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Understanding the Customer’s Business: A Vital Sales Skill

March 11, 2023

If you’re looking to boost your sales, sell more effectively, and close more deals, the first step is to thoroughly understand your customer’s business. This involves conducting extensive research on their environment and asking the right questions during the discovery phase to pinpoint specific business problems that you can solve.


Shortcomings of sales onboarding

If I had the ability to fix corporate sales training and in particular the onboarding on new sales reps, I would (for the record, I’m not talking about 3rd party sales training, I’m referring to the corporate training companies give to their new sales hires and salespeople). Most new employee sales training miss the mark, leading the sales team in the wrong direction, from which many never recover.


Sales training’s product obsession

The problem with most corporate sales training is it focuses on the product. Most training today starts with the organization’s value proposition and what the product can do. It starts with highlighting the problem or need the product solves, and then the remainder of the training revolves around how the product solves the problem, shoving every feature the product has down salespeople’s throats.


It’s more than product features

Salespeople are expected to understand the product inside and out, what each feature does, and why it matters, etc. If a customer has this problem, then this feature. If a prospect has this issue, then this feature, etc.  There is little expectation to understand the client and their world. The majority of the training is designed to teach salespeople about the product, and this is the wrong approach.

Companies need to stop teaching their sales team about their product and instead spend more time teaching about their customers business.

Lesson 3 – Learn Their Business

If you want to excel in a sales role, devote more time understanding the customer’s business.  I don’t mean the entire business. I mean the functional, line of business where your product or solution makes a difference.

Spend as much time as possible trying to learn all you can about:

  • Their current process and how they do what they do today, that your solution can affect?
  • What their KPI’s or success measures are?
  • Who their customers are (internal or external) and how they buy?
  • How they manage the processes they have?
  • What the common challenges are?
  • How they do their job and who reports to them?
  • How do they carry out their work?
  • What external forces or issues affect them?

The objective to these questions is to understand what it’s like to be in their shoes. You want to see the world from their perspective. You should understand their daily struggles, where they allocate their time, and most importantly, what hinders their success.


Becoming a customer business expert

The most effective way to achieve this understanding is to compile a comprehensive list of all the stakeholders you interact with, both directly and indirectly. Create dossiers and profiles detailing their roles, responsibilities, and the factors mentioned above.

If you don’t know, ask people. Ask someone in the role. Ask a customer, ask a LinkedIn contact, but ask someone. Read, take the time to read as many books, blog posts and more on the space, or role that you sell to. Don’t leave anything unturned. Become the expert.


Consultant-level expertise

Here’s a litmus test to determine if you’ve made it. Do you know enough about the role or space that you could be hired as a consultant? Could you provide business direction or guidance to one of your prospects based on the depth of knowledge you have?

That’s the level of depth I’m talking about here. You have to know so much about the space, the function, the role, the area of the business that you will be impacting that a prospect or customer would be willing to hire you as a consultant for your knowledge alone.

Focus on understanding the customer’s business

If you genuinely want to improve your sales skills, redirect your focus away from your product. Dedicate as much of your time as possible focusing on HOW your target customer or prospect manages their business.  When you have a deep and comprehensive understanding of your buyer’s world, you will be unstoppable. Any product knowledge or insight will just fall into place. The product will make more sense, and you will see the world from an entirely different perspective.

Leading with an understanding of your buyer’s world is the key. It opens up entirely new possibilities and opportunities. Your product and the selling process will never look the same again.

Lesson #3 is crucial. Don’t skimp on this one. If you want to sell better, start mind-melding with your buyers, that’s where the win is.

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1 Comment

  1. Ibtisam Shaji

    Hey Keenan! Great blog post! I completely agree with your perspective on corporate sales training. How do you think corporate sales training programs can be redesigned to prioritize understanding the customer’s business over product-focused training?


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