Do you remember the fable of the mouse who saved the lion from the hunter’s net? It wasn’t written about sales in today’s economy, but it could have been. When the mouse (you) saves the lion (your customer) from the net (your customer’s pain), they become lifelong friends. In sales, untangling your customer from their pain points could mean a professional lifetime of value and profit. The trick is discovering what makes up “the net.” To truly get to know your customer, you must view the sales process through their eyes, both as they serve their own customers, and as you serve them.
Why do so few sales professionals know their customers well? First, in today’s information-drenched world it’s hard to figure out where to start. Secondly, if an organization examines its processes, rarely do they incorporate a complete analysis from the customer’s perspectives. Here are 4 things your customers wish you’d do to get to know them better.
Walk a mile in their shoes.
I mean literally walk. Get out of the office, get away from your computer, and go visit your customer. Oh, and leave the catalog and sales materials on your desk; this visit is about your customer, not you.
Before your visit:
Identify three of your clients that fit into one or more of your ideal market segments. Read the first post in the series for a refresher on how to clarify your target customer. The first step is to understand what a customer goes through serving THEIR clients and customers.
When you visit:
1. Walk through the sales process with each customer to understand how they provide value to their customers. How do their customers interact with them? How do they provide value to their customers? What helps them do it? You’re digging for the solutions they offer their customers, internal and external, not the products themselves. In essence, you are seeing through the eyes of the lion and trying to define the net.
2. Ask questions and record the answers. Your role on this visit is as an investigator. If you’re as much a crime genre junkie as I am, you’ll know that detectives reveal no information. They ask questions and follow those questions with more. Remember that you’re not there to sell, you’re there to learn. Three must-have questions to get to know your customers are: “What works for you? What isn’t working? What’s on your wishlist to make your job easier and more successful?
3. Go through your notes when you return to the office. What are some problems, or pain points, your customer is facing that you can help alleviate? Keep the notes handy; you’ll need them.
After your first three clients, schedule one client meeting a month with other clients to stay on top of their needs. One and down won’t work in a market that changes so quickly. While you’re discovering what your customers need, you’re also strengthening your relationships with them. Bonus!
What you’re practicing is ethnographic techniques, and not all ethnography can be done by direct observation of your customers. I love this Harvard Business Review article about the pros and cons of getting your customer information directly from the source. Check it out if you want to learn more about ethnography.
Follow the “paper” trail.
Use this technique for a thorough understanding of any pain points your customers face when working with you. Of course, not all our customer activities happen on paper, but imagining a physical object flowing through your sales process can uncover customer touchpoints you may have overlooked. Seeing each interaction with your company through the customer’s eyes will help you uncover gaps in what your customers expect and what you deliver as an organization and as a salesperson. You’ll also reveal points of value that will help you sell your goods and services.
Before you begin:
Figure out where your customer’s sales journey with your company begins. Start where your customer starts. Do they learn about you from an email, the website, or a sales call? As you go through and take your notes, you can use this sales journey template to keep track of what you learn.
The journey has begun:
1. Once you ask a question or place an order, who gets it? Follow each touchpoint through your sales process from ordering to invoicing and even after payment is made. What happens when the process is smooth? What happens when it’s not? If you’re wondering what to take notes on, at each point ask the following three questions: What does the customer want? What does the customer need? What does the customer get? In some places, you’ll find your company is exceeding expectations. Yes! Use that in your sales presentation. In other areas, you’ll find a service gap. For now, just keep track of what you find.
2. In addition to asking yourself questions at each customer touchpoint, ask the people who do the work for feedback. Some of us have small organizations. If that’s true, then ask the vendors you outsource your work to for their input. If you’re a one-person shop, you can skip this step. For businesses with employees who handle sales, billing, customer service, and more. Ask your employees the same questions: What does the customer want, need, and what do they get? Ask them for their input on the gap as they see it – you might be surprised at how your answers differ.
3. Again, it’s time to reflect. Where is your company contributing to your customer’s pain? How do you have a hand in weaving the “net.” Where is your company able to offer solutions to customer pain points you discovered in step one, “Walk a Mile in Their Shoes”? Are there obstacles to sharing your value with the customer? What are they? Make detailed notes so you can go back to them when it’s time to take action.
Seeing your sales and fulfillment process through your customer’s eyes allows you to do two things. Firstly, you get a firm idea of the highs and lows of working with your company. Secondly, you can share the benefits of working with your company from their perspective–which is the only perspective that matters to them. Ah, but you’re not done. Read on.
Scour your customer calls.
