Internal customers are more than your immediate colleagues. They are the folks within your department and outside of that department. They are the folks who answer the phones, man the loading dock, clean your office, and deliver your food.
Internal customers are the people who create the sustainable ecosystem for your business or startup.
You may not enjoy working alongside, let alone collaborating with, all of your internal customers. You may not even realize their value.
It’s time to expand your definition of internal customers.
Each of us has our preferred set of folks who understand our sense of humor and finish our sentences for us. They may speak the same professional language that we do. Perhaps we went to college or trade school with them or they are family members in our family-owned businesses.
Think bigger. You may have more in common than you think with the “supporting cast” of your daily business life.
One of the gatekeepers for a midsized aerospace manufacturing customer became one of my greatest allies. This scenario wasn’t a matter of kissing up to the gatekeeper. Rather, I spent a quite a lot of time with her, as I waited in the lobby of that company for my scheduled appointment with the VP. He was always notoriously running behind schedule in eternal crisis mode.
I learned all I needed to know about the business case for that customer from sitting in that lobby and observing.
I learned, first hand, of the wonderful job that receptionist did handling questions, fielding phone calls, directing folks to real live people instead of to voicemail to compensate for this overwhelmed VP. She knew everything that was going on in that company, from manufacturing to finance to marketing.
The C-Suite folks who also wandered in and out of that lobby treated her as a peer. Because, in fact, she was running their show both tactically as well as strategically. Along the line, they had woken up to the fact that she was the Strategic Glue for their company.
They collaborated with her. They valued her.
What could have been an uncomfortable and incendiary situation was turned into a business networking event. As that Receptionist collaborated with all of us, we, in turn, collaborated with each other. I generated some additional business out of that scenario. She was, and remains, the Most Important Person in that company to me.
You have receptionists, food vendors, the guys and gals in the “other” departments, the people “in the back” who load/unload. You are no greater than the weakest link in your understanding of what it takes to drive revenue through your own – and your customers’ – organizations.
I suggest taking the time to chat with your internal customers. All of them. Observe them. Understand the environment in which they work and the daily decisions they are called on to make.
Understand how What They Do impacts What You Do.
Consider that everyone is a collaborative customer of everyone else. That realization should help you get over your fancy-sounding job title or your PhD.
Start collaborating with your expanded network of internal customers. They know a lot more than you give them credit for. Internal customers just may be the key to growing and sustaining your business.
Babette N. Ten Haken, President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC, catalyzes business transition, startup growth, and professional development. She works with non-traditional sellers, engineers, manufacturers, and technical startups creating sustainable legacy business models. Her book on sales and engineering collaboration strategies, Do YOU Mean Business? is available on Amazon.com.