How (not) to listen to your customers?

Business to business organisations and especially their sales executives should be careful in how they listen to their customers. Getting it wrong will lead to performance and price pressure, getting it right will give you a valuable edge on your competitors.


Handle with care!

We have come across many sales executives who pride themselves for always listening to their customers. This sounds like common sense, but it really isn’t if not done right. Simply asking ‘What do you need?’ is in most cases a recipe for disaster. Here are two of the reasons why.


1. Customers are not experts in your business

Asking ‘what do you need?’ assumes that your customer can translate his or her business needs into something that you can provide (product or service). Sounds fair, but it is the world upside down. Your existing customers may be experts in applying one of your products or services in today’s set-up. But what about their future needs and other business areas? They probably have some ideas but expect you to be the expert in making that translation. Customers are very good at making choices between solutions, but don’t expect them to specify innovative solutions for you.


2. They will want more for less

When asked such an open question, the answer you can expect is ‘more for less’, i.e. ‘I want a better service/product than I have today against lower cost’. Who wouldn’t want that? Unfortunately, it places any sales person immediately in the corner (where price is the main topic).


The best sales person asks the right questions

Should we not listen to our customers? Of course, we should, but only after asking relevant questions. Knowing what the objectives and challenges of you customer are is key for creating a solution that delivers most value. The same goes for understanding their competitors, customers, etc. Just don’t expect them to hand the full picture on a plate if all you ask is ‘what do you need?’.


At Business Acceleration we have a lot of experience in having meaningful dialogs with our customer’s customers. In a well-structured conversation we explore what the key challenges/needs are and how the competitive landscape is shaped. Building unique sales propositions, effective sales processes and setting the agenda for innovation is much easier and more effective with fact-based customer intelligence on the table.

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