First, Understand Your Customer’s Perceptions

Published: September 21, 2017


This is part 1 in a five-part series about how to build stronger customer relationships.

“You just don’t understand me” is a phrase we’re all familiar with. Maybe we’ve heard it in a movie or TV show. It’s the classic start to a devolving relationship—the closing statement in an argument or a frustrated comment thrown out in conversation. We can imagine how the phrase might be followed by a dramatic sigh and a brusque walk out of the room.

There’s a scientific explanation for why we feel frustrated when we’re misunderstood. Our species craves connection. We want to live in community with others—we want to be known, understood, and appreciated.

We intuitively know this. And yet, how often do we enter customer relationships and fail to gain understanding—before action—in order to help our customers solve their challenges?

Brent Adamson, Principal Executive Advisor at CEB now Gartner, said in a podcast episode recently:

“If I’m going to change the way a customer thinks about their business…I need to understand how they think about their business. I need to get in their head and understand how they perceive their business.”

To understand how your customer thinks about their business, conduct value mapping. Brent Adamson discusses this concept further in this podcast here. Value mapping allows us to ask our customers what their bottom-line goal is—for example, to increase revenue. From that goal, we determine primary drivers that will help achieve that goal. Then we outline the secondary drivers which are required to achieve the primary drivers. For a visual outline of the value mapping exercise, see the graphic below:

Value Mapping Diagram

Understand How the Customer Thinks About Their Business

Unfortunately, no matter how well-intentioned we are,  we often fail to gain a clear picture of our customer’s perspective. There’s a reason for this: it’s difficult.

There are more decision makers than ever before—approximately 6.8 (CEB).  There are more complex products and services than ever before. Sales reps have less time than ever before.

But the good news is that understanding our customer is not impossible—and I’d like to share what’s worked for the value consultants at Ecosystems. In this article series, I’ll be revealing a methodology that Ecosystems has been using for over 17 years to build stronger relationships with customers.

The purpose is to initiate a relationship with a customer by identifying what initiatives the customer has in place.

  1. What business problems do they have for this initiative?
  2. What solutions from you, the vendor, are going to solve that problem?
  3. Are we solving a problem that the customer has, or are we just trying to sell our product or service?

Ask These Questions Instead

Here are a few questions to use in your next conversation with your customer:

  • What are your business goals and objectives?
  • What issues are you facing in meeting these goals?
  • What initiatives are you implementing to address the issues?
  • Are there specific projects in place to execute on the initiatives?
  • What are the names of these projects and what business problem do they solve?
  • How do the solutions I’m offering, as the vendor, uniquely address these problems?

Our value consultants at Ecosystems teach and practice this type of questioning every day with customers. Whether they are training a sales team to understand their customers better, or interacting directly with the sales team’s customers, these efforts to understand the customer’s business have profound effects on the success of a relationship.

I’d love to hear from you: if you apply any of these principles or have thoughts you’d like to share, please write a note in the comments below!

About the Author

Melissa Carpenter

Melissa Carpenter

Melissa is a Market Analyst at Ecosystems. She shares emerging best practices with sales, marketing, and customer success leaders and analyzes trends in value management. She enjoys connecting with other industry leaders and empowering them with knowledge and expertise to implement value management practices. Melissa has her B.A. from Princeton University.