Where to Find What B2B Customers Are Buying

by Chris Arlen on March 31, 2017

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Strategic Framework Sales Intel2

B2B customers only buy what helps them achieve their:

  • Business goals (corporate & departmental);
  • Regulatory requirements;
  • Social responsibilities;
  • And/or personal ambitions.

End of story.

So imagine a sales rep who doesn’t know most, if not all of the above? Imagine that rep trying to design a solution, present it to a customer, and then justify it in the face of their questions without knowing the above?

Sad. Oh so sad.

The Need for Deep & True Sales Insights

In order for sales reps to sell to this reality, wouldn’t it be great to know what that information is? And wouldn’t it be great to have a “checklist” to ensure you’ve got it all?

There is a “checklist” for that information, and most customers already have it: It’s called a strategic plan.

Yes, all customers are not the same. They’ll have their own versions of strategic planning, and some won’t have much, if any. But it’s a great place for sales reps to gather the sales intel that really matters – the intel that wins sales.

Strategic Structure

Strategic Framework as Sales Intel Checklist

Here’s a strategic framework I use when helping clients with their strategic planning. I’m offering it as a sales intel “checklist.”

It highlights components and briefly describes how they can provide sales insights into understanding what customers buy, i.e., what they’re trying to achieve and how.

So, here we go:

Sales Intel for What Customers are Buying

NOTE: Customers may not have this exact structure but many will have most of these components.

Yet there will be a small number of customers who don’t have any strategic plan. And that’s unfortunate for sales reps but not an insurmountable obstacle.

For those customers without plans, or incomplete ones, reps can try to reverse engineer what their customers are about from web sites, social media and marketing messages. Look at each of the components and take a cut at what it might be if customers had done it themselves. It’s just a bigger burden in gathering sales intel but well worth it.

Values

VALUES

What are they:

  • Guiding principles for all actions
  • Transcend all departments & functions – they’re the same for CEOs & janitors
  • True north for individual or group decision making – when everything else changes, values are constant

Why they’re important to sales reps:

  • Sales solutions must work within customers’ stated values
  • Demonstrates sellers understand & respect customers’ culture
    • For example, solutions shouldn’t be explicitly individualistic if a customer’s stated values include teamwork and/or collaboration
  • Use as guidance in customer interactions
    • For example, having fun in a presentation is good if a customer’s values include fun
  • Use to design solutions that align

Where they may be found:

  • Customer’s website
  • Marketing collateral; proposals, presentations, etc.
  • Strategic plans
  • Inside contacts can provide insights

Strategic Imperatives

STRATEGIC IMPERATIVES

What are they:

  • Pet projects of C-Suite individuals that use personal political capital to get critical tasks done
  • Generally driven by their need to answer to the Board of Directors
  • Typically 1-3 years in length

Why they’re important to sales reps:

  • Customer contacts are very likely to be aware of them
  • Contacts may seek to win political points by helping C-Suite with imperatives’ success
  • Use to design solutions that additionally & visibly contribute to their success while helping contacts’ achieve their goals

Where they may be found:

  • Customer’s website: annual shareholder reports and/or 10-K reports
  • Sensitive imperatives may not be publicly stated
  • Inside contacts can provide insights

GROUP OBJECTIVES

What are they:

  • Objectives of business units or functional groups (Media, Finance, Legal, etc.) that cascade down from C-Suite
  • Specific to improve/fix larger organizational groups – the level above typical customer contacts
  • Typically 1-2 years in length

Why they’re important to sales reps:

  • Successful sales solutions are compelling to customer contacts & their department’s success within their functional group
  • Demonstrates sellers knowledge of how customers work & their internal needs for wins
  • Use to design solutions that additionally & visibly contribute to their upstream success

Where they may be found:

  • Internal, potentially sensitive objectives may not be publicly stated
  • Inside contacts can provide insights

Mission

MISSION

What is it:

  • Departmental level description (the sales contact level) of why that department exists, its purpose – its organizational role – its über meaning
  • Should be a short, easily memorized statement – Long drawn out ones are posted everywhere & immediately forgotten by everyone
  • Does not change over time

Why it’s important to sales reps:

  • Keeps sales solutions on track in the absence of specific insights
  • Solutions that serve the Mission will never get lost in the weeds of minutiae – or distracted by trendy fads

