Over the course of your sales career, I’m sure there have been times when you looked back and thought, “If only I took more time to understand what was going on with my customers, I would have been more prepared and more than likely they would have purchased from me.” These customers could have been the difference in winning a sales award, making a higher bonus, or even earning that desired promotion.
Through my years of experience as a sales leader and currently as a sales coach, I believe the foundation of any competent sales professional is to be a subject matter expert in the product or service they are selling. However, there are many aspects of sales that fall through the gaps of traditional corporate sales training. I don’t subscribe to the conventional wisdom that suggests these gaps will be filled with experience. One of those gaps I often see is the neglect sales professionals exhibit when it comes to knowing all there is to know about their key current and prospective customers. Failure to know your customer will kill your sales.
Why? Your customers don’t trust you! And why should they? Your customers are expected to spend money with someone they see every now and then — a person who claims to have the answers to all of their problems. Really? Customers inherently question sales people, particularly if they can’t answer “yes” to questions such as: “Do you care about me and my business,” or “will you be there for me when I need help?” If your customers say “no” to these questions, it will be extremely challenging to earn their business, no matter how good your product or service is. In some instances, you may get the sale in the short term, but the minute a competitor comes along with a better price and a better job at providing a resounding “yes” to the questions above, you can say buh-bye to your customer.
Here are my five simple and proven techniques that will help give you better insight into knowing your customers and what makes them tick. (Also, these things will help you to not tick them off.)
- When you are in a customer’s office, observe the things that are on their desk, walls and even the décor. Do this on every call as things may change. You will find plenty of material that will provide additional insight into your customer.
- There is this little thing called the Internet that most people have access to on their phone, tablet and computer! (Hints of sarcasm here.) All seriousness, always Google the names of the people with whom you are meeting, as well as the organization.
- For publicly traded companies, consider looking at their quarterly earnings or annual reports. You will find a treasure trove of valuable information.
- Check out your customers on social media to get a feel for their interests, ideas, affiliations and like-connections.
- Arrive early to your appointment, to chat with the receptionist or assistant to see if there are any recent scoops they would be willing to share with you.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but just a few things to help you get the picture. You can never know too much about your prospective customers, as it will help you learn how to connect with them beyond the transaction of goods and services. In addition, never take your current customers for granted. It is often a challenge to mix things up due to message fatigue. Stay current and interject how much you care to know about them. Products and services do not sell themselves — people like you do. Human nature leads us to ultimately do business with the people we like. We like people that we know. Put it all together, and the more that you know your customers, the better chance you have at not only winning their business, but retaining them, too.
Kirk, an ATDC startup catalyst, has a deep background in the life sciences industry, with experience related to the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, nanotechnology, diagnostic, and medical device sectors.