Who is your customer? The answer depends on your goal and whether you’re talking about the short term or the long term. Are you in sales or marketing and therefore looking to sell or assist in selling your company’s products? If so, then you might say that your customer is XYZ Circuits or ABC Assembly or even Ace Distribution. But are they really your key customer?
What is your goal? I would bet, at least initially, that it is earning a living, increasing your income through salary, and the commission associated with selling your company’s product. But what is your medium- or long-term goal? It is never too early to consider this. If all you want is to do is earn a living, then identifying the customers and then selling the product to the customers for that product makes it easy to answer the question, “Who is the customer?”
But if your goal is to climb the corporate ladder, eventually get into sales management, junior executive status, become president, build and grow your own company, increase your company’s sales and your career, then you have to separate the customers into at least three categories.
The first category is obvious: A customer is a candidate to buy your company’s products.
The second is your boss or your board of directors. It is imperative that you always have this category in mind. Helping your boss and your senior management team to progress by supporting their goals, making them look good and gaining their respect will pay huge dividends as opportunities arise. I realize that there will be times that you will be in competition with others in your company for those valuable positive relationships; you may find yourself on the opposite side of an issue or strongly feel that the wrong path is being followed. You may even have to speak out in opposition. Sometimes you may even have to leave and strike out on a new path for yourself. Just be sure that you always keep this category (call it “key personal customers”) in mind and do not make your decisions in haste.
The third category is far less obvious. Sometimes the customers in this category are your competitors and/or rivals. Sometimes it can pay huge dividends to “respect while you oppose.” It is very possible to beat your competition for an account (category 1), or beat your colleague for a promotion or disagree with your boss in a respectful or private way and still gain their respect (category 2), or take business from a competitor and still gain their respect. Perhaps you do it by truly earning it or by building a better relationship and gaining the business even though your product may not be superior. Or perhaps it is by helping the career of an internal competitor even though it was you who got the promotion. Sometimes you can work with a competitor on an industry project for the common good.
When you beat someone for the sale, or perhaps for a key promotion, or you work with them on a common project, you have a great opportunity to gain the respect of the competition who may have just lost to you. Find a way to then help them and take advantage of the opportunity. Years later I will bet that you will be glad you did.
I can recall situations in my career where all of these situations helped me get to where I wanted to go. Remember the path does not end when you make the sale. The marketing plan is a life-long path and there will be times when some people you never expected to do so will become your customers.
Dan Feinberg is president of Fein-Line Associates and a contributing editor for I–Connect007. To read past columns or to contact him click here.