Do You Know Your Customer?

Bob Williams, Eternality LLC October 2022

Over the course of my career, I have learned that most sales, marketing & business development professionals attempt to present their firm’s value proposition without actually knowing their customer or knowing if their customer has a need for their proposition.

Sometime the professional does not care who their customer is, only if they have a need and money; Sometimes they don’t know the importance of knowing their customer; and Sometimes they just do not know how to learn about a prospective customer.

I developed a “living” process for how to learn to get to know a prospective client or customer. I have used this process in virtually every encounter with prospective clients. In addition to using this process myself, I have trained many professionals in this process. These professionals vary in age, industry, educational background, nationality or technical competence.

As a side note, I have also used this process in every job interview with a prospective future employer as well.

I have used this process when working on five continents for non-profit organizations, privately-held companies, and Fortune 500/100 corporations.

This works.

Below I provide some of the key information I seek to learn about a prospective client. I answer as many of these as possible before my initial meeting and discover the answers to the rest of the questions during subsequent meetings. This is hard work but rewarded in developing both professional and personal relationships.
Under each of the a,b,c… points below there are many additional areas that I am not detailing in this short article that the professional needs to know in order to develop a successful relationship with their target client.

  1. Who is the target(s) at the client? (may be more than one)
    a. Key Background Information: Professional and personal
    b. Education
    c. Military / Volunteer experience
    d. Sports
    e. What they value in business and in life
    f. How I can help my target be more successful
  2. Who is the likely objector(s)?
    a. Same information as the target
  3. What is the prospective client’s business?
    a. Industry / Industry trends
    b. Offering / Product
    c. Success metrics
    d. How I can help my client become more successful
    e. Organization / Key Personnel / Management Style
    f. Number and locations of offices / personnel
    g. Time in business
    h. The client’s reputation in the press / media
  4. The client’s customers
    a. How the client’s customers measure success
    b. How the target client contributes to their customers’ success
    c. Reference projects
    d. How their customers value the offering and service of the target client
  5. Competitors
    a. Identify the target client’s competitors
    b. Understanding the competitors’ customers & value propositions
    c. Why are their competitors successful

In this short article I have not touched on how to select targets, how to know my own business, organization, offering, industry, competencies, weaknesses, and my competitors. This process covers all the above areas as well.

If you would like to discuss how to implement any of these areas in your organization, please reach out and let’s have a conversation.

Two Doors Down – Jack Turner, Guest Blogger

My best friend, Jesus, lives in a three-bedroom, ranch-style home, two doors down from where I live.  For years, I’ve treasured his love and attention and selfless devotion to my personal situation and what he refers to as “getting closer to Papa.”   We’ve shared many joyous times together, everything from a round of golf to feasting on his secret taco recipe.

       Funny, but recently it occurred to me that I had never gone to church with him.  I don’t even know where he goes to church on Sunday or if He even goes to church.   He’s such a non-conformist.  With Jesus, it sort of feels like it’s church all the time but not so formal or stuffy. I hope Jesus doesn’t know this but sometimes I get bored at church.

      Jesus knows my every thought and Wednesday he stopped by my place.   I was reading my Bible when he came in unannounced.  He saw me reading my Bible and secretly I thought how he must admire me for being such a disciplined Christian.   Don’t tell anyone but sometimes I think he’s kind of lucky to have me.  Jesus passed over the opportunity to praise me and instead he said, “Hey, what are you doing this Sunday?  Why don’t you come to church with me?”   Sure, I thought and quickly accepted his invitation.  I must admit that I was a little curious to know where he went to church.  I asked Him where we would be going and he smiled and said, “Let’s make it a surprise.”  Of course, this only heightened my curiosity, and I spent endless time between Wednesday and Sunday trying to determine which church he attended.

       I was pretty sure, it would be the new and wildly popular mega church, Modern Grapevine, with its charismatic preacher and a Christian rock band that would send you to heaven.  Each Sunday he preached a great, Bible based message that was never boring and very entertaining.  The church had taken on all the advantages of modern technology and each Sunday they live-streamed the music and message to multiple sites around the state reaching thousands of people.  Jesus is into numbers, at least I think he is, so surely this would be the chosen church.

     Sunday arrived and Jesus pulled up, out front, in his Volkswagen Van.  I always chuckle, because it looks like a retro, throwback to the hippy days of the late sixties.  On more than one occasion, Jesus has told me, how much he enjoyed the 60’s when everyone was talking about love.  Jesus was dressed in shorts and sandals and a Denver Broncos t-shirt.  He’s definitely casual and I knew how well he would blend in at the mega church.  The van lurched forward, and we were on our way.

