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A manager I worked for, many years ago once told me that the difference between a user and a customer is that one demands quality of service, yet what unites them is a complete lack of common sense when it comes to making requests to IT. Users though tell you exactly what they want to achieve. Customers are more vague than that. Yet, there is another species out there, the one that is or was a user and is at the same time a customer. For us in IT, that guy is usually a manager.

Now, as I’ve had the opportunity to serve in different roles (technical, sales, marketing) I would suggest a different approach, depending on your role and your customer’s. Not saying they are the best, but they did work for me.

YOU: A Sales Rep

Good approach: “The Listener”. IT Managers are used to Sales Reps parading themselves through their offices, promising their solution is better than their competitors’s. They are also used to being scammed, specially with Support and Implementation Services. These guys know what you want and want to be in control, so don’t be blunt about it, and don’t push too much. IT managers don’t care if you were the Top Sales Rep of the year, they don’t care if you closed the biggest deal in the whole wide world for the biggest IT Company in the whole Universe. All they care is to see if you listen to them: are you listening? do you understand their pain points? They are people too, so trust me, it’s not just about their job. It’s also about their career, their future, the time they spend at the office, their projects, etc. If you do…you’re in. If you don’t…you’re just wasting that persons time.

Bad approach: “The Top Gun”. Quite obvious of course, as it’s the opposite to “The Listener”. This is typically the Sales Genius, the Guru that comes in so full of himself/herself to that IT manager’s office that deals just close themselves before they actually take shape. If Ego would pay commissions, these guys would be rich. Quick note if you’re one of these: IT managers really, really, really know their stuff. Don’t underestimate them, and most importantly don’t think you’re better than them. Every Top Gun meet their Migs 28. Don’t let one of them hit you down, learn to listen, otherwise, eventually one of them will kick you out of his/her office, then another one, then another one, and suddenly you’re not hitting your quota.

YOU: An IT guy
YOUR CUSTOMER: A manager within your company

Good approach: “The friend”. Why friend? Because friends help. Managers are users as well, and even though there are good managers and bad managers, most of them get to be managers after a long long time of getting better at something. That means they deserve some respect, but even more, it means they might not be good at everything. Example: Excel! Or accessing systems. Or starting up a new laptop. Have you noticed that the higher the rank, the more confused they look when they’re presented with a new system? Well…they need a friend, and friends help and are help. Managers are not like very other user, they can’t afford to look dumb so don’t make them, even if they are.

Bad approach: “The wisea**”. Nobody likes a know-it-all. Managers hate them. Good Managers use them, but they still don’t like them. Have you ever had to prepare a 20 slide presentation in 2 hours, and desperately need some data the damn system won’t show you? Have you ever had to make a decision with no information to validate it close to you because your Excel is taking to long to open and your Director is looking hard at you? Or have you ever had to explain bad performance to an employee without your digital notes in your screen because your laptop froze to death? That’s a managers life. Trust me, the one thing they don’t need is the crappy attitude of a guy whose job is to help. Just breath, explain it to them and work with them. A smile helps, and an honest pick of words rather than a harsh comment makes things better quickly.

YOU: A Marketing Manager
YOUR CUSTOMER: Every sales rep in the world

Good approach: “The partner”. That’s what Sales Reps need: partners to help them sell. Not friends, not “collaborators”, but someone who understands their language and their needs and translates that into shared responsibility. By partnering with your sales reps you’ll achieve recognition, and with that comes more budget, and with more budget comes the possibility of doing the stuff you want instead of the typical Marketing approach your Company pushes into you every single day. Your key to success is not a cool, huge event. Not a venue. Definitely not the souvenirs you give at an event (though everyone loves goodies). It’s a Sales Rep contemplation of your help: proper marketing means proper sales. They know this, and yes, sometimes they think they know your job, but what’s to gain on denying them anything? Sales reps will still sell and it’s up to you to be on that wagon. Partner with them, start with one small rep and climb up. The moment they start recommending you, you’ll get my point.

Bad approach: “No, we can’t.” That must be the most typical answer Sales Reps get from Marketing Managers, along with “we don’t have budget for that”. I know this sometimes can be an honest answer, but not a very nice one and definitely not what a Sales Rep (a guy with a mission called “quota”) wants to hear. Form. It is important you know. If instead of “No, we can’t”, you’d say “let me look into it, we’ll find a way” so even if it’s still something you can’t make happen for them, they know you will have tried. You see, for Sales Reps it’s all about who partners with them, and who fights them. Don’t fall into that trap: if you fight them, they’ll put you up as an excuse for not getting enough pipeline to hit their quota. I know this, I’ve been on both sides. Avoid the negative answer, just be honest…but helpful to them. Sometimes just to say “I’ll give it try” makes a big difference, specially when quotas are big and pipeline is not.

So you see, users make decisions and those decisions you can affect. If you haven’t realized this yet, you’re missing the chance of being happy while making users happy 🙂

Here’s a cool site for my favorite type of user, IT managers! Click here to visit the IT Happiness Benchmark!

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