In kicking off a session with a bunch of sales reps and managers, I always try to start with a group discussion that establishes a common bond. Last week I decided to focus on something a lot of customers say that derails a sales call. The first thing I did was project the following words up on the wall:
You don’t understand. We’re different.
It worked wonderfully. We had a lively discussion. The first example was a customer maintenance manager in auto parts manufacturer A who totally dismissed a rep’s 20 years of experience at auto parts manufacturer B as not relevant; brushing aside his perspective with, “You don’t understand. We’re different.” The whole group chimed in about how unbelievably narrow-minded “those maintenance types” could be. Example after example of “customers who refuse to think” followed.
Interestingly, the group then went on (and on…) about how widely applicable their own plant maintenance and engineering services were. They waxed eloquent about how the same fundamental service from them could provide genuine value to not only auto parts plants, but any discrete manufacturing plant building anything. In fact, the exact same service could also be productively applied in chemical processing, forestry, mining, waste water treatment, pulp & paper mills and a wide variety of other industries.
As a group, we agreed on two things.
- A business process – any business process – is at its core basically the same in any company in any industry
- The real challenge is to get those executing the process to agree on a common set of terminology and metrics
Then we got down to the real business of the day, defining and documenting this company’s sales process. I know you already know what happened next…
I, the out-of-town consultant, “did not understand,” support staff “did not understand,” the marketing guy “did not understand,” the CEO “did not understand,” even reps in different territories “did not understand.” Fortunately, due to the initial discussion, it all quickly became a joke — with a hard, serious edge of truth.
Hopefully, this little vignette will be useful for you to keep in mind as you’re out there in the field. Conversations with customers about complex business processes can be quite challenging. They require an open mind, a flexible perspective and a dedication to always remembering…
You’re unique; just like everyone else!