Having industry knowledge and a strong understanding of client issues are essential to your success in any environment. However, in times of economic uncertainty, they are critical.
There are limitless opportunities when you have the industry competency to engage executives in meaningful conversations. However, you have to be prepared.
It’s not about having the right opportunities. It’s about handling the opportunities right.”
-Mark Hunter, Author
Professionals need to know who the buyers are, the intricacies of their industry, the hot-button issues that are top of mind, and how to meet their expectations.
Buyers expect to do business with professionals who are thoroughly versed in their business.
According to a LinkedIn study, sellers and consultants must:
- Solve problems, not just sell products and services.
- Build long-term relationships that transcend the initial engagement.
Source: LinkedIn State of Sales 2021: United States & Canada Edition
A foundation of industry knowledge improves your ability to solve your client’s problems and build relationships. How do you build the industry knowledge you need? There are several ways to do this over time, but first, let’s look at a common scenario.
You have 24 hours to prepare for a new client meeting
This has happened to everyone. Here are things you can do to quickly prepare for your meeting.
- Search for press releases and articles about your client. You can check the client’s website for annual reports and press releases. Then do a broader internet search for additional mentions in the media.
- Read industry publications or blogs. Find out about your client’s competitors and the hot-button issues occurring in the industry.
- Find and learn industry terms. Look through industry articles, find frequently mentioned terms, and research their meaning.
Unfortunately, a lot of people stop here, but the reality is you can’t provide valuable advice unless you have a solid foundation of industry knowledge.
Doing the 24-hour scramble is just for emergencies. However, to truly support your clients, you must invest time in growing industry-specific knowledge and staying current on client-specific issues. Your knowledge and ability to connect your offerings to those issues will lead to long and mutually rewarding client relationships.
Here are a few things to help you build your knowledge and stay current on the hot issues in your client’s industry.
Commit to Building Your Industry Knowledge
“You need to turn over every rock and open every door to learn your industry. This process never ends.”
– Mark Cuban, Entrepreneur
Taking the steps below will help you develop a solid foundation of industry knowledge that you can draw from confidently during client conversations.
Go Directly to the Thought Leaders
Start adding key industry websites to your weekly reading and research. The websites for leading consulting firms. (such as Deloitte, EY, PwC, KPMG, IBM, Booz Allen and McKinsey).
These firms want to be known as thought leaders, so their sites are packed with future industry forecasts and “hot-button” industry issues for various industries.
I recommend you choose at least two industry publications, blogs, or podcasts and commit to reading or listening to episodes a few times a week so you can learn about and follow real industry issues and organizations.
You can also:
- Reach out to industry experts in your organization.
- Get to know industry leaders by attending conferences and following them on LinkedIn.
Get the Inside Scoop From Senior Executives
You can find insight into your client’s strategy and business objectives by reading annual reports and investor presentations. For example, senior executives of many publicly traded organizations deliver presentations to industry analysts every year. You can often find these reports and presentations by going to the Investor Relations tab on your client’s website. Digging into these reports and presentations gives you a lot to talk about with your client.
Link Your Solution to your Client’s Issues
Link your solutions to your client’s hot-button industry issues. When you understand the key industry issues your solution helps solve, you now have a great story to tell your client. But they won’t pay attention if you don’t link your recommendations to their bottom line.
Build Industry-Specific Financial Acumen
Connecting to the client’s bottom line involves building your industry financial acumen. You need to understand the basics of your client’s industry to recommend strategically aligned solutions that sell.
Find reputable industry training or a knowledge base to help you build a solid foundation of the industry basics.
Go Beyond Industry Knowledge to Understanding
“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”
Gaining industry knowledge is the first step. The most significant leap in your success happens when you understand your client’s industry and their relationship to the big issues and competition.
Here are a few other PSI resources to help you build your understanding:
Consultant’s Guide: Know Your Client’s Industry
Successful Selling and Consulting to the C-Suite
About the Author
Chris Lawton, a founding partner at Performance Solutions International (PSI) and financial services consultant, has provided training and consulting services for the last 25 years following a career in public accounting.
Connect with Chris on LinkedIn