"Of course, I know!", I bet everyone will say that.
Supposedly, your customer is "Onion, Inc".
A simple question, if I may ask: How do you spell your customer names? "Easy", you said, "O-N-I-O-N".
Are you sure? The question is -- how do you spell your customer "names"? It is not just one name, not a company's name that you have spelled correctly.
Recently, I was offered a short-term contract role by a company I used to work for for many years. I was thrilled. But the whole process to bringing me back on board was absolutely complicated; even though the need of my skills and services were very obvious and critical. It was the process and "bureaucracy" that made it complex for such a simple request. There were a number of people, from different functions and even companies, involved before I finally received the "go" ahead.
First, the engagement manager (called him Bill) who highlighted the need of my expertise urgently; apparently, he was supported 100% by people around him -- the main stakeholders -- who recognised my expertise and the need of it.
Second, Bill's direct manager (called him Matt). After some serious and persuasive talks, Matt, a reluctant manager who acted as a "goal keeper" of the team, finally agreed to bring the matter up to the decision maker, his boss -- the vice president of the business unit.
Third, this vice president -- the decision maker, called him Tim, like Matt, was only convinced after hearing the loud cry that was supported by his direct report, Matt, and the main stakeholders around Bill.
Fourth, the purchasing manager (Tom), who authorised suppliers as well as contractors (including consultants), mandated that an agent to be assigned as a mediator between an individual contractor (me) and the Company.
Fifth, a potential agent (represented by Jim). It was brought in (by me) as part of the condition of my engagement. Upon rigorous reviews and after I have stated a strong and rational reason why I have to use this agent (instead of Tom's suggested agent) to represent me for administrative and payroll purposes, finally the use of my nominated agent was approved.
Was it all? No.
Connect the whole players
Now that all the players were identified, the whole process must be completed. I had to connect each player according to the process. Behind the scene, I must keep track the progress to ensure all moved to the direction that took me to the Company.
If you were the sales person offering professional services under the above scenario, could you tell "who was your customer?" or "who were your customers?": No doubt, now you would mention Bill, Matt, Tim, Tom, and Jim.
And not to forget behind them there were still more names that influenced and impacted the final decision indirectly. They too were your customers!
In this real example, one important step had been skipped: The evaluation of my capability to provide the services -- my capability had been well known and proven. In many other business situations, the products and services offered might have not been known, let alone proven. In this case, first things first is to find the "Bill" of the company -- sometimes we refer "Bill" as the user, and find out whoever behind him and what they need.
Although sometimes a sales person feels sure of winning the deal because his/her main contact is "Tim" the decision maker. Right?
Not true! This was not the case. Even Tim must listen to the rest of the players: Bill --the user, who was supported by Matt and influenced and urged by others (the main stakeholders); Tom -- the purchasing manager; and perhaps Jim -- the third parties. If any of these parties was ignored there would be no guarantee of winning the deal.
An entire team behind every customer
Dr. E.H. Edhersheim, in her book titled The Definitive Drucker, says: "In this interconnected environment, there's an entire team behind every customer. The user, the buyer, and the influencer are linked together as never before. We need to do more than understand them; we need to engage with them, alone and in groups, and understand how they want to be engaged. This is a whole new type of relationship, with the customer influencing other customers."
It is, indeed, an interconnected environment. A whole new type of relationship -- between seller and buyer. Selling is no longer straight forward, worst, it becomes so complicated these days. The key is to be persistent in uncovering the whole players. Know them by their first names, establish relationship and connection with each one of them to know what they really, really, really needs. And spell them out in your selling strategy.
So, next time someone asked: "Who is your customer?" You may rephrase the question: "Who is the people behind my customer, you mean?" That's more like it.
A customer can never be a company. It is people: an entire team. Know them well: who they are; what they want, spell them out then sell.
Not easy. But isn't it only through difficulties that our knowledge grows?