Where it may be found:

  • While corporate missions are generally on websites, departmental missions are NOT
  • Departmental level Mission statements are not as common as one would suspect
  • Inside contacts can provide insights
  • The Mission may need to be reverse engineered by sales reps; to do so consider asking:
    • Similar customers in like segments for how they describe their purpose
    • Consultants serving similar customers

VISION

What is it:

  • Aspirational picture of what the customer’s department wants to become
  • The perfect, unattainable future that’s always off in the distance – provides direction for planning
  • Can change over time as the overall business and/or department changes

Why it’s important to sales reps:

  • Provides insights to make sales’ narratives emotionally compelling
  • Use entire or portions of vision in proposals & presentations

Where it may be found:

  • In some respects departmental visions are similar to missions in that they will not be on websites – nor commonly found
  • However, departmental level visions differ from missions in that they’re often personal & specific to individual leaders
  • Inside contacts can provide insights
  • Visions may be reverse engineered by sales reps but require greater knowledge of leaders’ characters & aspirations than missions

Strategies

STRATEGIES

What are they:

  • High-level approaches to achieve the Vision
  • Provide customers guidance in planning & design
  • Best-practices are for 3 – 5 max., more than 5 are easily forgotten
  • Can change over time as the overall business, department, and/or technologies change

Why they’re important to sales reps:

  • Sales solutions that move/work in the same direction are more compelling than those that don’t
    • For example: a customer’s strategy of using bleeding-edge technology is better served by a sales solution using advanced technology, rather than a more conservative tech application
  • Understanding the multiple strategies customers use provides a fuller picture of their risk tolerance and/or aversion – which helps in solution design

Where they may be found:

  • Like departmental visions & missions, strategies can be hard to find, and may be reverse engineered
  • Inside contacts can provide insights
  • Additional sources for understanding strategies include:
    • Similar customers in like segments
    • Consultants serving those customers & segments

Objectives Goals

OBJECTIVES & GOALS

What are they:

  • Both are at the departmental level, customers may use one or the other, or switch them
  • Objectives are 3 years or more & Goals are 1 year in length
  • Best-practices use SMART acronym to create ones that are:
    • Specific – target a specific area for improvement
    • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress
    • Agreed upon – specify who will do it
    • Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources
    • Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved
  • Objectives/goals change annually or during strategic planning

Why they’re important to sales reps:

  • Sales solutions must deliver departmental objectives & goals – or why would customers buy?
  • Use in solution design
  • Include in proposals & presentations to demonstrate understanding & knowledge of how to help customers

Where they may be found:

  • Inside contacts can provide insights
  • Additional sources for discovering customers’ objectives/goals include:
    • Consultants serving that customer
    • Non-competing contractors serving that customer

Projects

PROJECTS

What are they:

  • Tactical action plans to achieve specific objectives & goals
  • Have a beginning, middle, & end – are time defined & owner assigned

Why they’re important to sales reps:

  • Sales solutions can replace/supplement/support/eliminate customers’ projects
  • Use in solution design
  • Include in proposals & presentations to demonstrate understanding & knowledge of how to help customers

Where they may be found:

  • Inside contacts can provide insights
  • Additional sources for learning customers’ specific projects include:
    • Consultants serving that customer
    • Non-competing contractors serving that customer

Metrics

METRICS

What are they:

  • Quantitative results that indicate if the business/group/departmental output has changed
  • Typically fall into 4 groups, derived from the Balanced Scorecard:
    • Financial
    • Customer
    • Business Processes
    • Learning & Growth

Why they’re important to sales reps:

  • Sales solutions must make visible improvements in metrics – or why would customers buy?
  • Use in solution design to ensure the desired results are delivered

Where they may be found:

  • Inside contacts can provide insights
  • Additional sources for learning customers’ specific projects include:
    • Consultants serving that customer
    • Non-competing contractors serving that customer

Summary

The Round Up

Of course it’s not required to gather all the intel listed in this Strategic Framework. Nor is it necessary to reverse engineer it all.

But imagine trying to design, and then propose and explain your solution to customers without it.

The Strategic Framework articulates exactly what customers are striving to achieve and how they expect to do it. What better insight can sales reps have to help them accomplish that?

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