Educating customers is a waste of your time (…sometimes)

Investing time in educating customers is a notion I’ve wrestled with for literally my whole career. Educating is great, but I get paid to sell!

Is it really the job of Sales to educate the customer? The answer is an emphatic, “Yes, as long as…”

As long as Sales is educating the customer about the appropriate things with the appropriate delivery mechanism, educating customers is indeed a “highest and best use” sales activity. The critical piece is lining up topic, individual and delivery. Thinking in terms of Industry, Application, Product and Value-oriented topics, and Operational, Functional and Executive level contacts, focuses and clarifies.

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“Digital” in the table above refers to image, text, audio, video or some combination delivered via e-mail, blog post or other electronic means. “Personal” means just that; get in the car, show up in front of the customer, and verbally deliver the content.

Generally speaking, if an opportunity to meet with a high level executive or powerful influencer presents itself, face-to-face, personal delivery of the message is first choice. The chance to build a relationship, in this case, trumps the efficiency of digital communication. This is particularly true when Value is the topic.

Digital delivery of a Value message to an executive makes sense when a face-to-face meeting just isn’t going to happen, and/or when there is a need to reinforce the message. (In other words, all Value messages should be delivered in digital form in every case.)

Be very wary of “educating” a CEO about industry topics via a personal lecture. Chances are the CEO knows (or has a self-perception of knowing) LOTS more than you do about the industry. Forwarding a blog post/article/podcast/video with a “thought you’d be interested” note is a smarter, safer bet. Stick to Applications and Value for the personal meetings.

Also generally speaking, talking product at the executive level is a poor use of everyone’s time. Ask yourself if it really makes sense.

With Functional level management, focus the face-to-face time on Application. Mightily resist the inevitable pull to Industry and Product education, with a commitment to forward digital follow-up. For this narrow slice of the customer manager’s responsibility, position yourself as a peer with essential new Application knowledge.

Of course it’s an exaggeration to state that Industry issues are not relevant for the Operational level. But it’s pretty much true. That is, go digital. It’s not an exaggeration to state that they know more about the Application. That is, go digital. Product education at this level is one of those “it depends” situations. If an ornery operator can torpedo the whole project, get yourself in there – humbly. Also have the digital tools at hand to “get into the depth that you personally don’t have.”

There’s an underlying implication in all of this.

There’s an assumption that sales professionals have skills in creating digital content. No, not the slick product video, or the regular podcast, or the article published in the trade pub… But who has the knowledge about Value in a specific, unique customer situation? Does anyone have better insight?

Bottom line, digital communication is and will continue to become an increasingly critical component of every sales process. Sales Leaders must learn how to produce the stuff and lead their teams in doing so.

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