Who’s Your Real Customer? The Answer Might Surprise You

Ellen Carney [Posted by Ellen Carney]


Every once in a while, I come across one of those situations where the answer seems so obvious that I have to wonder if they already know the answer, but just want to know what you’re going to say. You know, like Perry Mason asking the question, but he already knows the answer?

Perry mason  Earlier this week, I had a call with a global client who was inquiring about some pretty basic functionality offered in some fairly standard software. Given who they were and their level of industry and technical smarts, I thought there had to be more to this than the obvious question that they were asking. Turns there was, but the “more” piece was completely different than I thought.

As I rolled off the list of packaged vendors and acknowledged compliance with their high-level requirements, the client seemed surprised that what they were looking at was, in fact, available as packaged software. Yep, throw in an industry framework or two, and you were probably 80% or more on the way to industry solution nirvana. There was . . . uncomfortable silence. OMG! Did I fail a trick quiz? Did I misunderstand what they were looking for?

Finally, they spoke. “What do we tell our developers?”

Turns out they were of the belief that what they wanted didn’t exist and instead would have to be built by a big team of app. dev folks that no doubt built a lot of their other applications . . . from scratch.

In this client’s mind, the real customer was the applications development team, not the employees who could be more efficient with the new software or the CFO who’d be able to show improved business productivity. Instead of a business justification, this client needed justify a packaged app to a group of employees on whom they would continue to depend to support other applications, while ensuring that they could still provide them with meaningful work, even if the app was largely off-the-shelf.

It got me thinking that a vendor sales team would logically go into this account thinking that they would be pitching to a line-of-business executive, a COO, or even a CIO, especially since this particular app was of the “company-changing” kind. Holy smokes, if they went in thinking they’d be selling to business management, the sale would be hosed! Instead, the vendors pitching woo to this client would have to target this clearly influential team of developers. That means a radically different storyline, demo, and cast of subject matter experts.

What to do? Turn your sales organization into a bunch of Paul Drakes.

Paul-drake Paul Drake was Perry Mason’s ace detective (I’m clearly dating myself here), able to get the scoop that saves the case, gets the bad guy, and saves the widows and orphans. That means learning not only the industry, but the prospect’s organization, how they make decisions, who are the key stakeholders that can kill a deal, even without holding any budget at all.

How do you do it? Aside from the obvious relationship that a sales exec might have, back office staff also can play a big role — inside sales reps who support the day-to-day activities of the account can be a great source of info and influence, as can telemarketers looking to drum up leads, since they capture the comings and goings of client staff. The key for the marketing side of the house is capturing all these insights in a meaningful way, making it easily digestible and actionable, and getting it all into the hands of sales — fast.


re: Who’s Your Real Customer? The Answer Might Surprise You

The real question is how many cases did Perry Mason ever lose? the answer is either none or one depending on who you ask.I agree with every point you make up until the very end when you define marketing's role as an aggregator of insights and a dissemination channel for sales. This still presupposes a fairly rigid separation of functions between sales and marketing.In my experience the marketing organization quite often has a sales responsibility and in some cases actual quotas or revenue targets. This happens at two distinct places along the traditional sales pipeline or better yet, the lifetime customer value timeline.First, after the initial sale, and the sales commission that goes with it, sales frequently hands the customer off to the customer marketing group who is responsible for retention in addition to cross-sell and up-sell. This is a product of either large consumer companies who still treat all customers alike and do not differentiate value, longevity or purchase behavior or companies who aspire to delivering 1:1 marketing experiences through data-driven experiences centered on the collection and analysis of a mountain of individual marketing data.The second area of marketing as sales, can occur in the lead qualification and lead nurturing stages of the sales pipeline. This is when marketing uses its ability to target, engage and respond to prospects through the utilization of opt in data collection ranging from Ad-based behavior using tools like Atlas to Web behavior using analytics tools like Omniture and even newer social media tools like brand monitoring tools from companies like Radian6 and Visible Technologies.In these scenarios sales and marketing have had to collaborate and determine shared definitions of what “qualified” means when it comes to leads. It requires that marketing has access to the technology that will allow it to automatically be able to know “what to say next” and deliver that message. And it necessitates both sales and marketing to agree on common goals.So whenever you need to ask who’s your real customer, you should probably ask someone in relationship, digital or social marketing. If they’re doing their job, they should be able to answer the questions, based on using the tools to identify, track and measure the engagement of the customers actually interacting with the company.