The number one sales job is to understand your customers

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Great sales professionals master the art of developing customer relationships. Carrying tough sales quota and turning opportunities into sales. But four major market trends have potential to change their number 1 priority. Business opportunities are getting more complex, and harder to understand. A growing share of a business competitiveness is coming from customer led innovation. Driven outside-in. Outcome based selling replace value propositions for your existing product and service offerings. As the primary driver for closing sales. And understanding your customer buying process is a new insight area in itself.

The old #1 sales priority

Let us start from the current sales priorities as your starting point. The number one priority in sales has always been to bring home the numbers. Turning opportunities into sales and quotas into fulfilled goals. A challenge sales professionals have managed by leveraging their relationships. To learn enough to close the deal. At a price low enough to win and high enough to meet margin internal business expectations. With products and services you can deliver, and where you have an edge over competition.

Where required customer insights were to a large extent provided by the customer. Which critical gaps to close in your solution offerings. And bringing commercials in line with competitors. starting with clear customer asks from start. With progress measured towards milestones in a sales process a journey.

In essence this was a game of selling into well-defined opportunities. Where your skills to adapt, impress, convince and bring a deal to closure was key to success.

Understand your customer is the new #1 sales job

With the four factors mentioned in the ingress in play priorities might alter quick. The demand on organizations to understand your customers is now on a new level. And the logical area to place this increased responsibility is your sales professionals.

You need to bring business insights to the table. to support customers in understanding complex business relations. Customer led innovation play a key role in creating new solutions. With sales professionals orchestrating the innovation process, led from the front. Customer are less interested in your products and service. And more keen on understanding if they deliver desired business outcomes or not. With you understanding complex translations. Between the used products and services and the outcome they will deliver. And last but not least, understanding your customers’ new buying process is an art in itself. Where decisions making is collective. And customers expect extensive support along their buying decision journey.

The role of understanding your customers’ business in this new world is a large task in itself. And large enough to drive a higher degree of specialization among sales professionals. Where dedicated negotiators focus on closing. While sales professionals focus on understanding customers’ business situations. And navigate complex decision journeys.

What do we need to know about our customers?

The arc of possibility for what we can aspire to know about our customers is large. Where the largest value driver is how well we understand our customers’ business. Generated from strategic conversations on where to focus to improve the business. Combined with detailed measurements of all digital touch points. All data aggregated and turned into insights by human and artificial intelligence.

The first we need to understand is our customers’ business. As seen from a strategic perspective with our customers’ eyes. And do it better than our customers do. Which areas of their business need to change and improve? How far off is their current operations from industry best practices? Which improvements need to happen first? A focus on attacking area by area with clear ideas of the expected improvements.

Second we need to understand how customers use our products and services. Customers buy our products and services to get a job done. With clear metrics for the expected outcome. With our classic business our measures are few. Often coming from customers’ responses to our questions. As we move into the digital domain we can measure any data point about actual usage. Generating specific insights and real-time accuracy in the data captured. And taking customer dialogues from perception to facts.

Third we can refine our understanding how customers buy. Following each step in their buying decision journey. From initial research to buying decision. A journey starting in the digital domain. And remaining digital, or with a mix of digital and face-to-face interactions. Measuring progress in each step on the digital decision journey. Insights from face-to-face interactions added to generate the complete customer picture. Where progress towards milestones in buying journeys give a better view. Than the alternative to track where you are in a sales process.

As your business enter and/or improve on the digital arena you need to excel at all three. With own heavy lifting for sales professionals in understanding the strategic perspective. Combined with an eagerness to leverage all data and associated algorithms. Facts about how customers buy and how they use your offering in reality. With strong dependencies on your IT and Marketing organizations and their effectiveness. As input into your customer understanding.

Which jobs are you hired to do for your customers

The first challenge is a combination of field work with customers. And analysis done by your company. The jobs to be done method can improve your strategic customer understanding. Ask yourself questions about which jobs do customers hire us to do for them. A great starting point for strategic customer understanding.

Starting with a hypothesis about what your products and services do for customers. Not what they are or what capabilities they have. But what results they generate. With focus on outcomes your customers value the most.

And understanding where you articulate specific jobs to be done. And if needed refines the jobs further if the top level is not specific enough. Perform this this exercise for both customers and customers’ customers when analyzing B2B.

Different companies will define the jobs to be done in different ways. Based on your own ideas about the difference you can make. A company pursuing a cost optimization strategy will see different jobs to be done. Than one exploiting value maximization. The method works for both but generate different results.

Which metrics define desired outcomes

All jobs to be done are tied to how key metrics need to evolve. Which metrics become better when increased. Which others deliver superior value when decreased. A job to be done is not defined well enough until the associated metrics is clear. And your understanding on existing values on defined metrics. And how much you expect them to improve.

Metrics is a large chapter in itself. But the key take-away here is your understanding need to reach the metrics level. With metrics you can increase or decrease. With a clear idea on what a great measure would be.

Questions to ask for yourself and your team

  1. What do you define as your number one sales job today – and limit your #1 priority to one.
  2. What is driving sales role priorities in your industry – by you or competition.
  3. How deep do you understand your customers today – as a baseline for your journey.
  4. How do you collect and structure customer insights – growth demand clarity in structures.
  5. Which role do customer led innovation play in your business – a vital inflection point to capture.
  6. How do you measure pursuit progress – milestones in sales process or buying decision journeys.

Additional reading suggestions

The reflections and insights in this post has developed in a number of conversation with Peder Linder at Linder Academy. Triggering provocative thoughts of what the future of sales will look like.

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