Beyond the Pitch

5 Ways to Get to Know Your Customer in Business-to-Business (B2B) Sales

Well who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

Tell me who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

Oh, I really wanna know? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

Tell, tell me who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

We call it business-to-business, but at the end of the day, there’s always a human being at the other end of every B2B sale. That person—the human who is actually going to be using the product or service that you sell—is your customer.

When we’re starting up companies and the discussion is B2B this and B2B that, it’s easy to lose sight of the “Kyle” who is actually using our application to reduce shipping costs, or the “Molly” who is researching cancer using the nano-scaffolding invented in our lab.

And no wonder. We batch up the Mollys and Kyles of the world. We call them “users.” We talk about them with specific generalities in categories like customer service, or purchasing, or manufacturing. We use “they” not “she” or “he.”

And yet, the more we know about the individuals who click the mouse, biopsy the cell, or assemble the parts, the greater our opportunity is to develop products and services that solve their problems, the higher the odds are that they will become early adopters and champions for our companies.

While no entrepreneur or company has the resources to get to know every single customer personally, the best entrepreneurs roll up their sleeves, pick up the phone, and figure out ways to get to know some of them.

1. Imagine a prototype of the ideal person to use your solution. You already have an idea of who you believe will have the most to gain day-to-day from the product or service you are going to sell. What jobs are they doing in which companies? What are their hours? What kind of education do they have? Who do they report to? (Hint: These people are not the C-level managers of the business.)

2. Figure out ways to connect with six or eight of these individuals face to face. Maybe you can’t walk just walk into Boeing and ask to meet with someone working on the production line, but you likely know people and have connections—through business, school, sports, or other social activities, or social media. Consider a Facebook or LinkedIn post. “Does anyone know a professional customer service rep who would talk to me about his job?” “Is there a design engineer out there who will tell me first-hand how having a stronger lighter material than steel could improve her prototype?”

3. Remember that you came to ask questions and listen to answers, not to talk about how wonderful your solution is going to be. The goal of these conversations is to make sure you understand the problem. You can bet you don’t have it even 70 percent right.

4. Seek out the people who are doing the jobs today that your solution will improve tomorrow—not the jobs that might disappear. Companies implement new products and services because there are tangible benefits. Innovation creates jobs in startups. Innovation changes the way work is done and sometimes causes jobs to be eliminated.

5. Build relationships. People like to be on the ground floor of something new. They like to help “the little guy or gal” succeed. Your company will need early adopters. One or more of these early contacts could become the champion that helps you gain a foothold in a department or a company.  If you’ve ever been anyone’s “first customer” you know how enduring that connection can be.

Companies aren’t customers. People are. Some of the most effective investor presentations we’ve ever seen were those where the entrepreneurs described what they learned by talking to real people doing real work.

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