One Tried and True Way to Increase Sales in the New Year: Pay Attention to Your Customers’ Customers

In any non-B2C sale where your potential customers have customers of their own, think about what you can do that will bring more sales for them in turn.  I’m forever amazed at the alchemy of value generation.  When sellers and buyers get together there is economic growth.  But when sellers also provide the means for buyers to sell more, there is exponential economic growth.  Economic indicators go up and so does your topline.  It’s good for everyone, except your competitors.

There are many approaches to find out how and to whom your prospective customers sell their wares.  You can research their companies, organizations, and business cultures  You can examine their products and solutions.  You can survey the business landscapes they are competing in.  And you can take a look at their major competitors to see how they operate.  These are all good for gathering useful data but to really help your customers sell you need to pay attention to their customers.

I learned this at an early age, although I didn’t realize it at the time.  My Dad, George, was a paint salesman.  His territory was mostly North Texas – from our home in Fort Worth up to the Red River and the Oklahoma border.  It was a time before big box stores, when paint, hardware, and floor covering were sold in small stores in small strip malls.  Think of the film “The Last Picture Show.”

On school holidays and Saturdays, Dad would often take me along on sales calls.  This served many purposes.  He traveled a lot and it meant he could spend some quality time with me.  And while I was with him I wasn’t breaking stuff in the house.  

During those trips, I witnessed a great salesman and his techniques.  Dad would enter a prospect’s store, introduce himself to the manager or owner and make some pleasant small talk.  When the conversation died down, Dad would ask if it would be okay if he just watched things for a while and looked over the inventory.  They always said yes.  He’d go over to the paint cans on the shelves and run his finger over their tops to see which lines were empty and which had dust.  He’d look at the brush rack to see which brushes were moving and which were not. 

But most of all, Dad would listen to customer conversations.  What did the customers think they wanted?  How did the sellers respond?  What did the customers buy?  What did they want that the sellers didn’t have?  

After a few hours, Dad had a good idea of the sellers’ customers unmet needs and he zeroed in on those.  He and the manager or owner would go next door to the Dairy Queen (there was always a Dairy Queen nearby) to talk it over.  It wasn’t a hard pitch to make because they knew that Dad was totally focused on increasing sales for their stores.

I didn’t fully appreciate Dad’s sales artistry until I retired from my military career and got a business development (sales, really) job.  In his last years, Dad became my sales coach and I began to understand what I had witnessed so many years before.  It wasn’t paint he was selling.  It was relationships where the customer’s success came before his own.

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