“What a question” I hear you, “of course, I know who my customers are and I know them pretty well” Wait a minute and let’s have a look at the variety of answers you can get asking this question across the organization.
“My customers are the VPs for Network Operations”, “I’m calling on the directors and VPs for Application Management”, “I’m selling to Vendor Management”, “I’m selling to senior executives”, “I’m selling higher now”. Other people said “our customers are the Fortune500 corporations” and “we are selling to Dax30 corporations”. Others said “our customers are the CxOs in the xyz industries” and the list goes on and on…
These are answers from sales, marketing and finance. People made these statements from their own departmental perspective, their current situation, based on their own, often unconscious, customer view. Additionally, think about the variety of initiatives that collect customer intelligence and provide customer insights. How many do you count across your organization? Ten, twenty, more? You are in good company, it’s a common scenario in large organizations.
Imagine, you have to design a framework for an entire sales system in a complex selling environment – and you get these answers. Then, you are still confused, but on a higher level, right? What I learned so far: There is no successful way to reduce the matter to a common denominator AND to make it valuable for the entire sales system. Instead, we should change our thinking in the first place.
Albert Einstein nails it: “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
Assumption: We distinguish between organizations (legal and contract view) and the people we are selling to (relationship view).
Often, both are named “customers”, but in my experience, it’s much easier to call the organization an “account” and the people “customers” or “buyers”. It simplifies many conversations across the organization.
Step 1: Define accounts in a legal way from the outside to the inside.
An account can consist of several layers: Take the highest legal entity of an organization – as they are organized, not as we look at them. Underneath, you can connect several business units or divisions, and within these business units or divisions, you can connect all relevant budget centers. Find more on the legal account definition here.
Step 2: Let’s look at a few dimensions to define customers in a holistic way
- What’s their level in the organization’s hierarchy?
Are they on a functional level, SME, manager, director, senior director, VP, SVP/EVP or C level?
- What’s their function?
Are they working in the lines of business or within IT (in case you are selling IT related services)? Build a number of categories for lines of business (e.g. sales, marketing, HR, Finance, Controlling, production) as well as for IT (e.g. Application Management, Desktop Management, Network Operations, User Help Desk, Infrastructure, IT Strategy)
- What’s their primary focus – efficiency or effectiveness?
In case you sell primarily to procurement or to managers, also vendor managers, their focus is often budget optimization and efficiency. These roles are often involved as impacted stakeholders at later stages along the customer’s journey. And they drive the buying process, if their challenges are focused on process optimization and efficiency within a certain domain and/or if contracts have to be renewed.
In case you sell primarily to executives (lines of business or IT), their focus is often effectiveness and investment, sometimes with a B2B2C perspective. They have to master complex domain-specific or cross-functional challenges of strategic relevance. Their desired business outcomes are focused on effectiveness, and the solutions they are looking for are an enabler along this change management journey.
- What’s the scope of their problems and challenges?
In which domains and for which processes? This question details what was clustered above in efficiency and investment focus. Build on the results from the first three questions and – depending on your business – think about typical problems and challenges and cluster them in the two groups above: efficiency, effectiveness. Think also about domain-specific versus cross-functional challenges, blending business and IT.
All dimensions so far are basic ingredients to design the right value messages for the customers regarding the “why change” and the “why you” story, along the customer’s journey.
- How does the stakeholder network look like?
Map your customers as defined so far and map them to the entire account structure. Build a map and analyze each relationship in terms of e.g. quality, trust, perception and most important – how are these customers working together? Who influences whom for which decisions? You get the picture. It’s time for a power map. Don’t forget to identify the relationship gaps and define activities how to get access. Think about relevant decision makers and impacted stakeholders for the problems and challenges you have identified – to have a general view you can use as a foundation for opportunities and to be able to tailor value messages for different stakeholders.
Almost done: At which stage along the customer’s journey are they involved?
Now, as we have a pretty clear picture of our customers, let’s map who is involved when along their customer’s journey for which problem/challenge scope? Before a problem occurs, when a problem occurs, but the impact is not yet understood, or after problem and impact are pretty clear? When they are already thinking about solutions, when the solution is already designed, or after the RFP is created and the formal buying process is started? Compare these results with the power map you created before and analyze the gaps. A great exercise for an entire organization and for each single account team to check where those strategic relationship gaps are and how to close them.
A lot of work – Why?
To achieve simplicity – key to drive effectiveness and growth
Such a customer model equips people to navigate complexity with a few clear principles and dimensions that are based on one design point – the customers are at the core.
Due to the fact, that customers are defined outside-in with several dimensions that build on each other, different people and different teams can use what’s relevant to them: Finance will only need the account definition. A strategic account team will need all dimensions, and content creating groups will need most of the dimensions. But it is still ONE model.
To get there is hard work, but it’s worth it:
Such a model creates efficiency, transparency and clarity and simplicity.
Simplicity is one of the prerequisites for growth!