Usually when you hear this question, it is followed by something to do with identifying client industry, or prospect demographic. But here, I am considering a question that comes after you have identified a prospect organisation, and a question that is only relevant to B2B sales.
This is a challenge that is particularly pertinent to people who provide consultancy services – especially training and speaking in businesses. Here, we have a chain of ‘customers’ who are directly or indirectly involved in the overall purchasing decision. The purchasers, who pay for the solution are usually different from the actual users. And not just different people, but coming from a very different mindset, and experiential background. Then there are also often influencers.
This challenge means that many of us operating in the training, speaking, consulting, thought leadership space become servants with two, or even three, masters.
Let me give you some examples:
If you are selling a training program, the program must be relevant to the participants on that program. But the purchaser will probably be a member of the HR department, or a CFO. The purchaser (HR or CFO) will have outcomes that they need to achieve, although they may have little knowledge about what is to be trained, or the skill level of the participants. This can lead to pressure to reduce the time allowed for the training, or to increase the group number, or to change the order of the topics.
One example that I recall vividly was when I ran a training course in Germany, as part of a global rollout. The organisation had only allowed half day sessions for a full day course. We were told to start the course early, and run until late so two sessions could be fitted in per day. The effect of this was that most participants stuck with their usual working hours, so they arrived late or left early. The effect of this was that no-one completed the entire course, and the rollout went very badly.
Another case was a course in the mid 1990’s run as part of a redundancy program for people who had had no exposure to PCs. HR had decided on the courses, and failed to see that basic keyboard skills were essential, and more important than database design. The effect of this was that everyone was dissatisfied with the training – even though the program was exactly as the organisation had purchased.
When selling the training, it is difficult find out what is needed by the training participants, marry this to best practice and create a package that is attractive to the purchasing person. Given that the purchasing person has final say, and there are often competitors in the mix, it becomes impossible to provide a solution that meets everyone’s needs.
However, it is surprising how often this happens, and then when participants are dissatisfied with the training, the blame is put on the trainer – never the HR person who mandated the program.
The person buying a presentation is usually an event organiser, with little understanding of a typical audience member. This means that although the actual presentation must add value to the audience, the marketing of that presentation needs to appeal to the event organiser. Once a speaker has sold the event we have to work to make the presentation that we have sold meet the specific audience needs – without making too many radicle changes.
For example, if your presentation is aimed at start-up businesses looking for funding, it is unlikely that the event will be organised by a start-up business looking for funding.
In more general consulting, we have similar but different problems. Our primary responsibility is to the client organisation – which means ultimately the CEO, but we often rarely see this person. Our day to day interactions are with managers and other employees who may be several layers from the CEO. This means that the strategy that the CEO wants is interpreted by these intermediates. The consultant becomes the servant with two masters – the CEO and the organisation as one and the people with whom they have daily interactions as the other. It is too often easier to please the people in the second group.
Good consultants know that they should advise and guide their clients – not just take instructions. Sometimes this means pushing back – having the confidence to demonstrate that a senior person does not have the best answer. While most CEOs, and similar big picture thinking people, are open to this sort of conversation, many people are more detail focussed and just want to get today’s job done, and tomorrow’s problem can be looked after tomorrow. It takes a strong consultant to push back and do the right thing when this is not the desire of the people around them.
I have witnessed many projects that have ‘gone off the rails’ because of a failure to address the big picture.
One too common occurrence of this is when scoping only involves end users. This will usually lead to a focus on data capture, and not on data usage. Conversely, a scoping that only involves management will often focus on high level reports and make data entry a second priority.
The solution boils down to the all of the ‘customers’- especially the more senior ones- being aware of the multiple masters, and ensuring that everyone is aware of the bigger picture, so that they are not tempted to fall into meeting short term goals rather than the bigger picture. This is eminently achieved by management by walking around (MBWA) where senior people fully interact with their team members.