How to Tell if Your Customer Profiles Are Broken

17 Feb How to Tell if Your Customer Profiles Are Broken

One of the most common – and perhaps most concerning – gaps we see in B2B sales organizations is the lack of true customer insight. We certainly understand that this is a complex topic, as the discipline of researching and validating customer perspectives is genuinely a full-time endeavor. Markets change, competitors innovate, and customers evolve.

However, none of those things are an acceptable excuse for not at least trying.

And, yes, we are calling out some of the efforts we see as “not trying.”

Customer profiles are the lifeblood of so much in your revenue engine. They drive your innovation. They drive your marketing efforts. They drive your sales efforts. And by sales efforts, we mean:

  • Segmenting your customer base
  • Planning your pre-call action
  • Navigating customer organizations
  • Creating presentation decks
  • Building business cases
  • And, ultimately, the sales roles you expect your team to fill

In other words, if you get your customer profiles wrong, you basically undermine your sales activities. Your ONLY hope is to pray that your product/service sells itself – which leads to boom/bust revenue cycles. And that is not a healthy business model.

With that said (and assuming you actually have customer profiles), how can you tell if your customer profiles are any good? How do you know if you are setting your sales team up for customer relevance or for the boom/bust (or even mostly bust) cycle of frustration?

Here are the four tests we use here at Agility Selling.

First, do your customer profiles have the “normal” stuff?

For some of you reading this, this is almost absurd to bring up. But know that not everyone understands the “normal’ stuff. So, let us break it down quickly. The “normal” stuff includes:

  • Associated job titles (like COO/EVP/etc.) that the sales person will encounter with someone in this role
  • Demographics like education, experience, gender, and age (though we see this kind of information in a state of transition as generations shift and implications change)
  • Company information like revenue, number of employees, and geographic coverage
  • Sources of influence like trade associations, social media affiliations, and key publications

Second, do your customer profiles define and explore the key problems/challenges these customers are dealing with?

Note: we are not talking about simply defining their needs. In fact, we steer away from that overly-simplistic, 1990’s thinking. We define a problem as unmet expectations with no easy alternatives to meet them. It’s a two-part definition that requires research on both parts.

First, the expectations must be defined. Great customer profiles define what customers expect, how important those expectations are, and how they blend both professional and personal expectations to define the problem.

Second, the alternatives to meeting those expectations must be defined. And, yes, the alternatives include your competitors.

Knowing that a CIO expects to drive data security across the organization is of little value if you don’t know his/her alternatives to accomplishing that. In other words, if s/he already has satisfactory data security from your competitor, and that’s all you sell, you either have to move on to someone else or find a different expectation to address. One that doesn’t have an easy alternative.

Pause. Can you see why this is important? Too many sales people are only armed with features and benefits, taking a traditional product-centric approach, then struggle to find relevance in their customer interactions when they aren’t talking about their product (or service). You know what it looks like, yes? A sales person waiting to “uncover a need” then launching into their pitch… Ouch. The best customer profiles will not only define the problem, but also provide questions to ask and topics to explore with the customer, covering the expectations that customers have AND the alternatives they have to meet them before a solution is even explored. Creating a truly relevant conversation for both sides of the table.

Third, do your customer profiles allow for customization?

This is really important. Too often, sales people will use the same generic profile to create the same generic plan to capture a new piece of business. Now, your best sales people are never generic. They know how to tailor everything for each customer. But your average players, your less-than-stellar players, need help. And if your customer profiles don’t drive them toward customization, well… whose fault is that?

Make sure that your customer profiles are built in a way that your sales team can quickly customize both the profile to match the specific person they are talking with AND customize their approach to that specific person. This means that your definition of the customer’s problem should also be customizable. Show them how to architect the problem out and get really specific on the details. You can see what this looks like on any of our role-based pages, but here is an example of a simple problem architecture for Sales Executives.

Fourth (and perhaps the most essential test), are your sales roles aligned to your customer profiles?

Seriously, it is all meaningless if your sales team doesn’t define their roles in terms of the customers they interact with. They MUST know when to switch roles for specific customers. They cannot act the same role with all customers. They simply can’t be relevant to everyone that way.

We often see this as the biggest obstacle. Too many organizations complain that their sales team cannot get access to high altitude buyers. But when you dig into their sales roles, they are too generic. They either limit their scope to a revenue definition (“You – take all of the small and medium business sales opportunities. Because the term small and medium business should be specific enough for you.”) and/or they fail to define when roles should change (“Here is your job description with lots of generic sales activities – figure out how to be relevant for different customers on your own.”).

We truly understand that getting great customer profiles requires a lot of effort. But just because it’s hard does not mean that you are finished. You must apply the same discipline to aligning the sales roles. Or else your work is not only incomplete – it’s insufficient.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

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