Context Matters

My Blackberry Is Not Working!” is one of the most brilliant sketches, especially when it comes to context. Imagine a fruit and vegetable shop. A customer comes in the shop, starts complaining that his BlackBerry wouldn’t work. Then, he puts a piece of fruit on the table. …
You get the picture. In this case it’s fun–but not a successful sale. Being out of context can be even worse: Imagine you are driving at 140 mph on a pretty wet highway at night. That’s driving out of context with a high risk of crashing due to aquaplaning.

“We don’t sell out of context.” I hear you. … But wait a minute. Let’s see why context in sales matters more than ever and where the challenges are.

Our research says that 89 percent of top-performing sales organizations clearly understand their customers’ issues before they propose a solution to solve their problems. Doing so requires a deep understanding of the customer’s specific context, because customers don’t buy products or services. They buy the value they get from a provider’s capabilities to fix a problem, to accomplish their goals, or to avoid potential problems.

This is why customer context matters in every single interaction. This is why the customer context along the customer journey has to be a major design point regarding selling methodology, sales enablement and execution.

Nevertheless, many customers still complain that sales professionals are very knowledgeable about their own products and company, but not sufficiently knowledgeable about the specific customer’s industry and specific role and challenges, or how to approach the customer.

There seems to be a gap. A variety of challenges must be considered:

  • A generic foundation of customer context can be prepared by sales enablement or marketing in various forms and shapes, ideally in content modules that are easy to customize. This covers all information describing the conditions of a certain market/industry, typical roles and personas you have to deal with, their typical business challenges and patterns, and how to approach them.
  • The situational customer context, which makes the real difference, requires salespeople. It requires that they know where to find the context data and–even more important–how to adopt the generic findings effectively to the specific selling situation. This is why providing content on context is not enough. As long as people don’t know how to use it effectively, it doesn’t create any value.
  • Frontline sales managers have to coach their team members the right way. This is a very powerful key to increasing sales productivity that is often overlooked. As context is changing along the customer journey, it’s important that coaching on specific opportunities is always focused on understanding the changing context picture in order to completely understand the implications and to take the right actions.

Context is the opposite of working with assumptions. Context is the opposite of guessing. Context is about getting precise and specific. Understanding and applying customer context is a prerequisite to providing valuable perspectives to your customers in order to win their business.

This post was written for TopSalesWorld, Feb Magazine, and published @ MillerHeiman Blog


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