The Last Mile Effort of Pre-Sales Customer Analysis
Strategic enterprise customer acquisitions often require a synchronized effort from sales, marketing, product leaders, and executives: For account-based sales to be successful, everyone needs to be on the same page in understanding the customer and specific opportunities within the target company.
An account-based approach to sales requires that the message, positioning, and all engagement activity have a shared understanding of what’s in the customer decision-makers’ minds.
That is a tall order.
In essence, it’s taking the universe, or mountain of available information and packaging it into a concise, comprehensible summary that will unite your entire team toward a focused, effective sales campaign. It’s the proverbial “same-page.”
To be clear, “strategic” customers are prospects designated to be “must-win” or otherwise crucial to a company’s sales efforts.
Among the many reasons to deeply understand these customers is this biggie: to stand above competitors by equipping your sales teams to “teach, tailor, and take control” at customer engagements, as promoted by the Challenger method and other solution sales models.
What is a customer insight report?
Why is a customer insight report important? Whose responsibility is it? And what information should make the final cut?
You certainly can’t expect everyone involved in selling to read all the customer and market intelligence reports, many of which are not geared specifically to your opportunity. There is a final step (typically referred to as the “Last Mile”) in which all the known data and intelligence is gathered and applied to your specific customer – adding conclusions, suggestions, and most of all: insight.
This should be done by a strategic market analyst. If it were up to account reps … well, let’s just say it wouldn’t get done. No one wants to see their high-paid sales people sitting at a desk spending hours or days conducting research for one deal. Some use an external consultant.
This is definitely not a cut and paste exercise. It takes thoughtful analysis; think Cliff Notes. You shrink-down and repackage valuable information into useful insight.
What to include in a Customer Profile report
The most important element in the customer profile to be the focus on what is going on inside the head of key C-Suite executives (depending, of course, on what you are selling).
Consider who will ultimately approve your purchase, and start with them. For example, my clients tend to sell primarily to the Chief Information Officer, so I start with the CIO. It’s a good idea to include insights about the CEO as well, since their priorities surely impact other C-suite mindsets.
For example, a CEO under pressure from analysts or investors might publicly state their new policy demanding strict ROI measurements for all future projects and major purchases. Knowing this, you might suggest, in your CIO profile, that your team prepare highly believable ROI statements and slides. If the CIO has a business background or an MBA, it’s a very good idea to include ROI.
Profile reports often include multiple members of the decision-maker ecosystem.
A typical Customer Profile Report includes:
- About the Company – Summarize what they do, who they sell to, and how they are doing. Include an org chart here or at the end of the report, if possible. Org charts should include down to the VP or Director levels if possible – as they may be key decision makers or influencers.
- The Marketplace – Summarize the industry dynamics, competitive environment, key trends, and growth drivers and inhibitors.
- Customer’s Business Strategy – This information is often taken for granted. (I’ve seen a customer meeting end because sales couldn’t answer this opening question: “Can anyone here tell me what our business strategy is?” Not a pleasant memory.) The business strategy is deeper than “you sell cars” – it’s about how they go to market, how they expect to grow, and what they are doing to stay unique and competitive.
- How to Approach this CxO – After all the intelligence is gathered, it’s important to identify what will resonate with this decision-maker. Here’s why your solution, your particular value proposition fits their needs. This is also where personal information – such as relevant work history (not a bio!) and any background info that might link their to your team or executives – comes in. Include taboo topics, as well as conversation starters.
- Current Initiatives – This is another critical section. From your mountain of intelligence, include only the most relevant initiatives with statements on how it matters to your opportunities. For example, you may find that a competitor already got in the door with a similar solution; in this case, consider dropping this from the pitch list.
- Hot buttons / Pain Points – These may be peppered throughout the document or listed at once; either way, they neatly summarizewhat might turn on or off this CxO. It could be an issue they are extremely proud of (a new Gartner chart) or embarrassed about (a CEO scandal or security breach). Having your whole team aware of hot-button issues can dramatically change the nature and mood of an engagement.
- Change Drivers – These trends and issues drive the purchase of your solutions. Why does the company have a need for you? Does that need come from competition, regulations, management change, or mergers and acquisitions, etc.? Knowing the nature and intensity of change drivers helps determine everyone’s role and actions.
- Strategic Value [of your solutions] – Based on both intelligence gathered and any customer conversations, this is the strategic value you think the decision maker wants from your solution. Will they want to gain a competitive advantage, increase revenue/decrease costs, increase productivity and efficiency, improve customer satisfaction, etc.?
- Additional conclusions.
Each of these elements require a “last mile analysis” of the business intelligence mountain. (Should you be lucky enough to have your CEO meet with the customer’s CEO, you will be very glad you did your last mile of homework!)
Who can use a Customer Profile report?
Many players can use these profiles:
- Sales teams and Sales managers – Often overlooked is the value a customer insight report can have for sales managers, to both track the customer and coach account reps.
- Marketing – Account-based marketing programs need to isolate and market specifically to these strategic accounts. Such profile reports absolutely enable ABM programs with details necessary for personalized outreach.
- Product Leaders – Product execs meeting with strategic customers need to know where and how their solution fits, the value propositions to stress, and how to engage with the key players.
- Executives – Your company’s execs meeting with the key customer execs is often the make or break moment. An informed CxO vendor has a tremendous advantage over one that is simply talking about his vision and shaking a few hands. These profiles spur real discussions.
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Remember to link or otherwise credit your intelligence sources, as some team members may want to learn more.
One last point, which may cause some unease: You’ll need to break a common rule at many companies that busy top executives require a one-, or at most, a two-page document.
Forget it. That won’t work here.
You can’t do this as a one-pager. Break the rule.
You can, however, make your 3 to 6+-page profile engaging. Write in human terms. Give your own suggestions and conclusions. Be provocative, if it fits. Use a (very) little humor where appropriate. I’ve found that executives can read and internalize any document in a fraction of the time of most humans.
I’d rather hear an executive say, “Oops, I’m sorry, I should have read your whole document!” instead of “You should have told me that!”
Make them engage. Your executives don’t want to meet strangers – they want to meet someone they know. They want to win as much as you do.
And this is true for the rest of the team – the more they understand the customer and the intelligence-fed team strategy, the better they can each fulfill their role.
For strategic accounts, the last mile analysis demonstrates the value in all your customer and market intelligence investments. Strategic investment in business intelligence saves days or even weeks of research time and effort, and the result is key feedstock for a final, consumable customer report that puts everyone on the same winning page.
So much depends on this last mile effort.
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