It’s a People Business

MH3 —  November 14, 2017

Sorry I skipped a week in my HR entries of how to work with your boss, grumpy or otherwise. But I’m back.

Thought I would take a slightly different tack today, though it’s consistent with my messages of the last couple of weeks. This one is inspired by both my recent posts and a presentation I just gave to the board of a sports-related national organization. But the topic at hand is not about working for a boss – it’s about working with clients, customers, sponsors, etc.

I love to ask my audience this simple question: what business are you in? Invariably we all fall into the trap of sharing our business’ mission or vision statements. If you take Peter Drucker to heart, you know that the purpose of any business is to make a sale. For example, the board I was presenting to last week was very tightly aligned on their organization’s mission, but I would argue they were wrong to think that way. In reality, they are in the Fundraising Business. Because without resources they cannot provide the opportunities and access that is so strongly articulated in their values.

Truth be told we are both right. They are in the Opportunity Business and they are also in the Fundraising Business. But if you scratch the surface you will also realize that we are both wrong.

This organization, your organization, my organization are all in the same business. It’s easy to forget sometimes and when we do, or at least when I do, we all pay a heavy penalty for it. The business we are all in is the People Business. Whether you are a tech company, a service organization, a rights agency, or an entertainment provider. Our customers are people.

Understanding we are in the People Business is key to selling programs, ideas, campaigns, sponsorships, media, innovations, investments – you name it. In my book (which yes I am still writing); it’s a point I keep trying to make. So much so that it may become the subtitle.

The business you are in is the People Business. If your business or organization isn’t hitting its sales targets, if you are not winning enough RFP’s, or if your channels of distribution are drying up – perhaps it is time to stop looking at the numbers and look at the names.

Who is it you are selling to? What motivates them? How are they evaluated in their job? What is their true role? You can ask yourself a hundred and one questions about this person and I think you should. Creating a clear picture of who your customer is and what their needs are is the easiest path to success.

So why don’t we do it more often? I’m not sure, but let me ask you this: in the last forty-eight hours, how many times have you thought about the person on the other side of the desk (your customer) as a person? Not in a butt-kissing or sappy way, but in a pragmatic and thoughtful way. It can start with a deeper evaluation of what they are asking of you and your company. This more in-depth understanding is much more valuable than the specifics of the ask, and should be dimensionalized around parameters such as problem-solving, providing confidence in your solution, or, inspiration from your ideas. In short, you need to understand what fears that person has and how can allay them.

Have you heard the expression that nobody ever got fired for hiring XYZ big-name supplier? (I removed the actual company name because it actually delegitimizes the expression.) But it’s true. Your customer doesn’t care whether you can provide the specs. They care whether hiring you will get them fired.

If you think that they are the same thing you are wrong. Because every one of your competitors, including you, can provide the specs. But who can assure the client they won’t get fired? The one who takes the time to understand how the internal machinations of the company work. The one who learns the risk tolerances of your customer’s bosses. The one who learns the true issues impacting their company.

Getting to know your customer is no different than getting to know your boss. Out the time in. Shut your flytrap. Open your ears wide. Take lots of notes. Do your homework. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.