If you’re in sales I’m guessing you’d tell me you’re all over your customers, right? You know the key 10 business challenges for each organisation, where they’re focussing budget and resources and the key decision makers you need to get in front of?

Most salespeople talk a good game on ‘knowing your customer’ (they sell for a living after all!) but after leading hundreds of account reviews experience tells me if I scratch beneath the surface the actual picture they have of their clients is pretty hazy.

I was no different when I started out in Sales. I had a great work ethic and big ambitions. I could get a foot in the door of most organisations but when I look back I had no idea if I was meeting the right people and with a limited understanding of their business I wasn’t prepared to ask great questions. I talked lots about our business and our products, listened very little about them and their needs and came away almost as poorly informed as I’d gone in.

It wasn’t long before I came to realise that my job wasn’t to be a talking website but rather to be an investigator, someone who truly gets under the skin of a client’s business before going within a thousand miles of some bland pitch.


Great salespeople who know their customers are constantly curious about these 3 things –


1. What is their client talking about?

Investor reports, company websites and social media feeds detail some fundamental stuff like strategic priorities, business performance and key people changes but their value goes further. They also reveal the language a client uses to talk about themselves and I’ve found playing this back to them in sales conversations to be really powerful

2. What are the key issues they’re wrestling with?

I’d always advocate looking beyond the boundaries of the client’s business to understand the space they’re operating in. Information like industry specific publications and analyst reports may take some digging around to find and read but they’re great for setting the all-important context. Whether it be Regulatory changes or competitor updates, they often reveal the ‘hot topics’ which your clients are having to respond to.

3. How does it feel to walk in their customer’s shoes?

Meet one of their customers and ask how it feels to work with your client. Pick up the phone and undertake some ‘secret shopping’ on behalf of another firm. What is their customer experience like, could you and your business help improve it?


These 3 steps are key to build a strong baseline of knowledge about your clients. But to truly get under a client’s skin I’ve learned to use that insight to drive great conversations when I’m face to face with people. To build credibility and trust, to ask better questions and ultimately to uncover ways of working together that add value to my clients and create opportunity for me.

Big-ticket deal winners aren’t just great at the typical sales stuff – they’re excellent investigators with a constant curiosity to know their customers.

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