Stop selling and listen!

“We’ve been focusing on selling and just shooting ourselves in the foot.” That’s an exact quote from my phone meeting with Dave this morning. He and I have been working on a project to identify the most receptive market segments and buyer personas for his product. Here’s more of what he told me . . .

“The CEO and I spend a lot of time talking to customers during and after the sales process, so I assumed that we knew our audience. Now I realize that when we’re in sales mode we’re preaching our message. We don’t get to just listen and not take a position, so we haven’t been getting the right information.”

It was early morning when Dave and I talked, but I was suddenly wide awake. I grabbed a pen and tried to write down as many of his words as I could. Here are the other parts of my notes that I can read:

“First I listen to one person and they tell me something. When I get to the next interview I build on the points from the first meeting and I learn more. The more time I spend talking to people the more comfortable I get. I don’t even need to be creative. I just listen and see the same theme emerging over and over again.”

Dave started this project with a fairly typical problem – the company got started when the founder saw a need to solve a specific problem. More than a decade later, the company is up against a guerilla in that space. They have customers in other areas, but every sale is unique, and each new account results in a new set of enhancement requests. The company doesn’t know where it can effectively invest in selling and marketing with predictably favorable results.

Because Dave got out of sales mode and started actively listening, he knows that his horizontal (read scattered) solution can answer a pervasive, unsolved problem in the insurance industry. He still has meetings and phone interviews scheduled in one other segment -- I'll be anxious to hear how that goes. He also has a starting point for building the buyer personas that he will need to target through marketing programs, and has the core elements of his messaging strategy in the first industry. He even has a new approach to developing highly qualified leads.

When I started working with Dave I sensed that he’d be good at this process. He is open-minded and curious, and is very knowledgeable about the value of his products. We spent some time together at the beginning of this project, getting to the heart of his product's distinctive competence, analyzing the aspects of the product’s current successes and failures, and applying that insight to potential market segments. Then it was up to Dave to listen and see what he could learn from the only people that matter – the target buyers.

Near the end of our phone call this morning I asked Dave the question that keeps ME awake at night. Why don’t more product marketers get out and listen to the people who aren’t their customers yet? At the risk of irritating him, I asked the question directly --You’ve been at your company for a couple of years now. Why didn’t you get this done until now? I wrote down his reply . . .

“Sales people keep saying that they just need more leads, ROI calculators, and that sort of thing. We are so busy working on our marketing checklists, there is never enough time to get out. I always knew that my opinion was irrelevant but I didn’t realize that the opinions of the salespeople were also irrelevant.”

I changed Dave’s name and carefully avoided saying anything here that might reveal his company or solution, but everything in this post is true, I promise. I’m keeping Dave’s secret about what he heard from the market -- the insights that he has about his buyer personas are now his company’s best competitive weapon.  But I'm going to tell eveyone who will listen how he got that information, hoping to inspire just one more person to stop selling and start listening.

Topics: B2B, Buying Criteria, Market Research, Sales people

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