The only reason that a customer would or even should consider doing business with us is that somehow we enhance their ability to attract and serve their customers.
If you are in sales, you know that feeling of satisfaction (or even elation) you get from closing a sale. It’s motivating and rewarding. However, the allure of “getting the win” can also be a potential trap for some of us. Here is what I mean…
For most of us who sell products or services in the B2B world, the sales transaction that we are focused on winning is typically just a small part of our customer’s overall value chain. In all likelihood, our goods and services are a raw material or enabling component in the production of their ultimate work product. Their focus — and rightly so — is on producing the most effective, efficient and profitable solutions possible in their market space. That is how they grow their business. Doing business with us is merely a part of that.
In other words, the only reason that a customer would or even should consider doing business with us is that somehow we enhance their ability to attract and serve their customers!
The Customer Value Trap
The risk that many of us face is forgetting to look past the sale. We get focused on delivering a solution to a customer as if that was the end of the value chain. We fail to look downstream and understand the proportional value that we are contributing to their customer’s experience. As a result, the questions we ask during the sales process can come across as narrow and even self-serving. We end up focusing too much on features or failing to effectively connect those features to perceived customer value because we lack a true understanding of how the customer connects our solutions with how they serve their customer.
The customer then starts to believe, whether accurately or not, that we are interested in the sale more than we are interested in them. By missing an opportunity to understand their perception of customer value, we essentially teach them to view us as a mere “vendor” instead of as a “partner.”
Customer Value: Find Your Fit
We are only valuable to our customers if we are valuable in some way to their customers. For some of us, that line can be pretty direct. We provide a raw material or a critical piece of the supply chain that directly impacts what their customer receives. However, for some it might not be as clear.
If you provide back-office solutions or somehow impact company overhead, for example, you may have to dig deeper to connect the dots that tie your value to their customer. But the effort is worth it. If you work to understand why their business exists and how they uniquely serve their customers, then you can position yourself as an essential part of that value chain.
Where do you begin? My advice is simple: Be genuinely inquisitive.
For many of us, this process can start before we ever even meet with a customer. During your preparation stage, do some foundational research to understand your customer’s business and their situation. This is more than just getting specs and data on their market size, number of locations, or even scope of products. What you are trying to understand is how they impact their customers. Look for sources of customer feedback, testimonials, organizations they list as partners or even how they serve their community. All of this is information that may be readily available online, and it can serve as a great starting point for you to engage in a genuine way.
Then, ask insightful questions that demonstrate that you have some understanding of the issues that are important to their business and their customers. Craft questions that are smart, challenging and strategic. Get them to share what’s on their mind, and challenge them to ponder something that hasn’t even occurred to them yet.
For example, think of questions that stop them in their tracks and have them wondering, “Should I be paying attention to that? I never thought about it that way before.” This is like striking gold. You demonstrate that you are truly interested in their success and that you’ve brought real value to their decision-making process.
Be careful not to use this information as a weapon, however. Look for opportunities to gain mutual insight, not just find an angle to leverage. View it as a shared discovery.
The Best Time to Start is Now
Right now, we’re all in the same boat. Everyone’s been disrupted. The good news is that in an environment like this, meaningful conversation stands out.
Look through your customer’s business to see the realities they’re facing:
- Find out how they are going to get back on track.
- Understand the impact this is having on their employees.
- Ask about how their customers have responded.
- Share some best practices or creative strategies that you have seen employed somewhere else.
- Be vulnerable, if appropriate.
It takes patience, curiosity and empathy to do this. You won’t find it in a canned sales script, and you can’t do it just to win in the moment. Start training your eyes to see through the transaction to the impact you can have on your customer’s customer. This is where your real customer value lies, and it is the best way to ensure that you are an essential partner for years to come.
Executive Partner & Board Member
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