My advice is that you should challenge your potential and existing customers. And it's not a piece of very bold advice. After all, one saying in business is that the customer is always right. So does it make sense to challenge the person you are trying to do business with?
Sometimes, yes. But you need to do it the right way – if you do it the wrong way, you'll damage your and your company's reputation and credibility. You don't want to be a 'yes-man' because that's not valuable to your customers as a potential seller. But you also don't want to come across as rude.
I think you should want to challenge your potential and existing customers because you want to be seen as a knowledgeable partner. But it's impossible to be that partner if you rubber stamp everything they say and never challenge their assumptions – because, then, you aren't helping your customers grow. But it's essential to do it the right way.
How to challenge customers credibly
I have listed three pieces of advice for you to stay credible when you challenge your potential and existing customers:
First, understand the industry and the market
It starts here. Just like you shouldn't trust financial advice from someone who knows nothing about finance, to challenge your buyers, you need to know the industry, the market and the company you are selling into.
What does this mean, in a practical sense? First, it means reading as much as you can and staying on top of trends. It means learning from your customers, particularly the ones seeing success.
It's unlikely you will be an expert on your first day selling into an industry or market, meaning it's difficult to challenge your potential customers on your first day. It takes time. The more you learn about the industry and the market you're selling into, the more you can challenge your potential customers effectively.
Second, understand the present situation and desired future state
Building on that, no matter how well you know the industry and the market, you need to know your potential customer and company equally well. That requires robust discovery, where you clearly understand your potential customer's current state, what matters to them, and what they are trying to achieve.
Customers won't respond well if you challenge them before understanding them – even if your point is valid. So instead, first fully grasp their unique situation before jumping in with suggestions.
Third, your challenges must lead to a better outcome
Even if you know the industry, the market and your contact person, the intention of your challenge matters. For example, if you are just critical of your potential or existing customer to improve your standing or ego, it won't go well.
Instead, your challenge needs to come from a good place. And it needs to go to a better outcome. Remember - a better result doesn't always mean they purchase your product, solution or service.
Challenge when applicable, but earn the right
Some people want to be a decision-maker. But they don't put in the effort of learning how to be a great decision-maker - so even if they get promoted to that role, they won't be ready for it.
In the same way, you need to earn the right to challenge your potential customers. That starts with doing your homework about the industry and the market you are selling into. But it's equally important to understand your customers and their needs, challenges and desired goals.
And, even then, if they are doing something worth challenging, you need to go about it respectfully and constructively. But, again, this leads to you serving your customer instead of your ego.
Challenges can benefit everyone, but only when these challenges or conversations are based on knowledge, a trusting relationship, and mutual respect. Don't be afraid to ask those questions that push boundaries when respectfully challenging an assumption that your contact has made, or to bring a new insight that might conflict with their existing point of view.
My bottom line – challenging effectively can make you a better businessperson, as it'll help you build trust with your customer. The key is to challenge with credibility, and you must know what to do with the answers and reactions to your challenges.
Founder, CEO & Strategist since 2001. Anders provides thoughts and reflections about what and how to think about onlinification and digitalisation in B2B. Asks a lot of questions, and knows what to do with the answers.