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Becoming the expert for your customer

Are you really THE expert?

Research. Research. Research. We know we’re supposed to do it. The good ones do, the bad ones do very little, and then the great ones simply know its importance as they do it weekly, not just before a call.

When I started out in sales I was told to do customer research. No one told me what I should be researching, why and how I should use it. 

I researched everything wasting hours of time on the non-essentials. Some account managers and key account managers can get paralysed by over research. I want to speak to those working diligently getting to know your customers.

One of the great misconceptions about working with our clients is that our ability to access our customers or being invited in means we’re seen as the ultimate expert to the customer.

The reality is, in most cases this isn’t the case and here’s why.

You can’t be the expert in your customer’s business. Why? Because you’re not there every day. You only get sound bites and very rarely see the context of why change really happens.

You can get close but it is difficult to fully comprehend this at all times.

At best we have the occasional in depth discussions and evaluation studies which give us a snapshot of a specific moment in time. 

Despite this, you can be the expert on delivering results for your customers.

To do this doesn’t require you knowing everything about the customer. It requires you understanding the things that matter most and that influence your customers success.

This doesn’t excuse you from seeking to understand other areas of your customers business. It simply means in the 80:20 of your time you must hone in on the 20% that will give you 80% of the results you want.

This article gives you three critical 20% areas to become the expert to your customers. 

1. Know your customers market

The quality of your understanding of your customers market will determine the impact you can have with, and for your customers within their own business.

Among many areas that we could evaluate, I’m all about getting to the common denominator. 

There are three influencing market areas. When studied and applied these will immediately help you as a customer leader or key account manager prepare to support, shape and solve real problems with and for your customers.

They are:

  1. Market Impact (I)
  2. Market Change (C)
  3. Market Strategy (S)

Market Impact (I)

Within any given industry there is a defined market that allows buyers and sellers to exchange goods and services with or without money. The way in which buyers and sellers interact in a specific market can be impacted by many things.

Below are two principle areas that we should evaluate quickly for our customers whenever we see something new introduced to their market. 

This could be a regulatory change, new technology or even a dramatic shift in consumer behaviour etc.

We must ask ourselves, is this something the customer will need to respond immediately to and is there a cost implication? Ask the questions below and raise the answer with your customer.

1 – Immediate impact

  • What things, if changed in your customers market, would your customer have to immediately respond to?
  • What things, if changed in your customers market, would you/your organisation have to immediately respond to?

2 – Cost impact

  • What things happening in your customers market, if not responded to, would have a cost implication? Then ask yourself the same question.

If there is nothing at all, then just by setting something as simple as a Google alert for updates monthly to your customer’s industry, country etc. you put yourself ahead of 99% of leaders and teams who wait for information to arrive, then reactively and often poorly do very little with it.

Market Change (C)

Market change can be confused for an evaluation of market impact but it isn’t. Change has two fundamental components. Things that are ongoing and things that are dynamic such as competition or disaster.

Answer the following questions.

1 – Ongoing 

  • How is your customer changing in an ongoing way within the marketplace?
  • How are they changing the way they serve their customers?
  • What impact of a market change would force them to have to change over time that could impact your relationship together?

2 – Competitive (this could be interchanged with another change also like a disaster) 

  • How is the shift in your customer’s competition shaping the way they do business?
  • What is the biggest competitive change in your customers business and how might this impact your relationship with them?

Market Strategy (S)

When considering the market we also need to be aware of the approach our customers are taking to maximise their opportunity. This can be seen and evaluated in different ways. If you’re working with very large multinational, public or even private companies, you can get hold of their annual reports and, at a high level, see where their organisational focus may be heading.

There are two types of market strategy implications I’d like to focus on that perhaps aren’t spoken about often.

Answer the following questions.

1 – Labour

  • What is the significance of labour in the marketplace for your customer and how are they utilising this?
  • Where is labour creating an advantage for them and what is their view on investing in labour?

2 – Technology and Innovation

  • What new technology and innovations are coming into the marketplace? 
  • Where is your customer currently investing?

What is your customer marketing Impact I.C.S?

Watch this video for additional examples.

2. Know your customer risks

It is important that we understand the risks that impact our customers business. Areas that if not looked at or addressed in the present, or viewed in the future would become a barrier to their success.

This includes anything that might affect their financial performance, their ability to compete in the marketplace and their ability to deliver on their own strategies.

Risks are a great connector to the first evaluation of your customers market impact.

Let’s use an example of Market Impact (I.C.S) and apply it to risks

Market Impact AppliedIdentified Challenge
I (Impact)New Regulation
C (Change)Customer Preference
S (Strategy)Go To Market

Potential Risk Implications to customer if not acted (F.S.O)

Financial Risk (F)Strategic Risk (S)Operational Risk (O)
New RegulationLoss of customersReputationProcess inferiority
Customer PreferenceLoss of revenueGrowth potentialReduced capacity
Go To MarketCost to adaptationNew competitorsLoss of competitive advantage

Financial (F)

  • What financial risks are there within your customers market in these areas and how might this affect your work together?

Strategy (S)

  • What strategic risks need to be considered in your customers market in these areas and how might this affect your work together?

Operational (O)

  • What are the potential operational risks to my customer in their market in these areas and how might this affect your work together?

What is your Risk F.S.C?

Watch this video for additional examples.

3. Know your customer opportunities

Just as there are risks for organisations, there is also the counter-action of opportunities that can be taken advantage of. It is our role as customer experts to come objectively to our customers with new ideas and insights that might help them turn risks to advantage within their marketplace.

The big question with evaluating customer opportunity is…

How can we convert the risks known about our customers into opportunities for them, and ideally also for us?

We’re going to EXPLORE how to take the identified risks from the previous section and turn them into opportunities.

A first question to ask when you see a risk with your customer is…

If this risk were an opportunity for us, what kind of benefit would we gain?

This doesn’t mean every risk you identify will have an immediate positive opportunity. The purpose here is to realise that most of what we and our customers experience have hidden and undervalued opportunities.

Let’s use the example below of an organisation in the financial services sector where the identified risks are:

Risk CategoriesAll Identified Risk to customerPotential opportunity for customerWhere we can contribute
Financial (F) – New RegulationLoss of customers, loss of revenue, cost to adaptationChange in regulation could reduce the number of competitors if adapted too quicklySupport customer with new regulation
Strategy (S) – Customer Preference Reputation, Growth potential, new competitorsChange in customer preference could produce new innovation and greater growthConnect customer with insights from your market research department
Operational (O) – Go To MarketProcess inferiority, reduced capacity, loss of competitive advantageChange in Go To Market could save costs, increase profits and offer new advantageConnect customer with our channel of organisations to access new customers in changing market

Some additional questions we can ask to help us explore opportunities in each area are:

Relationships (R)

  • What opportunities are there to deepen the relationship, or connect your customers with other relevant and appropriate relationships?

Education (E)

  • What education can you provide to your customers that we have unique access to, that would be difficult for your customer to get or even know exists?

Insight (I)

  • What insights can you provide to your customers about the risk that helps them gain potential new advantages?

What is your opportunity R.E.I for your customer today?

Watch this video for additional examples.

Next Steps

Being the expert requires work, and it’s not for everyone. And most will just not do it!

That means you have the opportunity to stand out as a partner to your customers.

Among the many suppliers your customers have to engage with, your decision to do the work and show up as the expert will transform how you are viewed.

Just imagine being in your next customer meeting and instead of setting the typical standard agenda your agenda read…

Market, Risks and Opportunities.

Decide to be the expert today and watch the full series of videos here: