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Chapter 4: Discover the Principal Customer


Optimum Engagement Strategies

In the Discover phase of the Diagnostic Business Development process, we establish a profile of the ideal customer for our offerings, match that profile to customers on an individualized basis, and craft a customized engagement strategy for initial contact. Its goal is to identify those customers who are most likely to be experiencing the issues our offerings address and the absence of the value we provide and, therefore, who have the highest probability of buying our products and services. The Discover phase encompasses all of the preparation activity before the actual diagnosis.

Discover is an especially critical element in enterprise sales. As the complexity and uniqueness of customers increase, so, too, does the need for and return on preparation. The greater our ability to customize and personalize our engagement strategies for individual customers, the greater our chances are of successfully gaining entry to their organizations and the more likely they are to feel that offerings have been designed specifically for them and that we are speaking directly to their world and their responsibilities.

Unfortunately, in their zeal to get face to face with customers, too many salespeople put far too little time and effort into this work. The percentage of salespeople who continue to "wing it" as they approach high-level executives is appalling. The typical attitude toward preparation all too often runs along these lines: If it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, a good salesperson should be able to sell anything made for ducks or, for that matter, anything made for birds. Therefore, the attitude, "Why prepare?" The problem in enterprise sales is that this one-size-fits-all attitude toward customers has worn out its welcome; it just won't fly. Nor should it.

Customers resist being treated as generic candidates for good reasons. First, they realize that they are simply impersonal targets in the eyes of the salesperson. They rightly suspect that they will be subjected to a one-sided view of the world and, perhaps, high pressure and other sales manipulations. Further, because their unique characteristics, situations, and problems have been largely ignored in the past, there is little basis for believing that the products and services being offered will create the optimal value for them. They believe that the time they spend with the salesperson may ultimately bring little, if any, return.

Just as significant is the fact that salespeople should also be avoiding the generic treatment of customers. The commonly accepted idea is that to maximize their performance, salespeople must maximize the number of prospects they see and the number of proposals they present. Thus, the less time they spend in preparation equates to more prospects and, somehow, increased sales, but it clearly doesn't work that way. Spending time with customers you aren't prepared for and who are unlikely to buy is inefficient and ineffective.

If you want to maximize sales results, you cannot simply allocate your time equally among all potential customers in your market. Instead, you must concentrate on the customer who has the highest probability of being negatively impacted by the absence of your solution and, therefore, the corresponding high probability of being receptive to your solution. The identification of that customer and the preparation to engage that customer is the purpose of Discover. If you rush through it unprepared, you end up gambling your time and efforts on an unknown prospect and, as a result, substantially lower your ability to predict your chances of success in the enterprise sale.

Key Thought Is There Someplace Better I Could Be?

We keep the idea of the Principal customer in the front of our minds by continually asking ourselves a simple, but fundamentally radical, question: Is there someplace better I could be? Successful salespeople understand that the best place to be is the place where they can leverage their efforts and maximize their overall performance as well as their customer's. They are continually moving toward that optimal engagement. As elements of success decrease with a current customer, at a certain point, the odds of success become greater with a new customer. There is someplace better we can be, and we need to take ourselves and our resources elsewhere.

How do sales professionals identify the best opportunities? Through a more comprehensive and creative approach to the Discover process, an approach designed to help salespeople:

Goals of the Discover phase can be divided into two groups: those that salespeople undertake to prepare for the initial engagement and execution of the engagement itself. We now take a closer look at these goals, how they are achieved, and how they add up to successfully complete the work of Discover.

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