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Embedding a “Customer Strategist” into sales teams for strategic opportunities can change the fate of strategic account planning and customer briefings.
Many key customer meetings fail because the sales team didn’t deeply understand and effectively exploit the opportunity – they didn’t do all their homework. The “opportunity” is not just what the team thinks it can sell. It is more about knowing how to best position and present what they can sell — given the corporate strategies, executive personalities and competitive offerings. And for that they need an information-fed customer strategy.
Cases in Point:
– A sales team planning to sell a large-scale enterprise IT solution to Sears Holdings changed its strategy after research found Sears was in no condition to make the purchase. Sears had serious IT deficiencies and greatly lagged its top competitors technologically. However, just post-merger with K-mart, the combined entity had serious leadership and decision-making issues, and the team now expected slow comprehension and execution of the solutions. Based on these findings the sales team decided to pitch smaller, point solutions, and provide a vision for longer term solutions.
– A leading IT outsourcing firm selling ERP services to a large chemical firm tweaked its positioning after research found that the firm’s new CIO was “in way over her head”. We learned that this CIO had no formal IT education, had just been hired away from a much smaller firm, and that her last ERP implementation was now failing miserably. Her new CEO had publicly promoted his new ERP plan and his new CIO as its champion. We suspected she was a bit overwhelmed. Based on this intelligence, the IT firm subtly positioned its ERP outsourcing service as a way to the take the load of her back, and even more delicately – as a way to save her job.
– At a customer briefing, the CIO of mid-size manufacturer began by asking the sales team if anyone was familiar with his firm’s business strategy. After an awkward silence, he dejectedly looked down and explained their strategy. Clear to me was that this deal was already lost – the sales team didn’t do its homework.
– Just recently, a state government CIO told me how frustrated she was with IT vendors lack of preparation — and respect, and she now insists that vendors understand their business strategy before they walk in her door. “This is public information”, she tells them, “Find it”.
…and the ugly
– I witnessed a Fortune 100 firm senior executive, in support of a regional sales team, fly cross-country to attend a regional executive briefing — and swore never to return as he witnessed an unprepared, unfocused sales team stumble its way through the meeting.
From what I have seen, too much expectation is put on each sales person to analyze their strategic customer opportunities – and so this analysis rarely gets done to any acceptable level. Customer meetings often take place with sales teams recognizing a lot more could have been known about the opportunity and decision makers. No real connection is made with attendees. Meetings meander. Presentations are less customized, executive speakers less focused, and conversations less relationship-oriented. Customers leave under-whelmed. Sales teams leave potential relationships on the table. Selling to strangers is a drag.
Despite the availability today of just about any customer information, few do the hard work of deep-dive customer analysis. Everyone recognizes the need for customer research before a meeting. Crucial information lies not just in SEC documents, Hoover’s and Crush reports, but also in blogs, Tweets, Facebook, LinkedIn, and every trade magazine and website on earth. Add to this your firm’s hidden internal knowledge both from former sales teams and from your Market Research team. Ignore the entirety of available strategy-setting customer intelligence and you are your competitors’ dog meat. Ok, that was harsh, but you get the point.
What is Deep-Dive Customer Analysis?
Deep-dive is digging further into issues, reading between the lines, and constantly asking why. Say you find a customer’s CEO quote in his quarterly earnings update that indicates a future 50% reduction in IT expenditures. Digging deeper is trying to find out why. What is driving this reduction? Are they simply finishing off a large IT contract or are they fundamentally changing their IT approach? How should you re-position your solution in light of these deeper findings?
The problem is this — Sales people simply don’t have the time, skill, or will to dig deep –and it is a tough assignment. Research is not their specialty — and I would argue that today it takes a specialist. Few world-class meetings result from second-rate research efforts.
Funny to me is how firms spend big bucks on McKinsey, Accenture, Gartner, IDC and even their own in-house research departments for overall market assessments, but when it comes to an actual, live strategic opportunity, they expect their sales people to Google and Hoover their way to the finish line. Why does quality research support stop when it is most needed and when the ROI is so clear?
Serving a nice hot beef brisket lunch to a CIO who had recently blogged about his family’s devotion to Veganism? Oops. I bet the competition served nice hot Soba Noodles with Peanut Sauce.
Public information may be your gift, but it’s also your burden.
Here’s a solution — and what some top firms do: Embed a “Customer Strategist” into sales teams for strategic accounts. Appoint a senior level analyst who understands the sales process, and who can gain the respect of, and influence “Type A” sales people and executives. The Customer Strategist is responsible for deeply analyzing select customer opportunities, and for helping to construct intelligence-fed account and meeting strategies. This person could also help coordinate customer briefings – ensuring sales strategies and presentations synch and reflect research findings.
The strategist’s role is to ask the sales team at each step of the sales cycle, “So what information do you need to close this deal?” Then they use their skills to answer these questions, and proffer their own ideas and recommendations. They filter, analyze and help integrate customer intelligence into the overall sales strategy. They ensure the sales team conducts a focused, coordinated, visionary, and relationship-building customer meeting.
The illustrations below depict the role of an embedded Customer Strategist:
Think about it – a more informed, focused, and relationship-directed sales strategy makes meetings more effective, efficient and fun. Everyone wins.
Participant Benefits – Everyone Wins
Customers –Needs better met, time better utilized, decision easier, more fun
–Reflects well on customers’ champion
Sales teams –More time to sell, more informed = more sales, shorter sales cycle
–Stronger customer relationships
–Builds internal camaraderie and satisfaction, stronger teams
–More motivated executives & BUs to support sales team in future
Executive Speakers –Less stress, more effective, better presentations
–Better able to establish executive level customer relationships
Sales Management –Better able to coach and monitor sales staff
–A more efficient, satisfied & successful sales organization
–A more willing executive and business units speaker pool
–Provides a knowledge management platform for account succession
Executive Briefing Programs –Higher close rate & ROI, higher value to sales teams
For big-ticket, strategic opportunities, having a professional “Customer Strategist” perform deep-dive research duties for sales teams will accelerate opportunities and relationships. Let the top sales people sell, and an embedded Customer Strategist support strategic opportunities – together they can deliver much more effective, focused, successful and fun customer meetings.
In future blogs, I will discuss more specifically how to dig deeply; what tools to use and how to spot business and individual drivers. I will also discuss how firms point to price as their customers’ chief concern, but research often proves them wrong, as they were leaving millions on the table.