If you don’t have a structure in place to capture, track, and analyze customer complaints and suggestions — create one now. When your customer takes the time to tell you what they want and need, it’s imperative that you listen. Once your system is in place, take the following steps.
1. Create a system to code calls, emails, and other customer feedback. Not all businesses use customer satisfaction surveys, but every business can encourage customers to call, email, or post their recommendations for change. Respond to any dissatisfied customers on social media, but don’t stop with the response — analyze the patterns. Code each customer interaction so you can sort them by touchpoint, pain point, service breakdown type, wishlist suggestions, and praise.
2. On a monthly basis, review the data. Look for ideas that help you sell against your competitors. Note, I don’t mean bad mouth your competitors, but explain how you are different–your competitive advantage. Are your customers giving you ideas for new products? Where are the opportunities to alleviate pain points? Who would be willing to write reviews or testimonials?
I worked with escalated customer calls early in my career, so I know how difficult it can be to hear past the anger our customers can feel. I got through each day by reminding myself that they wouldn’t call if they didn’t care. These most vocal customers are our best customers. They’ve given us a chance to grow, change, and make a difference in their lives.
Now, what do you do with all this information?
Plot it out and develop your wishlist.
Until you organize and analyze the notes you took, they won’t help you take intentional action to sell more. Keep these “formulas” in mind.
Your customers want you to discover who they are, what they need, and how you can help them. They want you to KNOW them. I’ll share two tools with you that have helped me understand my customer’s needs and sell more.
1. Sales Journey Map
Gather all your notes from your customer visits, tracking the sales journey, and scouring customer feedback. Then, organize them under each customer touchpoint in your sales process. It’s helpful to brainstorm with an employee, a partner or mentor to make sure your list of touchpoints is complete. Then, organize your notes into the following categories:
- What does your customer want?
- What does your customer need to get to the next touchpoint?
- What does your customer get from you and your organization?
- Where is the gap?
Once you’ve categorized all your notes, choose the most important point that answers each question and plot it out on a map like this one. You can download the sales journey template here and watch a video demonstration on how to use the sales journey template.
So many of us start our sales journey at networking events, I’ve chosen that as the first touchpoint in the example. Some of you will have “website visit” or “receive direct mail.” Either way, start with the first time the customer interacts with you.
This activity alone will increase your knowledge of your customer’s needs, but you can take it a step further. Following your customer through the sales journey will help you discover the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats around which you can build a plan to increase your sales.
2. SWOT Analysis
A situation analysis, or SWOT analysis, isn’t just for strategic planning at the highest levels. The tool can be used to analyze a wide number of data sets. In this case, you would use the SWOT matrix to reveal your current capabilities in reading and responding to your customer’s needs from the organization, brand, and salesperson level. The SWOT analysis allow you to prioritize areas for improvement and opportunity and uncover potential roadblocks to generate more revenue. Here’s a SWOT grid with sample questions to download. Consider the following questions as you complete your analysis using the notes you’ve taken and reflected upon.
Where do you exceed customer expectations?
Where is your company getting good reviews?
Where do customers and employees say things are working?
Why would your best customers refer you?
Where are your service gaps?
Where do you still need to gather information about your customers?
Where does the process break down under stress?
Where are customer complaints concentrated?
What immediate actions can you take to improve the customer experience?
How are you using your customer knowledge in the sales process?
Who will you visit next and why?
What customer profile would find value in your offering that you’re not addressing?
Where did you reveal blind spots in your customer’s processes?
Where are competitors better able to differentiate themselves?
What new technologies might hinder your efforts?
Are customer preferences changing to make your value proposition obsolete?
Okay, okay, I know what you’re thinking. This sounds like an awful lot of work for a sale. Before you decide to go back to grinding through cold calls, let me remind you of this – your customer is putting their hard earned money at risk and they’ll only do it if they’ve developed a relationship with you. They want that relationship to be built on more than charm and a LinkedIn message once a month. Your customer wants to know you can do more than sell them product; they can get that from your competitors. They want to know you can solve their problems and help them succeed.
Back to the lion and the mouse. It took the mouse some time to grasp and chew through the hunter’s net to free the lion, and I can only imagine that it looked like a monumental task. Bit by bit the mouse freed the lion of the net. Discovering and untangling your customers from their pain points could keep your pipeline filled for years to come.
A quick review:
This post is the second of three posts in a series – 3 Notes to Pitch Perfect Sales.
♪ Discover your customer’s pain and offer a solution
♪ Engage — Stay Tuned
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