How To Do Customer Development For Complex Consultancy Businesses


Sunday, 7.37pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something. – Thomas A. Edison

I’ve started seeing more threads on Twitter these days and they’re making me think.

A typical thread has twenty or thirty points.

Some are effectively essays as the points build on and reinforce arguments the writer is making.

Others are nuggets of information, packaged together and delivered – held together by the thread.

And then you have lists – 25 of these and 30 of that.

One of these, for example, had to do with 25 facilitation methods – the kinds of things you might do to run meetings.

Now, when you look at a group of things like that what’s missing is really how you would use them in practice.

For example, if you were a Roman soldier, you would have a set of kit – a throwing spear, a thrusting spear, a short sword, a shield – and you’d use each of these in combat at the right point.

You’d be far more effective as a soldier if you knew how to use that set of kit than if you walked around carrying a whole lot of stuff pulled together at random.

So, I thought, if I were to describe how I currently think about the way in which sales works for me what would that look like?

My focus is usually on complex sales – the kind of thing where customers don’t quite know what they need yet and need to work through that before they are ready to buy.

It’s the opposite of transactional sales where the customer knows exactly what they want and the main thing they want to do is figure out who is offering the best deal.

A complex sale means that you need to understand a complex situation – one where there is a lot going on.

If you do this properly what you will end up doing is understanding what value means in customer terms – you’ll be able to define value in words the customer would have used.

But get to this point you have to do a few things first.

You have to start by studying the situation – building a picture of what is going on through interviews and going to where the work is done.

You’ll have to see what’s going on – trying to listen to the voice of the process.

For example, if you are working with an organisation that fixes things, then value probably has something to do with getting things fixed when the customer wants them fixed – and the measure that tells you what is going in is the number of days it takes for a fix to get done – which is the voice of the process.

Now, as you listen to people you’ll start to build a picture of how they see the world and when you put this down as a model it’s called a holon – a construct that describes their particular perspective.

These three things – listening to people, trying to look at things from their point of view and taking the trouble to look at measures that let you see what is going on helps you gain an understanding of the situation.

Once you have that you can start to shape an intervention – perhaps come up with a flowchart of how to do things differently.

And to explain to others why this process works you’ll come up with stories, with presentations that seek to explain and persuade.

But because your stories are founded on a deep understanding of the situation, you’ll be able to get people to listen more closely and focus on your points rather than trying to find holes in your argument.

I find that these tools are the ones I use most of the time in my process – and what they help me do is follow the platinum rule.

The golden rule, as you are aware, is to do to others the way you would have them do unto you.

The platinum rule says do unto others as they would have you do unto them.

Now, when I think about this approach – one that works for me – I don’t see it as an unconnected set of tools or tactics.

I see them as part of a systemic approach, one where the elements work together to create a better customer development process that is focused on understanding what value looks like before trying to deliver it.

And it seems to me that however you do your process it cannot but help if you give your customer the value that they want and need.


Karthik Suresh

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