In the world of Business-to-Business (B2B) almost every sales process, business process or strategic plan is built on the premise that we know our customer.

Of course it makes sense. The more we understand our customers the better we are placed to serve them. To design an Engagement Strategy that articulates on one page how you will engage with your customer, improve the performance of that customer and continue to partner with them in an ongoing relationship requires deep insights and knowledge into that customer’s world.

However to achieve those insights requires buy-in from your team across departments. Think of all the team members that touch your customer. Sales teams of course, but also marketing, service, product managers, engineering, process engineers, possibly application engineers, the CEO, the CFO, the COO. It can be quite a list. So the questions are:

  • What’s your process for gathering insight into the customer?
  • How will you share that information?
  • How will you discover this information?
  • How will each department use this information to better serve the customer?
  • How will marketing use this information to build your brand?
  • How will the sales teams use this information to maximize sales?

The order of events in my experience is simple but effective:

  1. Work out the questions you want answered? Across all departments from leadership teams to technical service teams, what information do you want to uncover about the customer to help you do your job better.
  2. Build a system that uses your resources wisely to uncover answers. If it helps brand it internally to give it form e.g. Voice of Customer or Customer Intelligence System.
  3. Train your team how to ask the right questions of the right people at the right time. Teach them the power of smart questions and the skill of hearing the answer. Use role playing often.
  4. Train your team how to use these insights to build relationships. e.g it’s unhelpful to remind your contact in engineering that his company’s share price took a beating last week!
  5. Automate the process in a cloud based, easy to access (and update) system, from any device, anywhere on the planet e.g. Salesforce does it well.
  6. Share holistic pictures of the customers that you are building with your team. Share patterns of knowledge with the team e.g. what features are the customers constantly requesting from your Camera Assembly & Test Equipment?
  7. Build sales collateral that demonstrates to all key customers that you understand them, that you understand their markets, their customers and how they will win.

To get you started, here is little list of basic information that should be trapped in your automated CRM system or equivalent:

Basic Customer Questions

  1. What new features would you like to see in our products?
  2. What new products could we build to ensure your success?
  3. What issues with our products are preventing you from optimizing your success?
  4. Do you have any general concerns about our company?
  5. Can you tell me what’s working particularly well with our products and our team?
  6. And of course tell what’s not working so well?
  7. Could you help me identify any training needs with your team or other teams?
  8. Are there some new priority projects coming up where we could offer help, expertise or systems?
  9. Is it possible to tell me more about specific challenges you foresee with these new projects?
  10. Could we quantify together the potential new business that we might feel is in our field of expertise?
  11. Given our strong relationship do you believe there are other divisions within X where we could add value?
  12. Given the recent market developments (e.g. 5G, GDPR, legislation changes, merger x) what your take on what’s happening out there?
  13. How do you think we compare with the competition on key success criteria for you?

Basic Customer Discovery Facts

  1. Describe the main areas of activity and list sales and profits from those areas (public companies often have segmented information in the investors section of their website).
  2. Note the basic financial facts of the customer, including sales, profits, cash, market capitalization.
  3. Detail the organization chart of the Board and to your knowledge how your contacts report up to the Board.
  4. Describe the customer’s decision making process?
  5. Describe the key success criteria that drive PO success i.e.why they should give you more business.
  6. Understand the location, age and volume of the installed of your products.
  7. Understand what products the customer builds that rely on your products.
  8. What’s the size and base of your competitor’s products at this customer?
  9. List the 10 most valuable insights into your customer that you’ve gathered to date and constantly improve on it.

Build a culture around understanding your customers and their markets and you’ll build a sustainable business that scales.

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