“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.