     I knew the route and as expected, we approached the mega church, Modern Grapevine.  I expected the van to slow down as their parking attendants motioned us to turn in.  Instead, Jesus sped up and flew by them with a big smile and a lively wave of the hand, as we passed.  Now, I was a little confused and my whole theory was blown as to our destination.  For the next hour we drove around town passing church after church.  Jesus would slow down as we approached each church and inwardly I would think, “Ah, this is the one”.  But at the last moment, he would hit the gas and we would fly by church after church.  I was getting a little perturbed and it felt like he was toying with me.  

      Finally, we came to an area of town that is isolated and mostly industrial.  There are a number of empty buildings, and the few residents are the poorest of the poor.  We suddenly came to a stop under an overpass.  I could hear the high-pitched noise of cars passing overhead and the occasional heavy roar of a semi-truck as it down shifted and backed off its thunderous exhaust pipes.

      My vision was limited as it adjusted to the shadows of the surrounding environment.   Jesus jumped out of the van, and we took off for a wooded area nearby.  I began to see the outline of human figures among the trees and open spaces.   They were mostly men but some women and children as well.  I could see tent dwellings and cardboard shacks set up next to the nearby stream.  There was trash everywhere and the smell wasn’t something you soon forgot.

       I knew instantly that this was the area that homeless people often chose to live at.  I’d seen it on TV when on several occasions as they attempted to clear out the camp and encourage them to move on.  Each effort had failed, and they always returned.   Everyone recognized Jesus and they came running with big smiles on their faces and shouts of greeting.  Jesus greeted each person by their first name and a big hug.   He always had a personal question regarding their life since the last time he’d seen them.

      For the next hour, we walked around, and I mostly watched as Jesus cared for people.  He would talk with them and tell them about heaven, he’d put his hand on their shoulder and pray for them.  One guy had an old guitar with only five strings, and we sang a couple of hymns and Jesus was always stopping to play with the children.   It’s funny how love brings out the best in people and you feel close to God.

      A little confused, I asked Jesus what time the worship service began.   He paused and turned slowly, looked me in the eye and said, “This is the worship service.    Worship is when we put a smile on our Father’s face.   I love all the churches and there are many ways to worship God.  This just happens to be one of my favorites.”

We stayed there most of the day and as we prepared to go everyone walked to the van with us.  The goodbyes took forever, and Jesus passed out bags of food that I didn’t remember seeing in the van when we drove over, earlier in the day.  The ride home was quiet and neither of us said a word.  But I knew, I had been to church.

jack turner……Romans 12:1

No One Is Just a “Just”

A few years ago, I took a new job where I was responsible for all company operations & functions in North and South America.

On my first day as I was getting acclimated to the company and meeting members of the HQ team, one lady came to my office to introduce herself.  As she knocked on door, she said, “Hi Bob, my name is ‘Melinda’ (not her real name) and I just wanted to welcome you to the company.”

I replied, ‘Hi Melinda.  Thanks for introducing yourself.  What do you do here?”

Melinda’s response was one I had never heard and hope not to hear again.  “I am just the receptionist.”

I told her, “Melinda, I am not sure what it’s been like in the past, but as long as I am here, there will be no job that starts with the word ‘just.’  Every job is critical or we would not hire someone to do the job.  In fact, your job is the likely the most important job in the company since you are the first person people see when they come to the office or the first one they talk to on the phone when they call.  The job as receptionist is a critically important job and not everyone can do your job.  So, thank you!”

Melinda became a loyal employee and good friend my years with the company and eventually she learned to take on additional responsibilities.  I remember when we promoted Melinda and hired a new receptionist.  I overheard Melinda training the new receptionist and she gave almost the exact word-for-word speech she had heard from me a few years earlier about the importance of the Receptionist job and there was no job that started with the work “just.”

Every job is a critical investment on the part of your employer, and no one is just a “just.”

Resolution or Absolution?

Guest Blog – Gina Williams

New Year’s Eve and January 1 (insert year here) – The two days of the year that purport to hold the most promise, change, anticipation, and new beginnings than any other day of the year.  New Year’s Resolutions, or lists of all the things you should or should not do this year (starting tomorrow, of course), according to whatever the hip new trend is, or perhaps what your yogi, therapist or Mom has told you, have about as much staying power as a freak snowfall in May.  I find it curious that we wait until the very last day of the year to assess our weaknesses, admit our failings and decide – THIS year, it’s going to be different.  Society calls it a resolution.  I think a more appropriate word would be absolution….as defined, “a release from guilt, obligation or punishment.”  Really, aren’t those what our so-called resolutions really are?  A way to make us feel better about what we didn’t accomplish, didn’t follow through on, or didn’t improve upon in the last 364 days?  You know what I’m talking about – and let’s just name a few of the most common resolution-absolutions we experience every year (by the way, this is a very ME TOO sort of posting…. 🙂 so I’m pointing the finger right at myself here as well.)

Lose weight – this one shows up in many forms but the heart of it is, I am not happy with how I look and something needs to change. So we join a gym, start shopping at Whole Foods and buy a shiny new machine that we swear we’re going to use Every. Single. Morning.  Then, a week in (Nope, I’m not even giving the vast majority the 6 weeks that most average), the gym is too daunting, or we just can’t find the time, Whole Foods is too overwhelming and eating clean sounds boring, expensive and like a lot of work, and that fancy elliptical is a drying rack for your jeans (because God forbid they shrink in the wash!!!)  In other words: forgotten, abandoned, deserted.
Save Money – ahem…this one hits home.  Every year.  And my savings account is still about as full as the gym on March 1.  🙂
Be a better (fill in the blank here … parent, friend, employee….).  You know – be more present, practice time management, follow through on commitments, or stop over-committing…).  While a noble exercise – truly!, once the kids are back to school, the magic of Christmas is nothing more than a pile of needles on your floor, and life kicks back in full-force, well, old habits die hard.  

And these are just a few right?  But they sound familiar!  These resolutions, however well meaning and sincere on January 1, turn into absolutions on December 31, 364 days later.  The conversation goes something like this…”Well shoot.  I didn’t lose weight.  I didn’t save money.  I’m still in the same dead-end job…”  But THIS year it’s going to be different.  Last year, well last year this happened, and that happened, and the kids’ schedule, or that awful thing that happened to me – I meant to do all this and I really tried.  And it’s ok – we absolve ourselves.  We release ourselves from the guilt, commitment, punishment of all the things we didn’t do with a fresh new (albeit recycled) promise of all the things we are actually going to do – for real this time, I mean it! – this year!!  Enter stage right the bright and shiny New Year’s Resolution.  

You’ve heard, seen and likely posted some of the quotes…. sound familiar?
“New Year – New You”
“It’s never too late to become who you should have been yesterday.”
Oh and this choice one I found today….
“The book is called ‘Opportunity’ and its first Chapter is New Year’s Day.”

Nope.  I say no more…  New Year – New YOU?  Does the clock swinging to midnight actually change you?  Make you different?  No…you’re still you…the you that you were yesterday, you know…last year?  Only now you’re a day older and one day into the year of forgotten promises, more guilt and the inevitable absolution that awaits you next December.  Good intentions are one thing, and frankly that’s what these so-called resolutions really are, right?  Not that there’s anything wrong with good intentions but just the very nature of them allows for excuses.  “I had the best of intentions but I forgot your birthday!”  “I’m sorry that I hurt your feelings but I really had the best of intentions!”  We use the same excuse for our abandoned resolutions.  


[ ˌrezəˈlo͞oSHən ] 

1.     a firm decision to do or not to do something:

synonyms: intention · resolve · decision · intent · aim · plan · commitment · 

Aim. Plan. Commitment. 

These words all have something in common – they require effort.
Aim: This inspires visions of keeping your eye on the target and never wavering…pointing the wheel in a different direction and following the path that you are aiming yourself on.  The best tip I ever got in snowboarding was “Point in the direction you want to go.”  Sounds silly, but it works!  Aiming is the same idea – point yourself in the direction you want to go – and line up the things in your life to help you go that way.  Everything should be aimed in that direction, or you end up literally falling flat on your face (or catching the dreaded downhill edge, whichever comes first).
Plan: This requires forethought, time and desire.  To make a plan you will likely have thought something through from inception to completion, know the tools, people and effort it will take to make the plan come to life.  Your goals will succeed or fail based on the thoroughness of your plan and so when we plan we take everything into consideration.  Like planning a family vacation – you very likely don’t just “wing it”.  No….you plan.  You’ve saved, you’ve reserved, you’ve ordered out each day and packed and prepared.  A plan takes work and often teamwork – so ask for help!  The best plans come to fruition with a whole lot of checkpoints and accountability. (spoken like a true Project Manager) 😉
Commitment:  Funny that as I’m writing this, the song playing on the shuffle in my headphones is Eye of the Tiger.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Rocky…now THAT’S commitment.  It’s all in the attitude – whatever it takes, blood, sweat, tears, picking yourself up and coming back stronger than ever.  Commitment is vows at a marriage ceremony, taken so seriously that we say them in front of God and all our family.  Commitment is hard and rocky and painful.  It requires effort, staying power and again, accountability.  

