Defining the Perfect Customer

by John Davis, Paul Davis Automation

I have to admit, when I was sent the prompt for this month’s “Editorial in the Field,” I was a bit jealous of the authors for the two previous editions of this column. Their columns were titled, “Defining the Perfect Rep” and “Defining the Perfect Principal.” Those are easy one line columns — the answers are, in order, “my agency” and “the one with millions in existing business, who pays on time and doesn’t ask any questions.”

I’m here all week, folks.

Joking aside, all three of these columns are equally difficult. The definition of good is entirely subjective — many factors define that rubric, some written, most not, and different industries have different expectations and standards. Perhaps though, there is some common ground. Going back to the levity I employed to get your attention just 130 or so words ago, isn’t the perfect customer a simple answer — the one who spends a lot and asks very little?

One thing I suspect we can all agree on is that technology has changed the very nature of customers. When my Dad started our agency back in 1989, the World Wide Web was still two years from being introduced to the public by CERN, and the world was a far different place. Arguably, the basic job function of the rep has not changed much since then, but the use and perception of reps by customers sure has.

A universal truth today is that customers are busy — staffing levels never quite recovered after the 2001 recession and the 2008 global financial crisis, leaving companies leaner than ever. Thanks to technology, which was supposed to deliver us from the mundanity of busywork, all of us — customers, reps, principals — are buried beneath a formidable amount of work that is at least three times what our 1989 selves could have handled. Technology has delivered us efficiency — but this efficiency has been used to reap more from less, instead of giving us more from less.

The engineers that we call on are being challenged to fulfill multiple roles — electrical engineers are doing mechanical design, mechanical engineers are doing programming, and the cats are sleeping with the dogs. On top of implementation duties, they are required to keep current with technology, learn new skills, and deliver products to their customers that are better, faster, cheaper and better-looking than the previous generation. As much as we as salespeople are inundated by informational noise, it is amplified for our customers by the relentless pressure of deadlines and an imperative to innovate.

Making this all the more interesting is the Internet. Engineers are geeks by nature (I can certainly relate), so having all of humanity’s collective knowledge at hand, indexed and keyworded, is a gift.

If our customers are busier than ever, and know more than ever, where does that leave us as salespeople? Surprisingly, it leaves us in a better position than any of our predecessors — a belief that provides the perfect segue to my definition of the perfect customer and/or buyer:

The perfect customer is highly informed, discriminating to a fault, busy, driven by the pressure of modern business, and quite wary of the average salesperson.

If customers are easy, sales are easy, which means that anyone can do the job. As a result, like any commodity, it is a race to the bottom. So, bring on the tough customers. The harder they are to see, the more educated they are, the better the position I am in when I see them. Because by that point, if they are sitting across the table from me, they are talking to me because I am a known quantity that has a high probability of solving their problem.

And last time I checked, precious resources are worth more than mere commodities.

John Davis has two professional passions — engineering new software and hardware products and having the privilege of being the second-generation owner of his family’s rep business, Paul Davis Automation. Both keep him busy during the cold Cleveland winters. When not at work or spending time with his family, he can be found at the local airport.