There is an old adage that says: ‘Companies don’t buy, people buy.’ The message is that, in order to get a company to buy something from you, you have to get the people in the company to buy. Of course, this is true, but I don’t subscribe to the notion that the two are disconnected.
A company, its personality, culture, business outlook, market position, business pressures and consequent buying proclivities, are in fact an attribute of the company itself as well as of the people in the company. There is a ‘chicken and egg’ situation here. Companies have personalities and culture. When someone joins an organization, they are influenced by those attributes; on the other hand, a company is made up of people, whose personalities and attributes are themselves influencers on the overall personality of the company. It is not sufficient to consider just one or the other.
One of the biggest mistakes made by some sales professionals is assuming that all customer companies are created equal. It’s as if they expect some alchemist to stir a magic potion and to serve up cookie-cutter customers, each with the same level of technical savvy, common approach to risk, and similar awareness of their need. But, of course, it isn’t so. If you have done your work to define and assimilate your Ideal Customer Profile, you will know that this is not so – and you are ahead of the game.
One of the best things that can happen to a salesperson is when their satisfied buyer moves from one company to another and invites the seller into the new company to supply the same solution. I have a good friend Mark (you know who you are) who first became a customer in 2006 when he was at one of the world’s largest software companies. After a very successful career at that company where he oversaw a tremendous evolution in the sales organization, he was recruited to one of the top five hardware and services companies about four years later. I was delighted when we got the call to once again partner with Mark in what was possibly the world’s largest sales transformation at that time.
In 2015 Mark moved companies again – this time to what I would call a New Economy company. This company was early stage, almost Start-up but on the cusp of Growth. It was moving fast, growing fast, hiring and firing fast, and burning through lots of cash fast. The company had just gone public in a frenzied IPO market. Mark was recruited by one of the board members to bring some discipline and process to the sales organization. When Mark called me to tell me he was moving I remember him saying: “We are really going to need your help again. This company is all over the place and this will be our greatest challenge yet.”
I was delighted that we would be helping Mark again and of course also pleased that we would be putting another significant customer logo on the board.
Unfortunately, this time it didn‘t work out. We fell at the culture hurdle. When we looked at what the company wanted to achieve, its practices and procedures, we decided that there were several foundational practices that they first needed to put in place before they would be ready to benefit from our solution. The Positive Impact Potential was low so we decided to not engage until the company was ready. After 18 months of frustrated effort, Mark left the company. He had made progress on the business processes that he knew were required at a company in the Growth stage. The company was very entrepreneurial – which in itself wasn’t a problem – but it also had a lot of attributes of the Individualistic culture described below. It just was not a good cultural fit.
While it’s reasonable to expect that companies of similar profile might make parallel purchases of similar products, specific peculiarities of the culture in one company – in this case relating to company maturity – may mean that the fit is not right. Customers are different, and you need to embrace the buyer’s perspective. It’s his money after all, and sitting at his side of the table will help you get it.
Mark’s new company was a better fit for him and for us – and we are delighted to be helping him now on our third sales transformation project together.
A company’s culture – the combination of practices, behaviors, and values that drive the organization – impacts how the company buys, and therefore how you should determine how you might sell to it.
There are four types of culture you should consider (Bureaucratic, Entrepreneurial, Collaborative and Individualistic) and each requires a different selling approach, so you need to assess the prevalent culture in your target customer to correctly position yourself, your company, and your value proposition. Understanding your customer’s culture is key to helping you recognize how decisions are made. Culture is a bit like an iceberg. What you can’t see is often greater than what you can. Look beyond the obvious to ascertain the culture – then adapt your approach accordingly. Once you understand how the organization thinks, you are ready to build relationships with the people.
I discuss this in detail in my latest book: Digital Sales Transformation in a Customer First World.