I have in the past written about value focused selling and selling technology, but this time I want to discuss the importance of truly understanding your customer.

Sadly too many sales people don’t invest enough time in gaining a deep understanding of their (potential) customers. In order to truly sell to a customer you must understand what problems they are faced with and what their needs are going to be.

Often the first step a salesperson does before reaching out to a customer is to look up in their internal systems what the customer has previously bought. If they are lucky, that information is nicely integrated into the CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system. If they are using a good CRM system, they can also see previous communication with the customer and if they are good at writing down notes from previous calls and meetings, then those can also be helpful in understanding potential sales opportunities. As a matter of fact, these are some of the key reasons companies set up CRM systems, such as SalesForce.

Doing business with SalesForce themselves is a great example of how they capture some of this customer interest and make it visible to their sales people. Within 30 minutes of me requesting a trial of SalesForce through their website, their first sales person gave me call. Since then, every new feature I investigate on their website becomes a potential sales lead that gets followed up.

But knowing what systems/features I have shown interest in or mentioned during previous sales calls is not enough to get the maximum sales opportunity out of me. In order to do so, you need to dig even deeper and invest even more time in understanding me as a customer.

Over ten years ago, when I was working at Microsoft Iceland, we hired a young and driven sales person to lead our enterprise sales. Given Iceland’s size, he only had 12-15 enterprise clients he took care of, but before by the end of 2008, the revenue from those clients, amounted to nearly half the license revenue in Iceland.

He invested time in truly understanding each one of his clients. He invested time in gaining an understanding of the problems they were facing. He invested time in getting to know the decision makers (CIOs). He invested time in getting to understand the issues their technical people were facing. He even invested time in understanding what their entire IT architecture looked like.

With all of this understanding of each client, he was able to provide them with advise on how to truly leverage the Microsoft technology he was selling to address those problems and save them money. Having invested in time in getting to know not only the company, but also the people who made decisions, he was able to adapt his advise in such a way that it made perfect sense to them.

As a matter of fact, almost every single one of his accounts was fully invested in the Microsoft stack, leveraging every potential add-on and solution that was right for them.

At the same time, his colleagues in nearby countries, were struggling to get their client to even buy the most basic licenses.

If you want to truly excel as a salesperson, you need to make that extra investment in understanding what your customer is dealing with, what makes them tick, and what keeps them up at night. You must follow news about your clients (the new Einstein feature in SalesForce automates that). You must follow what is going on in their industry, so you can spot opportunities, where your product can give them a competitive advantage.

If you take the time to listen, take the time to read, take the time to learn then you can truly become a trusted advisor that no longer is selling a product to the client, but is a partner in helping the client solve the problems they face and simplify their day.

Published April 13th 2017 at LinkedIn