When we use the word “customer” who exactly do we mean?
I was speaking with a CMO and a VP of Sales this week - discussing their go-to-market strategy behind a product launch that is not performing anywhere near expectations. The symptoms they are facing are not uncommon - despite a flurry of sales and marketing initiatives, sales cycles are too long, win rates are low, and the deals that are coming in are too small.
When I asked, “Who do you currently sell to?” The CMO promptly responded, “We know our customers, it’s that the market that is changing too fast.” The VP of Sales agreed, “Our competition is catching up and our products are not as differentiating as they used to be.”
I had to pause and think before I could respond: “When did ‘market’ and ‘customer’ become two different things? Said differently, when was that last time your organization received a purchase order that was signed, ‘The Market’?”
Then the VP of Sales said, “We segment by company size, industry, and geography – and we certainly DON’T get purchase orders signed that way. We DO get purchase orders when we connect to people’s problems and build relationships by solving those problems. If we are focused on Markets and Products, we are focusing on the wrong thing; both Markets and Products are ultimately defined by the people who use them.”
To which the CMO added, "This is like trying to see something clearly after putting frosted glass in your own way."
I couldn’t agree more. Knowing your customer means clearly understanding:
The people who measure the value of your offering(s) with their wallets
Have you ever been in a client meeting that started with all of the elements of success and then, without warning, augured into the ground? These situations have all of the characteristics of a TV sitcom except a TV sitcom is explicitly designed to cause discomfort for the audience, while a meeting is not.
Or are they? I need to tell you about a meeting that went horribly wrong and how the Value Equation would have made a very big difference. While this seems like a worst-case scenario, elements of this story happen much more often than we might believe and they undermine the value we create in the minds of buyers.
The CIO of a large global organization had called an all-day offsite meeting of incumbent technology providers with the objective of each provider presenting the CIO and three senior members of his IT team - Application, Infrastructure and Architecture - with information on new capabilities that will add value to the CIO’s strategy. Having clearly set the stage with this objective, each provider was given 60 minutes to present, and the host of the session went first.