How to get to know your target customer- The Old Fashioned Way

Our guest author is Don Battis, a savvy entrepreneur, businessman and financier that has a great story to tell about experienced salespeople using new technologies. He is currently the CEO and founder of Pawntique, an online pawn shop and serves as a director on the board of Great Island Technologies a Value Added Reseller for HubSpot,, and Shopify. He is also an inaugural member of Inbound Networkers.

I’m an “Old School” sales guy using new technology. 

This is PART 1 of a 2-part post about getting to know your customer.  This post
describes the process “back-in-the-day” and the 2nd post will talk about how it’s
done now. 
Once upon a time, when salespeople made face-to-face sales calls, you had
to be clever to develop the lead intelligence you needed to make the sale.   I’m
not talking about the stated specifications that were written on the Request For
Quote.  I’m talking about the needs of the person controlling the purchasing
decision.   Until you can understand what motivates and guides them, you can’t
successfully sell them.
How did you gather that intelligence?  Imagine that you show up at your
prospect’s office a few minutes early for your appointment.  You “chatted up”
the lobby receptionist, who often was also the switchboard operator.  If you had
promotional items, like pads of paper or key chains, you shared them generously.
A few minutes of small talk could yield valuable information about your prospect’s
schedule and work habits- is he an early bird? Does he stay late?  Does he
answer his own phone after hours? Is he casual and outgoing or formal and
Establishing a friendly relationship with the receptionist could mean the
difference of whether or not your future calls got put through.
Often there was a sign-in book where all visitors registered.  A quick glance
could reveal the names of your competitors and when they had called on your
Once inside the prospect’s office, you had to think like a detective at a crime
scene.  What do the things in the office reveal about your guy?  A golf trophy, a
picture of the family at Disney World, a crayon drawing of the World’s Greatest
Grandpa, a framed award from the company, a photo of your guy with his CEO,
a cluttered desk, —all of these give you clues as to his personality and how to
relate to him as-a-person.  Not only were these potential conversation starters,
they gave you the chance to empathize with him and establish mutual interests
and trust.
My favorite time for calling on a customer was 11:00 a.m.- just before lunch so
that it was logical after finishing our business to say, “What do you say we run
out for a quick sandwich someplace?” This was a good way to get the buyer
out of his business environment where he was playing his official role and into
a setting where he was more relaxed and willing to share personal information
and “off the record” business info.  Often this revealed which features were
important and how the buying decision was really going to be made- not the
official process.  Maybe it was being made by someone in Engineering that you
needed to convince in order to close the sale.
This intelligence gathering is necessary to find out the true needs of the
customer.  If you know what the company needs, and what the individual
decision makers need, you can present your offering in those terms.  You can
show how you and your company can satisfy those needs.  One of the benefits
of this face-to-face process was that it ALSO provided the opportunity for the
customer to learn about you and come to trust you.  That personal trust is critical
to any sales situation. 

People don’t do business with companies. People do business with people.

Hey! Any of you old timers want to share what you used to do?  Please comment and let me know your thoughts.

3 thoughts on “How to get to know your target customer- The Old Fashioned Way

  1. Don, I love your posts. Plenty of us newbies have much to learn from “old-timers”. The points you made about looking for clues about them in their office are some of the questions I ask sales people when creating personas for them and their marketing counterparts.
    Can’t wait to see part 2!

  2. That’s such a great point, Don. It is important not to lose sight of the importance of the human element. In the early 00’s, I remember many experts argued that the Internet would soon make loan originators obsolete, that borrowers would find online research and purchases so easy they would no longer see the need to have direct contact with salespeople. Of course, this was a huge miscalculation. Consumers will buy books, CDs, shoes, and a wide variety of other items through online sources. However, when it comes to the major life purchases, such as a home mortgage, automobile, financial planning and life insurance, most people prefer to have an expert with whom they can discuss the details and develop a personal relationship. There is a comfort level provided by personal interaction that a computer screen just cannot match. If a customer is in danger of losing their home or needs some reassuring words about their future needs, knowing that they can talk to me or another salesman makes a big difference. It’s that human touch that helps build relationships and get people to trust you.

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