How well do you know your customers? And I am not talking about going to the same country club that they belong to (like we can all afford that one, right?). It’s not about finding out when their birthday is, so you can send them a card (so much for Client Relationship Management software). It’s not about being their pal or buddy or influencing their decision by wining and dining them. As though your customers owe you something.
It’s about the ANTHROPOLOGY of your approach to business development.
Because our customers are not disposable. You can’t just run out and get another one just like that. Vendors – no matter how much value we provide for our customers – can always be sacrificed. Depending on the anthropology of the decision that needs to be made.
Whether you are an engineer or in sales, do you develop business with an anthropological perspective? Hints:
- It’s not about digging around to find the vulnerable chink in the proverbial armor that will force your hand in the customer’s decision to spec your company’s services, your recommended solution or your specific skill set.
- It’s not about manipulating the customer’s thought processes during the presentation so they have no decision to make other than specifying – yup, you guessed it – your company’s services, your recommended solution or your specific skill set.
- It’s not about reading one more book on sales technique to employ that silver bullet strategy that closes the deal. As though everything you’ve been doing in the past has been ineffective.
- It’s not about all of your certifications, all of your degrees, the number of professional organizations with which you are associated or your publications in professional journals. For some reason, that stuff simply isn’t impressing your customers.
It’s about taking the time to discover the context of the decision that needs to be made. Do you know how to be an anthropologist?
Because that’s what business development is all about: how well you know your customers, their mindset and context under which they make decisions. Whether you are approaching this function from the sales or from the engineering perspective.
Just because you are talking to another engineer doesn’t mean he/she has the same agenda that you do. The decision maker has a context which directly impacts how and why a decision will be made. And sometimes the decision that is made is to make no decision at all! I know you’ve encountered that scenario. We all have.
Just because you are talking to another business development/sales executive doesn’t translate into your thinking along any of the same lines. They may not even understand their own internal customers. Don’t fall into a false sense of self at any point during – or after – the business development process. While you may be impressed with yourself, your customer may not. The process may stall out.
The CONTEXT surrounding decision making governs the decision that is eventually made. I recommend spending more time understanding context of the decision and less time trying to dazzle customers with your expertise and deliverables.
Hint: this is something that they not only didn’t teach you in engineering school but they didn’t teach any of us in any school whatsoever. This is an acquired skill. It’s not people skills. It’s not engineering acumen. It’s not sales skills.
It’s authenticity. It’s being inquisitive, presumptive and just plain curious. It’s knowing your stuff yet deciding to not depend on your superior technical savvy or sales skills as the fulcrum for business development.
Your customers know why – and why not- they make decisions. Let them teach you… by asking them to define the context of their mindset. Dig deeper with each question you ask. Understand the root causality of factors impacting their decisions. It comes in layers. Like an anthropological dig. Because there is never just one decision maker. Context provides a company-wide perspective to root causality and incorporates corporate culture, attitudes towards risk and innovation and ability to run their business successfully.
If every conversation you have with someone is simply about being genuinely interested in who they are and what the context of their business decision is all about – from their perspective and their team‘s -– think about what you will learn.
- You may decide not to waste your time pursuing their business – at all.
- You may decide to keep in touch with them, provide information and, when their (not your) timing is more favorable, pursue your solution once again.
- You may decide they are a viable candidate for your solution, but your sales cycle will not be short
- You may decide the customer doesn’t need your solution at all.
- You may need to teach them how to work with their internal resources to approach their problem. Which may or may not end up involving your solution.
It’s really not about your solution at all – or anyone’s for that matter. It’s about the customer. And why they make decisions. Why they have to make a decision. And how compromised they are feeling about making that decision. Before you even walk through their door.
Do you know your customers that well? Now that’s something to think about.
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC, brings entrepreneurial mojo and business- and revenue-producing collaboration and communication tools to small and mid-sized businesses and startups. She was named one of the Top 50 Sales & Marketing Influencers 2013. Her book, Do YOU Mean Business? focuses on technical / non-technical collaboration strategies and tools.