Know Thy Customer ~ Unknow Thyself

April 22, 2016 0 Comments Best Practices by Jack Dean

Unknow ThyselfPresident Abraham Lincoln was a masterful communicator.  What was his secret?  It was his ability to prepare what he was going to say by thinking like the audience he was going to address.  Mr. Lincoln was known to have said, “When I get ready to talk to people, I spend two-thirds of the time thinking what they want to hear and one-third of the time thinking about what I want to say.”  Interestingly, President Lincoln spent no time thinking about himself.

There is an important lesson here for B2B marketers, especially those selling at the executive-level.  President Lincoln, arguably one of the best message developers and deliverers of all time, purposely allotted the majority of preparation time to deepening his understanding of the audience (i.e. “customer acumen”) and the remainder of time to crafting a powerful tailored and aligned message (i.e. “solution impact”).

President Lincoln as a B2B Sales Coach

If Mr. Lincoln were coaching B2B sellers planning to spend 1 hour for an upcoming meeting with a customer CXO, he would suggest allocating 40 minutes contemplating what might be keeping this particular CXO up at night.  And then he would coach the sellers in the final 20 minutes to predict the root cause and potential reasons for this insomnia.  He would ask, “What are the critical success factors that will help this CXO get a full night’s sleep?”  Importantly, he would suggest the sellers spend NO TIME brushing up on their solution talking points or marketing scripts.  “Unkow thyself, my friends”.

Know Thy Customer (Especially Thy Customer CXOs)

President Lincoln’s preparation routine raises several important questions for sales people selling at the executive level.  Do you allocate 67% of your precious pre-call preparation time thinking about how your customer executive thinks?  Do you even know how to think like a customer executive when you have no business experience in the executive role?  Do you understand the unique persona, orientation, and mindset of an executive, which are vastly different than the analyst and manager personas you are accustomed to?  Do you think, as President Lincoln would think, about what the CXO wants to hear?

If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, you should feel comforted only by the fact that, as sales professionals, you are not alone.  Most Account Managers (farmers) and Sales Executives (hunters) I work with in Business Advisor Training (BAT) engagements spend the majority of pre-call preparation time polishing their already highly-polished solution messaging and sales pitch.  My frank advice to participants is, “Uknow thyself, your executive-level customer don’t care about you”.

Selling at the executive-level is outside of the comfort zone of most sellers because they are uncertain what customer executives really want to hear and they don’t want to damage their reputation and credibility going beyond their sales script.  Perhaps this is why many sellers allocate most preparation time to gilding the sales pitch lily.  The “Know Thy Customer” mantra makes sellers uncomfortable (as their ignorance might be exposed for all to see), so the safer course to take is to allocate preparation time to “Knowing Thyself” even better. What a colossal communication mistake!

Thinking Like a CXO Is Hard Work

It may be hard and uncomfortable, but you need to start THINKING like your customers.  As a member of the lifelong learning club, I believe you never truly learn anything unless you at first feel uncomfortable, so plan to feel that way and start thinking!  Henry Ford is attributed as saying that, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few engage in it”.  Thinking about what the audience wanted to hear was the secret to President Lincoln’s success delivering the right message to the right audience at the right time.

I cannot help you with the personal commitment you need to make to allocate more time to pre-call preparation.  But I can offer some tips for thinking like an executive and talking about things they want to hear.

Tip #1: Customer executives want you to PAINT A PICTURE with a few broad brush strokes.

Executives think big picture and so should you.  Plan to paint a big picture and don’t worry about painting outside of the lines.  The subject of your painting should be their company, its strategic journey, and how you can shorten, accelerate, or fund that journey.  Since executives have a countdown clock in their head, it’s important you start painting early and fast in a selling interaction.  After your last brush stroke, you want the executive to think, “This person has a high degree of customer business acumen.  I get the picture they are painting for me.  I see where this interaction is going and how it might benefit me and my company.  I’m going to put some more time in the countdown clock and ask some questions.”

Tip #2: Customer executives want your tailored point of view based on YOUR ANALYSIS of their organization.

Customer executives prefer to deal with facts and analyses, not opinions and hyperbole.  They are very interested in getting an outsider’s perspective on their strategic thinking.  Now is not the time to be shy or timid.  Since you have spent two-thirds of pre-call preparation trying to think like an executive, you should be ready to demonstrate the confidence that comes with proper preparation.  But your point of view needs to be supported by insights and analysis of the customer’s current financial situation, focus business priorities, and critical success factors.  That will require you to elevate your customer acumen.

Tip #3: Customer executives want you to talk about their FOCUS PRIORITIES and how to accelerate implementation outcomes.

Customer executives think more about implementing business priorities than solving business problems.  The former keeps them up at night while the latter is delegated to people lower in the organization who specialize in problem solving.  If you deploy a traditional solution selling approach, you’re likely to get quickly pushed down in the organization to lower-level problem solvers.  Instead, focus the conversation on the critical success factors associated with implementing the executive’s initiatives.

Tip #4: Customer executives want IMPLEMENTATION OPTIONS.

Customer executives think about options and ways to mitigate risk when implementing business initiatives.  They appreciate when others logically think the same way.  Be prepared to discuss various options and strategies.  Share your personal experience where you have helped others avoid execution pitfalls.  Provide a recommendation.

Tip #5: Customer executives want you to talk about the IMPACT OF CHANGE on their organization.

Customer executives think a lot about the impact of change on their customers and employees.  Since you are an expert in change management (having helped other clients manage change while successfully implementing your solutions), you are in a perfect position to offer advice and counsel.  Speaking with authority about a subject of mutual interest will increase your credibility with an executive-level audience and ultimately build trust.


1. What other pre-call preparation best practices can you recommend to your peers?

2. What do you do differently preparing for a CXO meeting (versus a meeting with managers)?

About Jack Dean and FASTpartners LLC: Jack brings BUY-side experience as a Fortune500 Chief Financial Officer to the B2B Sales Training Industry, which has been long dominated by training curriculum designed and delivered by SELL-side marketers and educators.  For the last 15 years Jack has trained 12,000+ B2B sales executives and account managers at 100+ companies in the technology, financial services, information services and manufacturing industries. Jack is an expert in helping sales professionals elevate their business/financial acumen and deepen their customer business insights, particularly around the drivers of financial performance improvement. In turn, this helps B2B sales professionals earn BUSINESS ADVISOR credibility with BUY-side executives, which leads to more sales. In 2009 Jack designed the popular FASTcred™ Framework for becoming a BUSINESS ADVISOR to BUY-side executives.  In connection he co-founded a training firm called FASTpartners LLC where a highly-regarded team of 21st century BUY-side CXOs leverage the FASTcred™ Framework to train B2B sales professionals on how to become BUSINESS ADVISORS. For more information on FASTpartners LLC training solutions, go to or contact Jack at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .