Sales and account professionals simply must learn the customer's business. Knowing the customer's business always emerges as a key driver of B2B customer loyalty for our clients, and stands out consistently as a key factor to sales success in recent studies by Miller Heiman, Chally Group and Profiles International.
One way of ensuring your key account professional has client industry knowledge is to recruit them from the customer industry. During interviews with several top-performing global account managers (GAMs), recently I was struck by how often the GAM or a senior team member had been hired straight from their client or from a competitor.
This insight to the customer business and industry isn't about impressing them so much as getting your value proposition right for them. Customers aren't so much buying a solution, but rather an outcome they desire for their business. In order to trust that what they buy from you is paying off, customers must see that you know their desired outcomes and priorities and have connected their business processes to what you provide.
My simple framework in learning how the customer business (or a functional area/business unit) works in ways that you could support:
1. Learn their primary goals and strategies (means of reaching their goals)
2. Observe and probe how well things work today but especially, the problems, struggles, and issues "keeping the leadership up at night."
3. Probe what they might see as an ideal -- what it might look like if the business/process were proceeding in a best-case fashion. The differences between the ideal and the current situation and problems are the gaps that your solution hopefully addresses.
Learn, observe, probe. You must become intelligently curious... even nosy, in order to gain knowledge enough to help a strategic customer.