Hidden customer information road maps are everywhere.  We synthesize information and map it to your opportunity.

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Use information about your customers to help “break the ice” as we did in this case:

Three executives from a Salt Lake City organization were visiting a Boston vendor.  We identified the perfect ice-breaker when I found out that two of the three were on the upcoming Summer Olympics organizing committee.  Clearly these Olympics were a source of pride. So we invited one of our product managers who had actually skated in a prior Olympics. By the time we sat down for the meeting, the Olympics topic had been raised, and everyone had a smile on their face. A powerfully applied nugget of personal information can make a big difference.

Understand the context in which customer- decision makers are operating.  

A leading IT outsourcing firm selling ERP services to a large chemical firm tweaked its strategy after research found that the firm’s new CIO had no formal IT education, had just been hired away from a much smaller firm, and that her last ERP implementation was now failing miserably. Her new CEO had publicly promoted his new ERP plan and his new CIO as its champion. Based on this intelligence, and our guidance, the firm decided to position its ERP outsourcing service as a way to the take the load off her back, and even more delicately – as a way to save her job.

Customers won’t be swayed by your multi-million $ Executive Briefing Center – it’s your knowledge of them, and your focus on them that matters:

A large healthcare provider was considering moving its 85,000 employees from its longtime software suite to a newer Cloud-based suite. As the incumbent provider, Software Firm A came across a bit arrogant and overconfident that the provider would accept its terms. Firm B was invited to make their pitch and had a good shot at this annual $35 million opportunity, and the customer was actively rooting for them. But while Software Firm A diligently planned its executive briefing by working closely with the provider’s internal champion to set the right agenda, Firm B did nothing of the sort, instead simply giving the pitch it wanted to give, in its lavish new EBC, with little real effort to gauge the provider’s priorities, hot buttons, or end-goals. As such, Software Firm A’s extraordinary effort to deeply understand this key customer crushed what should have been a highly competitive battle. – A flashy briefing center and brand name and a high-energy hip environment are still no substitute for deeply understanding the customer.

Customer insight requires an active, constant team effort:

A process engineering software vendor in meeting with its largest (Fortune 10) customer discovered the customer had purchased a number of competitor solutions that the vendor had not even known was open for bid—suggesting that they were no longer on the customer’s “short list” for project bids. These numerous missed opportunities could have easily been uncovered and addressed by someone more closely monitoring the customer. This finding set off a firestorm internally for the vendor as they tried to learn what had happened to the relationship—and who was responsible for letting a key customer slowly slip away.  Armed with this knowledge, the vendor was now ready to address this issue, at the highest level, during their executive briefing.  Customer analysis is really not an annual or spot event; it is a constant monitoring state.

Thoroughly research your company’s own history with a customer to avoid embarrassing oversights. In this case, our research averted a negative outcome:

A new sales team preparing for an executive briefing with a CIO had no idea that less than two years earlier he had presented at their own sales conference.  Amazingly, the topic of his videotaped speech, which could be found online, was: “How I prefer sales people to approach and sell to me”.

Always do your homework. Unfortunately, I have been at the table when, for whatever reason, no one did. These are painful lessons:

At a customer briefing, the CIO of mid-size manufacturer asked the sales team if anyone was familiar with his firm’s business strategy. After an awkward silence, he dejectedly explained their strategy. It was clear that this deal was already lost.

A state government CIO told us how frustrated she was with IT vendors’ lack of preparation. She now insists that vendors understand her strategy and initiatives before they walk in her door. “This is public information”, she says. “Find it!”.

A poorly prepared sales team  does more than just lose a deal, it loses the support and credibility of its own executives – which can impact EBC Program cachet:

We witnessed a Fortune 100 firm senior executive, in support of a regional sales team, fly cross-country to attend a regional executive briefing—and emphatically swore never to return to support this team as he witnessed an embarrassingly unprepared, unfocused team stumble its way through the meeting.   This impacts future briefings in a big way – as this executive and all other participants, and even the customer will be less likely to engage in future briefings.  Clearly, this is not what an EBC program needs.

One uninformed team member can sink a deal.  Make sure you share all your homework on all key decision-makers:

A Sales Director for a PC manufacturer told us of a time when a new sales rep offered to run an impromptu demo to a soon-to-be customer CEO, who was there simply to sign the contract based on the CIO’s recommendation. The CEO suddenly felt they missed some key features that he wanted and cancelled the deal. That rep was gone by the end of the day! – Despite the poor sales technique, the Sales rep should have known the risk of presenting anything to a CXO, about whom he knew nothing.

Customer research should always include internal research.  Your Customer Success Stories often offer the best storyboards and discussion proof-points:

A Sales VP of a major tech vendor recalled a recent engagement where the customer simply asked; “What else are you doing for other customers like us”? “And we all just sat there with blank looks. We should be ready with relative customer success stories – And we should be showing them the building blocks on how they could move with us next going forward, based on our case studies”. – You need to understand not only the customer (external research), but also your own relative built-up advantages and success stories (internal research).

You never know from where the next golden information nugget will come – but it’s a shame if its information you already have, but neglect to recover and use:

A Fortune 100 high–tech sales team, recently assigned to this customer, almost blew a deal at a briefing, when our last-minute research revealed the customer, thought to be a new customer, was actually already a satisfied customer within a different product group.  Had the sales team treated this customer as a stranger, instead of positioning themselves as a proven, trusted vendor, to this day they’d still be kicking themselves.  In fact, this customer had volunteered to be written up as one of firm’s “Success Stories”.

You should always know the reality of price competition. We have seen smart firms surrender millions before realizing the extent of their under-pricing:

Senior leaders at a global economic consulting firm once argued about their pricing model, with most claiming the market had commoditized and blaming high-pricing for deals recently lost.  Our research then proved that their customers were highly insensitive to pricing (for several reasons).  Thus this firm was losing deals for reasons other than price – and had no idea where they were missing the boat.  The research showed competitors were effectively bad-mouthing the firm’s unique business model – an objection easily defendable had they known it was a key hot button.  

Likewise, an IT systems integrator routinely priced itself 10% below the market leader.  Our research then proved this firm was considered technically superior and a higher quality firm than the market leader.  Seeing this, the CEO raised prices 20% overnight – without losing a single client. 

Sometimes, a last-minute, single little C-level executive quote gleaned from an online interview can change the course of an executive briefing: 

A tech vendor, hosting a Dept of Justice agency CIO, had planned  a full-out Cloud-solution sales assault at this briefing. Just before that big day, we found this current information nougat, even as the vendor’s Cloud executive was flying in to give his spiel. We found that the customer was in no way ready for the Cloud discussion. Regarding the Cloud, this CIO was quoted saying: “They (her staff) haven’t even started to understand the concept. If I said, ‘We’re going to put out an RFP on the “Cloud”,’ they’d look at me like I had two heads.”  A very telling quote – suggesting a slow or challenging transition to the Cloud.  The team quickly adjusted their agenda and took our advice to position their Cloud presentation as a “visionary, future concept” discussion.