I can connect you with her right now….”

The conversation was interesting.  It was clear the CEO had my letter in front of her and had studied it.  She said, “you clearly understand the key things I am trying to address.  A couple of them, we believe we already have solutions on—but there is no way you could have known about them because we have been keeping that work very secret until we launch.  But I’m really interested in talking to you–it’s clear to me, with your insight into our industry and company, you can really help us…..”  We went on and established a great relationship, with our company doing a number of projects for her and her people.

See there’s something interesting about knowing “what keeps your customers up at night.”  Even if you really don’t know the specifics, you have repositioned yourself to be a valuable resource and provide great insight.  You have already changed the conversation–you are able to jump right into the things that are of most concern to them.  You are able to immediately start providing insight and value.  You have already proven yourself and earned the right to spend their valuable time.

Knowing what keeps your customers up at night doesn’t necessarily require huge research and great insight.  It means understanding your customer, what their job is, having enough knowledge to know what their concerns might be.  Whether your customer is a CEO, an office manager, a purchasing agent, an engineer, a manufacturing supervisor, or an accounting manager, you can know “what keeps them up at night.”  Studying the company, industry, having a good level of understanding about how businesses work will help you develop this insight.

Before you call on your customer, ask yourself the question, “Do I know what keeps my customer awake at night?”  If you don’t, cancel the call.  You aren’t ready, you’ll waste your time and the customer’s–you won’t improve your possibility of finding and qualifying an opportunity or winning a deal.  Take that time to do your homework, then meet when you are prepared.

From → Transformation

  1. During a recent Q&A session with Jill Konrath about prospecting, I asked what she thought about letters with follow-up phone calls like the one you mention here. She was 1 degree on the positive side of lukewarm.

    Do you think snail mail of this type is deprecated or does it have a place in the modern world?

    • Gary, I think this is part of doing your homework–which includes the preferred modes of communication the customer has. First, this specific example was about 12 years ago–I knew this CEO preferred written communications (in fact her assistant printed out relevant emails, which she wrote her response on). Even today, this particular individual (who now runs a Venture Fund) has a preference for written letters. I can do some quick communications via email, but the substantive communications are always through letters and the phone.

      Right now, I am working on a project where we are looking at connecting with buyer’s in a very specific role (buyer persona). What’s interesting is that we have found these people tend to respond much better to a “mailed” piece rather than email–even further, handwritten addresses on the envelope have triple the open rates of typed addresses.

      We have to do what’s appropriate for our customers. We have to learn how they want to communicate–we see some people liking snail mail, some prefering email, some prefering texts, and so forth. All this is part of learning “what keeps your client up.” I really like a lot of the work being done in the area of Buyer Persona’s. Doing this well helps us accomplish what we are trying to achieve. Regards, Dave

  2. There’s a reason traditional methods work, because they come from years of tried and true. Presenting yourself as an expert in your industry isn’t about who yells louder, sends more emails/newsletters, or has more social networking ‘friends’. I agree with Mr. Brock’s simple and true statements that it’s about how well you know your industry and your customer, and then figuring out how to create value for them. In this golden age of automation, it’s easy to forget that quality trumps quantity every time and I truly hope that insight, combined with personal connection never goes out of style. Thanks for a great article!

    • Michele: Thanks for the comment and the nice words. Selling is so much easier if we focus on our customers–understanding their businesses, what they are trying to achieve, how we can help. Too often in the “press of doing business” we overlook that and just pitch our products, forcing the customer to figure things out, rather than, as you state, helping them figure things out.

      Thanks for joining the conversation. Hope to see you here frequently. Regards, Dave

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