Over the past few days, I’ve been participating in a discussion about a struggling organization. It’s a start up, the CEO wanted help in developing sales skills. But as the discussion progressed, it was clear the CEO didn’t understand who their customers were. They were responding to queries from whoever happened to find their web site.

They also didn’t understand why their customers were buying, in fact it wasn’t clear that they understood what problems they were solving for the customer–their win rate was 1.7%.

Yet the CEO and many participants in the discussion were convince, all they needed to do was improve their selling skills.

There are so many red flags in this situation–while it’s an extreme example, it’s not an uncommon situation.

The best sales person in the world will be unsuccessful if she doesn’t know who her ideal customer is. Great selling skills are meaningless if you aren’t really clear about the problems you solve for these ideal customers and why solving these problems is important to them.

This problem arises from our “inward-out,” product based focus. We are chartered to sell our products and services, focusing on what we do—but now about who cares about what we do and why they should.

As a result, we waste huge amounts of time, resources, as well as creating customer ill will by trying to engage all the wrong people for all the wrong reasons.

It seems so obvious, but is actually not well done:

  • What problems we are the best in the world at solving?
  • Who are the organizations/people that have those problems? Both as enterprises and individuals within those enterprises (personas).
  • How do we know they have those problems now, or may have a high sense of urgency about solving those problems?
  • How do they buy these solutions, how do we engage customers in buying?

Developing our expertise to “sell” is meaningless until we know who we sell to and why they might have a need to buy. Developing prospecting, qualifying, discovery, objection handling, presenting, or any number of other classic selling skills is meaningless unless we know the specific context in which we need to execute these.

We have to do our homework, we have to understand/define who our customers are, what we do and why it’s important to them. Without this, we have no starting point and no reason to sell.