How well do you really know your customer?

Too many sales people lose business because they did not understand all of the decision makers.  So, here is a practical guide for anyone who needs to understand the different types of customers involved in making the decision to buy your offering.

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Whether you are in sales or not, the aim is to help you improve your chances of winning business. By really understanding the different people who affect the decision to buy your products and/or services you will be better placed to ‘qualify out’, or to put successful strategies in place to help you win more business.

There are many different roles that a customer may assume and it is essential to understand which role individuals fulfil in order to plan the best strategy to meet their needs and help them buy from you.

There are 5 simple steps to help you understand your customer:

1. Identify key stakeholders
2. Classify the customer’s role
3. Analyse support for your organisation
4. Identify stakeholders motivators
5. Develop a relationship plan

1. Identify key stakeholders

This is simple. Write down all the people who you believe have influence over the purchase of your product or service. Add their job title. You may need to do some research here.

Is there anyone else you can list here? Eg, an external consultant, their accountant a customer or anyone who has influence in this customer.

Top Tip: Make sure you include people you have not yet met but you know have influence over buying your specific product or service. If you have already done this well done!

2. Classify the customer’s role

It’s important to remember that any individual buyer can have several roles. Imagine they are like hats – each buyer can have one or many hats and will be influenced by different motivators depending on which hat they are wearing or focused on. (Please see appendix for some of the many different names that are used)
The first difference is between Decision Makers (DMs) and Decision Influencers (DIs):
The Decision Maker is someone who can say YES or NO to the purchase of your product or service. They can say Yes or No regardless of what the influencers say as they can overrule or veto them either way
The Decision Influencer can make a recommendation to buy or not but their decision is not final.

Decision Maker (DM)

The DM has the budget for the product or service. Even if they have no budget put aside they are able to get the budget from elsewhere i.e. often someone else’s budget!
Several people, such as a committee, can act as the DM. However, there is often one person ‘who is more equal than others’, perhaps due to personal interest in this particular buy or by force of personality.
For higher value, high risk or more complex purchases then the DM will be at a higher level in the organisation, often at Board level.
Top Tip: Decision Makers often prefer a contact from your organisation with the same status as them. So involve your senior management or board members.

Decision Influencers (DIs)

Whilst it is essential to understand and work with the DM, to do so without working with Decision Influencers can be disastrous. Most business to business buying decisions are complex and involve many different roles. The key is to identify and manage all of the key relationships.

The key Decision Influencers are described below:

The Tick List Merchant

The Tick List Merchant is responsible for specifying and then evaluating your product, service or company against their internal criteria. They “tick you” or say PASS or FAIL against specific criteria so allowing you (or not) to get through to the next stage in the buying process. They often reduce a long list of suppliers down to a short list.

They can be involved in procurement, legal, health and safety, IT, quality or finance. Remember, some criteria are often more important than others; sometimes ‘weightings’ are published, especially in the public sector.
Top Tip: Why not help them to create the list of criteria? If you are involved very early in the buying cycle you may be able to advise as to suitable criteria. If you don’t help them then someone else will.

The User

The User will ultimately use your products and services or supervise the use of your products or services. Eg, when selling PCs to the Finance Department, they are the people who will be using the PCs. The User can also be your customer’s customer e.g. when selling through a channel i.e. when selling paper to a stationary company, the User would be the person who uses the paper.

If the User is not on board, they can sabotage the sale, perhaps by not using your product or not using it fully, ensuring the Return on Investment (ROI) is not achieved and your reputation and possibility of future sales will be seriously affected.

Top Tip: Where there are many Users, consider setting up User Groups as a way of communicating & getting Users on side. Identify & focus efforts on key Users.

The Gatekeeper

The customer who acts as a ‘gatekeeper’ for people or information. They have control over access to people or information or processes and so have power to ‘open the gate’ to let you in or not. This is often PAs controlling access to DMs but can also be anyone who is allowing you access or not to information or process.

Top Tip: Appeal to the altruistic & personal side of gatekeepers – ask for their help & get them on side. Don’t forget to thank them for their help.

The Coach

The Coach wants you and your company to win this particular piece of business. They are the person you ring first when you need answers, or the inside track. They will often help you to get the business by coaching you, giving you useful information and getting introductions to key people.

The best Coaches have 2 characteristics:
1. They like / respect you and you like / respect them
2. They have credibility in their own organisation – preferably with the DM

It is up to you to develop one or more Coaches, as they are critical to your success, or otherwise. Review all your contacts and consider who have you already worked with who fulfils these 2 characteristics, then plan to develop them as a Coach.

Top Tip: Having a coach takes time to develop & keep – make sure you help them with their business issues, keep them involved, offer help & always act with integrity.

3. Analyse support for your organisation

3.1 The customer’s level of support for your organisation

The level of support is towards your organisation and this particular piece of business.
There are 4 choices:
1. Positive – They openly support you, your solution & the need for change. They will not be supporting the competition.
2. Neutral – They have not yet made up their mind who to support or may support the competition, but are open minded towards you.
3. Negative – They do not support your organisation or your solution for this piece of business. They may be openly negative and/or they may support the competition.
4. Don’t know? – You have insufficient information to make a decision, maybe because they are new to you.

Top Tip: Ask your customer to rate you now & then go back at a later date & ask them to rate you again. Have you improved & if not why not?

3.2 The customer’s level of support for your people

This is about the strength of personal relationship with individuals in your organisation. It is measuring the strength of the 1:1 relationship.
There are 4 choices:
1. Good – Someone you have met frequently & work well together. You have knowledge of their personal agenda & aspirations. They invite you to regular meetings.
2. OK – They have met you frequently. You have some knowledge of their hobbies, personal interests & family situation & they accept invites for meetings.
3. Poor – They have met you & supplied you with basic factual data.
4. Don’t know – You have insufficient information to make a decision, maybe because they are new to you.

Top Tip: If you are unable to ask direct, then ask one of your coaches what they think the other person thinks. Their guess will be better than your guess.

4. Identify stakeholder motivators

Finding out the motivators for the key stakeholders is essential to win business: The business motivators will be stated frequently by the organisation & are often clearly stated in any tender documents. But remember, different roles will have different motivators & priorities. Eg: The DMs often focus on ROI whilst Tick List Merchants focus on meeting the criteria as effectively as possible & the End Users focus on how it will improve their day-to-day working life.

The personal motivators are much harder to uncover & take time & will always depend on the level of trust between you & the other person. Ask your coach if you have one.

Top Tip: Business decisions must be justified logically based on business reasons but are often based on personal reasons! So find them!

5. Develop a relationship plan

By creating a table of the analysis you can now make some important choices.

This is the beginning of relationship or contact mapping. It will highlight strengths & weaknesses & enable you to make changes.
The key questions to consider when developing your relationship strategy to win are:

o Where are the gaps e.g. information / relationships?
o Do you have relationships with the right people?
o Which are the strong relationships you need to maintain & lever?
o Which are the weaker relationships you need to change or improve?
o Do you really understand your customer’s motivators?
o What is the current frequency of contact & planned frequency of contact?

Top Tip: The sales person or account manager is responsible for managing a range of multi-level relationships with the customer.  They do not need to have relationships themselves with every contact but they need to manage those relationships.

I hope you found this useful.  Good Luck and I’m off for a coffee!


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