For nearly every job, there is a literal or figurative playbook that guides planning and execution. In some cases, the plays are executed regardless of the situation (or the situation is highly controlled–which effectively defines the plays to be used). But more often than not, particularly when engaging with customers and prospects, the choices of plays need to be adjusted based on the situation. Effectively, you need an audible–a switch to a different play that is more likely to succeed in that context.
But we often don’t think that way. We define plays and expect them to work for every situation. It’s (in American football terms) like trying to run up the middle against a defensive with all their men in tight. You might break free, but it is highly unlikely.
Recently, I was briefed by Michelle Vazzana of VantagePoint Performance. VantagePoint is a sales consulting and training firm that has done some research in conjunction with Florida State University. They discovered something that doesn’t surprise me at all. The top sales performers call audibles–they adjust their approach depending on the customer situation (you can start to explore their research here.
This reinforces something we have been saying for a long time. You have to work to understand your customer’s situation so that you can tailor your response for it. The response could be by marketing, via digital interactions (a new form of personalization?), or sales. It sounds hard, but actually, it might be easier. Just like trying to run up the middle against a tightly packed defense is hard, but throwing a quick pass to an uncovered receiver that results is easier.
There are many dimensions to a customer situation. The Florida State/VantagePoint work defines several categories, but here are the ones that are top of mind for me:
- Familiarity with What is Being Bought. Akin to our new research on new vs. replacement purchases, the situation is different based on the knowledge of the buying organization.
- Enterprise Technology Adoption Profiles. Yes, I brought them up in another post, the attitudes and behaviors that an org has toward technology impacts their situation.
- Buyer Readiness. We introduced this several years ago and it was a bit hard for people to grasp (more work or time needed). But basically, we believe that the state of the customer at first contact with you impacts the situation. We look at two dimensions- Does the customer know what they are looking for or not (not think Challenger) and are they ready to buy or not. You don’t really get a quadrant here, more of a move up and to the right in terms of readiness.
- Urgency. How badly and how fast does the customer need a solution in place. I spoke to one tech company several years ago. They made a mid six-figure purchase in 4 days once. 4 days! Why, their board told them they would not release the next tranche of funding unless they had a 360 degree employee review system in place before the end of the year.
- Current Environment. The other stuff that exists that you need to work with–and that may define the other vendors you must compete or collaborate with.
- and so on.
Dealing with situations is not a sales only thing. It needs to be reflected in the entire organization. But if we take the prime customer facing elements, here are some suggestions.
- Marketing – Work with sales to try to identify the ideal customer situations for particular products and solutions. Build this into your enterprise persona/ideal customer profiles (we are talking about profiling organizations here, not individuals). Then tailor your marketing strategy to try to put yourself in those situations as much as possible. This requires adapting your content (both information delivered and format), channels, and campaigns to appeal to people in that ideal situation.It is important to recognize that there are many overlaps in situations. Designing for best fit may attract others that have similar, but not identical, situations. As you engage, qualification should include situational qualification. As you learn more about the customer, you can adapt the engagement more easily.
- Sales – Diagnose the customer situation and adapt the sales approach accordingly (VantagePoint has some ideas on this). This will also require adapted approaches to sales enablement (regardless of who is responsible for it).
- Service/Success – Diagnose the customer situation (and changes to it) and tailor strategies accordingly.
The reality is that we do much of this anyway, but often because we are forced to do so, not because we do it intentionally.
It’s time to get intentional about audibles and adapt to our customers situations.