Commitment is the wheels under the plan when we take the wheel and aim in a new direction. This is a true resolution.  It’s not a list to check off, or a really good intention.  A resolution is painful and difficult but reserved for the very best people – those that are willing to struggle, to sacrifice and to actually really truly make changes that stick.  Those are the resolutions that deserve not to be hung on the fridge, but tattooed on your arm.  They last.  They work.

This year, if you’ve waited till December 31st to absolve yourself of the past year’s failings and promise that today is a new beginning, well so be it.  But do yourself a favor, give yourself the best gift.  Don’t make it a good intention or your best effort.  Make it real. Make it last.  Make a resolution – a firm decision.  One that is anchored in a plan and sincere commitment.  Ask for help, get an army to do it with you.  But please, whatever you do, don’t be happy with another year of absolution.  Not this time.

What you do matters.  There is a purpose for your life.  Plan your work, and then work your plan. The idea of making plans is threaded throughout all of Scripture…“In all labor there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23), and also reminds you the importance of laying aside the things that hold you back from reaching your goals.  “Let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).

Happy New Year – and p.s. you don’t need to be a new YOU – you are a beautiful and wonderful child of God.  Now walk in that knowledge and instead be the BEST you.

Supporting Our Best People Through Their Mistakes

One of the many quotes I appreciate is from an unknown source, “More people would learn from their mistakes if they weren’t so busy denying that they made them.”  In this blog I am freely admitting a mistake and sharing a bit of what I learned from it.

As a young manager in a continuous operating process manufacturing plant, I was left in charge during Christmas and New Years’ as the plant manager took some time off for the holidays.  Before he left, he told me just to keep things running and if I had any problems I should call the regional VP, who was over all the plants in the upper Midwest. 

On Christmas Eve day, our senior maintenance technician came to me and told me that we had an issue with one of our critical heat exchangers.  I asked him if the maintenance could wait until after Christmas so we could enjoy a day with families and then tackle the problem on the day after Christmas.  He responded that he thought the issue could wait for 2-3 days. 

As I considered the issue, I came to the conclusion that we would be better to deal with the heat exchanger problem today while our day shift was on duty and not have to take a chance of an unplanned and catastrophic failure on Christmas day when it would be more difficult to find the necessary maintenance and operations staff.  The required maintenance should only require about an hour to complete and could be done by isolating a small non-critical part of the plant for this short period of time.  This should not result in any loss of production, but would require shutting the power off to this part of the plant.  The problem we found was that the electrical breakers were not clearly marked.  When we looked at the schematics and traced the connections, there was some disagreement on which breaker needed to be shut off. 

It would have helped and saved a lot of grief and money if I had been familiar with James Bryce’s counsel, “Three-fourths of the mistakes a man makes are made because he does not really know the things he thinks he knows.”  But, unfortunately at this time in my career, I was not familiar with James Bryce and his wisdom.

I confidently made the decision which breaker to shut off.  The moment we switched the breaker to the “off” position is a moment I will never forget.  Within seconds, the normally distinctive, and comforting, sound of turbines, motors, and compressors was replaced with deathly silence.  It was like that moment I experienced a few years later, when I was installing software on a customer’s personal computer and the message appeared on the monitor, “Are you sure you want to format the hard drive?” and without thinking or hesitation, I clicked on “Yes.”  Within micro-seconds of clicking on “yes”, I knew it was a mistake, but I could not react quickly enough to correct the damage I had caused.  In the same way this day, even before the production plant went silent, I knew this would become one of the memorable days of my business life.

The call I decided not to make to the regional VP a few minutes earlier was now a call that I was required to make.  I considered simply resigning on the spot, move out of state, and not leave a forwarding address or phone number.  But, with the panicked eyes of maintenance, production and operations staff on me, I retreated to my office and made the phone call.

