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How to Engage the ‘Real’ Customers

Author: David Brock, president, Partners in Excellence

I was doing a series of deal reviews–not unlike most of the deal reviews I do. We were talking about the people involved in the buying process. What struck me in each discussion was how few people were being engaged at the customer level— and that those who were weren’t the right people. The ‘real’ customers weren’t being engaged, even by the customer buying group.

Typically, the sales team focused their engagement strategy through one person–usually a friend or sponsor. Sometimes, there were a small number of other people involved. In the reviews, the sales people confidently said, “We’ve identified all the people in the decision-making process.”

These were all technical/IT project solutions, so the only people the sales people were engaging were in the IT organization.

I kept asking, “Who owns the business problem? How are we engaging those people in the process? After all, they have the most at stake, they have the greatest sense of urgency.”

Most of the responses were, “No…” Too often, the sales people hadn’t even thought of the end users, the real customers. They sold IT services and technology to IT people, and that was who had engaged them. A few questioned, “Why should we do anything other than that? The IT people are our customers!”

How to Engage the ‘Real’ Customers

I encounter this all the time–particularly with technology products/solutions being sold to IT organizations. Sales people forget that while they are selling a technical solution to technical people, the only reason these customers are doing the project is to serve an internal customer trying to solve a business problem.

Often, sales people challenge, me, “Why do we have to talk to those people? We are already talking to the buyers!”

While the problem owner may not care about the technology selected to solve the problem, it is their problem that is being solved! The bulk of the business justification has to do with how well we solve their problem. The urgency and timing to solve their problem rests with them, not with IT. How well we do, how well we are perceived is based on how well we solve their problem.

Think about selling to technology buyers. How often have their criteria been focused on cost rather than the business value you create? How often have projects seemed to drift, get behind schedule, because the IT organization shifted priorities (perhaps making their end customer unhappy in the process)? How often might you develop a better solution, if you knew what the end user was really trying to achieve, without the filter of IT? How often do projects get stalled, for no good reason–the user still has the problem and the critical business need?

Even if the technology buyers are the buyers, they have to solve their customers’ problems; help their customers achieve their goals. They have to “sell” their recommended solution to their customer, getting their buy-in, support and willingness to pay. Their customers will be asking business-case questions, timing questions, risk, implementation and other questions.

Too often, they lose sight of this. They think they are solving a technology problem, forgetting they are really solving their internal customers’ business problems.

Often, technology buyers don’t recognize they have to “sell” the solution to the end customer. They don’t know how to. As a result, what they want to do is not approved by the end user, and the project is cancelled–not because it was a bad project, but because the IT buyers didn’t know how to sell it and get internal agreement.

Understanding the Problem Owner

It’s critical for us to understand who the problem owner is, why they want to solve the problem, what happens if they don’t, when they need a solution in place. It’s important the technology buyers understand this, though often they may not.

We must teach our technology buyers how to engage their customers in the buying process, because it will make the technology buyers more successful. Ideally, the technology buyers will introduce us to the end customer, and we’ll work with both. But even if we can’t get that to happen, the technology buyers still have to make a business case to their end customers. To get what they want (and what we want), they need to make sure they are giving their customers what they need.

Do you know who the real customers are for each of your deals?

Are you engaging them, teaching them in the buying process?

Are you teaching your buyers how to most effectively engage them in the buying process?


Author David Brock is president at Partners in EXCELLENCE. Read more from David Brock here.

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