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Help Customer-Facing Technical Professionals Influence Decision-Makers

Monday, November 25, 2019
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If you’re in the technology industry, you know the mission-critical role your customer-facing technical professionals play in the overall success of your sales efforts. Well-educated and intensely knowledgeable about the solutions they support, they provide much-needed expertise, problem-solving, and credibility to both pre- and post-sale customer engagements. They shine when collaborating with customer IT teams. Both sides speak the same language and care about the same thing: how the technology works.

But increasingly they are also required to play a role in influencing customer decision-makers, who are more interested in the value a solution or a solution-related service delivers. These business leaders aren’t as fluent in technology and tend to communicate using the language of business. This can lead to frustrating disconnects for both sides. Technical experts tend to focus on extensive details about “how,” while customer decision-makers want more of a big-picture understanding of the “why.”

Because customer decision-makers are unlikely to change how they communicate or what they care about, some technical organizations are wisely investing in building the business acumen and communication skills of their customer-facing technical teams. And they are doing this in addition to the already considerable investments they make in keeping technical knowledge and skills current.

Why? A McKinsey study found that companies with strong presales capabilities “consistently achieve win rates of 40–50 percent in new business and 80–90 percent in renewal business—well above average rates.”
Based on my firm’s extensive global experience preparing technical professionals to successfully influence customer decision-makers, this requires proficiency in a specific set of communication skills.

9 Skills That Help Technical Professionals Influence Customer Decision-Makers


1. Understanding the Customer’s World and Business Issues
Give them insight into the preferred communication style of business leaders and suggestions about how they can research the issues they care about.

2. Taking an “Answer First” Approach
Show them how to engage customer decision-makers right from the start by quickly setting compelling context then making their recommendation, along with the business value it delivers, before going into the details.

3. Defining Technical Acronyms and Jargon
Remind them that customer decision-makers are unlikely to be familiar with these terms. To avoid frustrating the customer, they should use them sparingly and define them when they do.

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4. Responding to Challenging Questions
The robust back-and-forth approach to Q&A that is appropriate in an exchange between technical professionals can be perceived as argumentative by a business leader. Coach them about how to respond to tough decision-maker questions without getting defensive.

5. Asking Thought-Provoking Questions
Teach them how to gain a better understanding of the customer’s world by asking factual questions as well as ones that explore perspectives, possibilities, and effects on people (including on the decision-maker).

6. Making the Customer Feel Heard
Help them demonstrate to decision-makers that they are really listening by learning how to verbally link to what they’ve heard the customer say and actively building rapport.

7. Keeping Slides and Whiteboards Simple
Complex visuals may be appropriate with fellow technologists but often confuse business leaders. Show them how to keep visuals simple and focused on the “must-know” information for customer decision-makers.

8. Leveraging the Power of Stories and Analogies
Build their storytelling skills to help increase connection, memorability, and influence. Optimize their use of analogies to accelerates understanding and acceptance of new ideas and concepts.

9. Demonstrating Authentic Conviction
If they don’t sound like they believe in their recommendations, business leaders won’t either. Coach them on the nonverbal skills needed to make genuine connections so they can earn the confidence of customer decision-makers.

Evaluate Your Technical Training Investment

There are so many good reasons why it’s hard to take your customer-facing technical professionals out of the field to participate in non-technical skills training. Their time is precious and in high demand. Keeping their solution-knowledge current is an absolute must. But when you factor in the evolving nature of their role and their increasing engagement with customer decision-makers, finding the time and resources needed to develop your customer-facing technical professionals in these skills is a smart investment.

Boosting their capability to effectively influence customer decision-makers can ultimately affect your win rate for new business and renewals.

About the Author

Brad Holst is a principal and the executive director of communications strategy and innovation at Mandel Communications, Inc.

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