Four Military Customer Cultures Require Four Types of Sales Approaches

If you want to sell to the military, you need to acknowledge that all military customers are not the same.  It’s not just the different uniforms.  It’s their histories and the environments they operate in that mold the primary US military services.  I had a military career and then a defense company career and here’s how I believe the behaviors of the four services can be explained:

The defining characteristic of the Army is physical.  They can be likened to a gang, not in the criminal sense, but in their camaraderie, task-oriented structure and mission to seize and hold land.  Their leaders are also some of the finest scholars of all the services.  Sell them with lots of options.

The defining characteristic of the Navy is philosophical.  They can be likened to a club, where the ideas and relationships forged at the Naval Academy have great influence on their decision-making.  Of all the services, their leaders are the most adept at politics.  Sell them with a big vision.

The defining characteristic of the Air Force is technological.  They can be likened to a corporation whose technicians, with cool dispatch, project power through amazing machines.  Their warriors are mostly officers, but the cultural separation between officers and the talented enlisted force is the least of all the services.  Sell them with hard data.

The defining characteristic of the Marine Corps is emotional.  They can be likened to a cult, where their unrivaled esprit de corps binds them in unity, purpose and common interest to achieve astonishing results with very few resources.  There are no “former” Marines.  Sell them with collaborative partnerships.

In the military, we tend to express our separate cultures through humor.  The following are some well-traveled selections revealing those differences in behaviors:

Army: If the enemy is in range, so are you.  Tracers work both ways.  If you see a bomb technician running, try to keep up with him.  When the pin is pulled, Mr. Grenade is not our friend.  Don’t draw fire; it irritates the people around you.

Navy: Never trade luck for skill.  Any ship can be a minesweeper – once.  No combat-ready unit has ever passed inspection.  Don’t be the first, don’t be the last, don’t volunteer for anything.

Air Force: The only time you have too much fuel is when you are on fire.  Airspeed, altitude and brains – two are always needed to successfully complete the flight.  When one engine fails on a twin-engine aircraft, you always have enough power left to get you to the scene of the crash.

Marine Corps: Have a plan and have a backup plan because the first one probably won’t work.  Anything worth shooting is worth shooting twice.  The only unfair fight is the one you lose.

And to further illustrate their different cultural responses, here’s the classic joke of how the services react to the same orders.  When told to “secure the building,” the Navy would turn out the lights and lock the doors, the Army would surround the building and post guards, the Marine Corps would assault and capture the building and set up a command center, and the Air Force would take out a three-year lease with an option to buy.

So the next time you call on a military customer, how will you adjust your approach?

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