How Do You Learn to Think Like Your Customer?

Bill Stinnett

1. Learn to think like a fish. The idea of thinking like our customer is predicated on a story which starts with me going fishing with my dad as a kid. We always had fun, but there was one problem; he’d catch fish all day and I couldn’t catch anything. I’d get frustrated and ask what I was doing wrong, and my dad always had the same advice: “Son, if you’re going to catch a fish, you need to learn to think like a fish.” This makes sense now, but at 9 years old, it didn’t help at all. I would get even more frustrated, thinking that, since I’m not a fish, I don’t know how to think like a fish. As a teenager, I finally grasped what my dad was trying to say: if you’re going to catch a fish, you need to learn to think about the things fish think about. That changed everything; I went down to the local library and checked out every book they had on fish, I joined the local bass fishing club, I signed up for every magazine on fishing that I could. I learned a ton about how fish think and the things fish think about and got really good at catching them. As I became involved in professional sales, however, I was taught more about what we should do as salespeople and the selling process we should follow, with very little focus on our customers and how they think or why they make buying decisions a certain way, despite it being an imperative tool to help us relate to our customer and ultimately win an opportunity.

2. Define Measureable Business Impacts. Focus on outcomes and results that our clients can really measure. There are a lot of things we might bring to our client in terms of products and services that would help their business; we might be able to improve some aspect or piece of how they operate that would make them a little better. However, the things that really move customers are what I like to call the ‘MBI’ – Measurable Business Impact. What MBI really means is that we influence or impact some specific measure, metric, or key performance indicator – ‘KPI’ - within the organization. I believe as sales professionals we need to sit down by ourselves, with our manager, with a group of salespeople, perhaps even our marketing team and define very clearly what MBI’s we can make on our customer’s business. We simply want to think about the different metrics, measures and KPI’s that our customers use to gauge their business performance.

3. Tailor your MBI’s to your audience. If we’re selling, for example, to the VP of R&D, how is that individual measured? What are their own performance indicators and how are they evaluated on how well they are doing their job? We can then translate what we do with our products or services into terms of positive impact we could make on those key measures. This takes knowledge of the industry and maybe even the experience of having been the kind of fish you’re trying to catch. Find someone in your company who has been in the position and sat on the other side of the desk who can tell you the 4 or 5 things that consumed their thinking every day.

We need to think of the measures our clients might use: profitability, labor costs, customer satisfaction, revenue growth, system down time. If we can have a specific, measurable impact in one of these areas, then we’ve got a story to tell, a Value Proposition if you will. We should list as many metrics or KPI’s as we can think of which impact our client and can be associated with a unit of measure. These units can be dollars or hours, they can be percentages – we improved this area by X, Y and Z percentage, or even a scale of 1-10. Let’s say, in their opinion, their performance rates a 5 in some area, we could help improve that to a 7 or 8 based on specific criteria.

It’s key to give thought to how our customer measures their business so we can come back with specifics of how we can help improve their profitability. We might help optimize worker output or reduce SGNA expenses, for example. We want to think of the measures and then we want to think of the movement – increase profitability, reduce overhead, improve customer satisfaction – and when we figure out and can articulate very clearly how we can add a movement to a key metric or measure that they already care about, now we are talking the customers’ language.

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