We all know how important strategic customer meetings are — you never get a second chance to make a great first impression. In this article, I discuss how “must-win” customer meetings can fall flat, and how intelligently applied customer analysis can change the game.
More specifically, I introduce the role of an embedded “Briefing Insight Strategist” as a member of the sales team, to focus on understanding customer strategy and aligning it with what your company offers.
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.
Widely available public information may be your gift, but it’s also your burden.
Here’s a solution — and what some top firms do: Embed a “Briefing Insight Strategist” into sales teams for strategic accounts. Appoint or hire a senior level consultant who understands the sales process, and who can gain the respect of, and influence “Type A” sales people and executives. The Strategist is responsible for deeply analyzing select customer opportunities, and for helping to construct intelligence-fed account and meeting strategies.
The Strategist’s should ask the sales team; “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.
This illustration depicts the role of a Briefing Insight Strategist:
For big-ticket, strategic opportunities, having a professional “Briefing Insight Strategist” perform deep-dive research duties for sales teams will accelerate opportunities and relationships. Let the top sales people sell, and an embedded Strategist support strategic opportunities – together they can deliver much more effective, focused and fun customer meetings.