When I was done explaining the situation, and after the regional VP calculated the cost to the company of the lost production to be in the neighborhood of $50,000 and the likely overtime for the entire staff to be in excess of $15,000 and the fact that this would ruin Christmas dinner for at least a dozen families, he asked me several questions…

Could the work have waited until after Christmas?”

If we had delayed, what was the probability of a more catastrophic shutdown?”

What was my thought process in determining that we had the right breaker?”

Who did I consult with before shutting power off?”

Was there someone else I could have consulted who might have had better information?”

If there was, why did I decide not to consult with the more knowledgeable resource?

Initially, the conversation went reasonably well as he could not find fault with my decision-making process in deciding to do the work today and not delay.  However as we continued, it was clear that in my youthful desire to prove myself to those around me, it was my pride that kept me from calling the regional VP for guidance before I shut off the power. Had I called him before I shut power off instead of after, it likely would have saved the production, related costs, and disappointed children of our staff since he knew another way to bypass the power to the heat exchanger that would not have required “guessing” that we had the right breaker.

Then he asked me to tell him the lessons I had learned.  I asked him why he would not fire me on the spot.  He explained that if he fired me, then he would have to leave his family and travel to the plant to start it back up and then said something to me that I will never forget, “I always support my best people as they learn through their mistakes.”  He asked me to call him every four hours until we had the production back up.  Before he hung up he said, “Have a nice Christmas.”  

It took us 38 hours to restart the plant and get production flowing again.  I left the plant at 4 a.m. the day after Christmas.  But among the lessons I learned that day were (1) always let people know their value to the organization and to you; (2) even our best people will make mistakes and sometimes they are costly.  And (3) even if sometimes expensive, in the long run it is worth the investment to work with our best people to help them learn through their mistakes and help them find ways to deal with the fallout of their mistakes so they can learn how to avoid making the same mistakes again.

      – Bob Williams

Just Because Someone Disagrees With You, That Doesn’t Mean They Are Wrong

We have all had good and bad bosses; effective and ineffective bosses; bosses who inspire and bosses who drive you to despair.

In my career, I have found that there are valuable lessons to be learned from both good and bad bosses. From many of my good bosses, I have learned lessons on how to motivate and value people and how to improve processes or do things better. From some of my “less-than-good” bosses, I have learned by observing what not to do or how not to manage.

I am going to stay focused on the positive and share some of the helpful lessons I learned from some of my bosses who were effective and good (sometimes great) bosses.

Just Because Someone Disagrees With You, That Doesn’t Mean They Are Wrong:

Managing direct employees in many ways is easier than managing third-party channel members. I was trying to implement some new programs with our sales channel and was having a difficult time getting agreement on the programs I was proposing.

I had counsel from some of my co-workers to be more aggressive and drive the new programs through regardless of the channel objections. I had an equal amount of counsel from other co-workers to take it slower and just let things evolve over time.

The challenge I had was that we needed to make some fairly dramatic changes to how we would go to market as our sales, profits and market shares were declining and I did not have an unlimited amount of time to put some significant changes in place.

I was in a business review with my boss and was complaining to him about the resistance I was receiving from some of our channel partners. I felt the resistance was turning personal and some of the channel members used the opportunity to attack, not just our policies, but me personally.

My boss, an intelligent, experienced and insightful manager said to me, “Just because someone disagrees with you, doesn’t mean they are wrong.” My initial reaction was to feel like he was not supporting me. However, as I thought about his words later that evening, I realized that in the discussions with our channel members, I was doing most of the talking. I was doing all I could to get them to see life from my vantage point and, once they understood what I was up against, they would, of course, come around to my way of thinking.

I learned that, even in an adversarial business discussion, I should listen to the genuine concerns of the other party, before I laid out my position. It might be possible that by listening and understanding, I could learn to look at a business issue from a different perspective and make changes to how we could find a mutually-beneficial solution or implementation plan. This did not absolve me from the responsibility to ultimately make a decision but did allow for better understanding on the part of both parties.

Sometimes, I would completely change how we would accomplish our business goals. However, in the end, I would also frequently make decisions that some of our channel partners disagreed with. But by taking time to seriously consider their concerns, recognizing that they had valid business reasons for their positions, most of the time we were at least able to move forward with mutual respect and commitment to the business.

Just because someone disagrees with you, that doesn’t mean they are wrong.

– Bob Williams