How well do you know your customer? More importantly, do you know what motivates them to do business with you? While customer’s desires vary according to demographics, market sector, etc… there is one behavior that shines through as a powerful driver of purchase intention — and that is listening to and understanding customer motivations.
I would like to share two simple stories to illustrate the same core issue:
First: Jane was the director of Knowledge Management at one of the major international consulting firms. She owned the budget for all of the firm’s market research activities, including contracts with Gartner, Forrester, and Yankee Group.
What set my research company apart was our openness — we made our analysts easily accessible to our clients, in contrast to many of our competitors. We didn’t hide them behind an 800 number and a call screener — and this differentiated us in the marketplace.
Jane’s account was one of my biggest contracts; I had a large renewal of a two-year deal, and if I missed it…well, you can imagine. I looked at her company’s utilization (how often they accessed our research and contacted our analysts). They barely touched us. No one from the company was calling our analysts–and it was a large organization with nearly one hundred thousand employees.
I asked Jane why. She explained that her department charged back an allocated cost whenever anyone called one of our analysts. Jane’s organization was dividing the cost of the subscription and charging it to the departments only when they called us. Jane was charging departments over $500 an hour to talk to our analysts. Obviously, they didn’t want their budgets hit, so they avoided calling us.
I arranged to give Jane’s company an extra allotment of analyst calling hours for a specific time if her department didn’t chargeback for utilization. Not surprisingly, utilization increased and many more potential users became aware of our value.
Lesson from above: you can have the most powerful value proposition – and an excited buying center — but other policies within the organization can undermine your success. Make sure you understand the way that your offering works its way through your customer — who is involved — there may be much more going on than you are aware.
Here’s the second example — one that still makes me smile.
I was with the same research firm, and I had a mid-sized renewal with a regional reseller of wireless services. I looked up their utilization, as in the prior example. The company never used any of our services. Not a good sign. As before, no utilization can mean you’re dead; it’s over – no renewal. For me, this was bad news. If I lost a renewal this big, we risked missing quota.
So I called and left voicemails — even sent faxes — urgently communicating, “Let us help you figure out how our services can work for you. We can make this work.”
I had a week left before the renewal deadline. I called early mornings and late nights in hopes that I would get my contact Lisa on the line. One early morning, a day before the due date, she finally picked up. “Is this about the renewal?” she asked nonchalantly. “What do we need to do for it?”
I explained that a simple signature on a renewal form was all that was needed. Lisa said, “Okay, send me the paperwork, and I’ll sign and fax it back.” Like any seasoned sales professional, I bit my tongue, shut up, and sent the paperwork. I got it back, signed, in about five minutes.
At first, I didn’t get it. Then I realized: customers don’t always see you the way you do.
I thought I was selling a great, useful product and service. Lisa knew that our analysts wrote about the telecom industry. She wanted her company to be written up and well-covered. Lisa believed that analysts would give a more favorable spin to companies that were subscribers, though that wasn’t true at my firm — or at other reputable competitors. However, it was her perception. We were just a “PR spend” and she just wanted to stay in our good graces.
Remember to prepare your go-to-market plan — while looking at the marketplace to find competitive advantages to exploit — with a real sense of the customer at the heart of your planning. Right or wrong, you’ve got to know why your customers want to do business with you. If you don’t know or understand their motives, you won’t know the quickest route to sealing the deal.
Adapted from the eBook, “Know Thy Customer” by Jose Palomino