Finding the customer
A quick scan of the Business Books section at your local bookstore will reveal a stunning array of tomes describing sales and marketing techniques, case studies, scandals and biographies. Within this overwhelming world of approaches and opinions is an endless variety of ways for you to improve your approach to acquiring and retaining new customers. Does it have to be this complex? Ultimately, the answer is “yes” and “no”. At its simplest, sales and marketing is about establishing relationships and working to sustain those relationships. Unfortunately, business relationships are as diverse and complex as those personal ones we navigate every day. For this discussion, let’s forget about the psychology of relationships. There are some simple things to consider when establishing your selling approach. The following list is a simple way to start thinking about the “mysterious” art of selling:

  1. Match your approach to your product – the first problem many organizations fail to notice in sales is the specific selling process required for their products AND their prospects. Higher volume, transactional sales situations often do not require or allow the sales person to establish a trusting relationship. Recognize this! Pushing prospects down the relationship path when they want a simple transaction can waste time and alienate the potential client. On the other hand, products that are more expensive or more complex coupled with complex decision processes require a more sophisticated approach to building multi-level relationships with decision makers and influencers. As simple as it may seem, remember to match the approach to the requirements of your product, customer and industry.
  2. Remember WIIFM – what’s in it for me? Another premise so simple in theory that it often becomes lost in the complex nuances of selling situations. If you cannot translate your product or services into a direct and quantifiable benefit for your client, you’re only hoping for success. Of course, hope is not a strategy. Value is foundational, without it, whatever your building is apt to crumble quickly.
  3. Hunting and farming require different skills – obvious? Apparently not. Many organizations continue to misapply sales resources by asking them to act in ways that are unnatural to them. Just as you wouldn’t ask your neurosurgeon to conduct heart surgery, you shouldn’t ask team members that are skilled in client acquisition to baby-sit existing customers. Apply the right talents in the right places. You do it in R&D, Finance and Legal – why not in business development?
  4. Match your product to your customer – a prevailing assumption among startup organizations is that if we build it, they (the customer) will come. After all, we’ve created the most brilliant innovation and everyone will naturally understand why they’ve got to buy it. Right? WRONG! Never assume that a prospective customer will understand the value of your product. It takes time to educate even the most educated prospect. To further complicate things, many startup organizations find that their assumptions on how their products will be purchased and implemented often miss the mark. Be open. Be flexible. Your first product often matches an unexpected customer – be prepared.

In the end, finding the customer begins with understanding your organization and offerings in the context of the prospective customer. Approaching companies in a way they understand with a message that relates to current needs is absolutely critical. We’ll discuss the science of uncovering those needs in future Perspectives articles.