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Communicating with Your Customer Constellation

Don’t miss your moment communicating with your customer constellation.

It’s a critical reality that you must be able to articulate your message across the customer constellation. Decision-makers and influencers are in three distinct places that matter: industry, agency, and Congress. If you have not read more about the customer constellation and its relation to the 3-Ring® Circus of Federal Sales, you are behind. This story describes how one company would waste its moment in front of a critical audience.

International Builder of Superyachts

I recently consulted with a well-respected international builder of superyachts. It’s no secret that beneath the shiny surfaces of a superyacht lay many of the same hull, mechanical, and engineering equipment elements found in Navy and Coast Guard ships. We met in Fort Lauderdale to discuss how this company might participate more fully in the US defense market.

I love meeting new prospects and always believe I can offer essential counsel on how to grow their business. An existing client referred me, and I knew the company by reputation and expected that they knew the lay of the land pretty well. It was not long into the conversation before my counterpart would reveal his prior commission of a fatal error.

In discussing US opportunities this international company might pursue, I could see that partnering with a US company would be their most expeditious pathway while mitigating risk. The US company could bring them into the fold, taking advantage of some superior talent and proven capacity the international company is known for.

Don’t surrender credibility by not being prepared. Click To Tweet

But, like too many international companies, this one chose first to go where they believe the power rests—Washington, DC. In exploiting a single connection to Congress, they arranged an introduction to a very senior Navy civilian with decision-making authority in shipbuilding. Their eyes were wide, believing their single contact would fast-track a cumbersome process. They would present themselves to this pentagon official wanting to enter the US market, but did not put forth a specific concept or plan. They were looking for this civilian to open doors for them.

The Error When Communicating with Your Customer Constellation

The error is simple and even easier to avoid. The company did not take the time to identify where and how they could service a need or requirement and did not map out an engagement plan in advance. The result of the meeting? It was a classic, “Thanks for coming in; we look forward to working with you,” followed by the sound of crickets.

I told my counterpart this response did not surprise me. The company did not do their homework, have a coherent message, and do the appropriate legwork to prepare themselves or their audience for that meeting. I explained that many people could have been generating support for integrating this company’s capabilities into the US industrial base well before visiting with the pentagon leadership. Further, there exists an opportunity to have others in industry, agency, and Congress participate in recognizing the value of strengthening shipbuilding by partnering.

I could see his recognition of his failure in his body language. His shoulders slumped as he devolved to staring at his coffee cup, wondering how to recover. Mistakenly, and due to his reporting of events, his internationally-based boss now expected something happening in the US more quickly than would be remotely possible.

The complex entry barriers into the US defense market were needlessly complicated for this company. Next time, getting a second meeting with that key civilian pentagon leader would be even more difficult. Why? Because in the eyes of the senior civilian, my counterpart had needlessly surrendered credibility—he did not understand the process, and it would be assumed he did not understand the market.

Fully Consider the Engagement Plan

Don’t surrender credibility by not being prepared. The recognition of an ability to solve a need comes first. Then, before meeting with anyone, fully consider the engagement plan. Approaching the elephant with a blindfold on is a difficult way to find your path through this complex process.

Don’t miss your moment communicating with your customer constellation.

The Make Your Move podcast is a multi-season series devoted to the lessons learned of military members in their post-active duty lives. I hope you enjoy the stories of the men and women brave enough to share their transition stories so publicly. Listen to the latest episode here.

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