Let's Get SaaSy

Esteban Sánchez

Understanding Your Buyer Will Boost Your Business Strategy

Liz Miller, VP of Business Development and Client Strategy at ShopRunner, sat down to tell us what tools make us more efficient and how important it is to understand our clients. Liz talked to us about:

  • Completely understanding your buyer.
  • Internal partnerships can make or break your success.
  • Focusing on the trends that will help you, like personalization.
  • Celebrating different personal styles in a selling team.

This interview has been edited for length, context, and clarity.

Esteban: Liz, thank you for speaking with us today. Let’s dive right in. How does your experience in insights inform your work today?

Liz: It's really all about curiosity for me. The insights industry is undergoing a major technological transformation, and so is the retail world. Throughout much of my time in the insights industry, I was serving retail clients, so it made sense to move into a space where I would be working on more tactical business challenges with them.

I’m bringing along a library of conversations, decision-making processes, and negotiations. Parts of this job feel new and different to me, but the reality is there's also a lot that I can lean on from my experience working with retailers for many years. Insights and research really should inform any strategic decision that a business is making.

Curiosity and my background really drives my passion for telling a complex story, which is why a certain partnership makes a lot of sense for a particular client.

Esteban: What platforms, software would you recommend for our audience to make the world more efficient?

Liz: I have always worked on really scrappy business development teams and never actually had a full stack of sales tech, but I think they're really helpful. 

They will accentuate the strengths of your team, but they can also accentuate the weaknesses. If your messaging is already bad, automating your messaging is not going to make it any better. I would use some caution and discretion when thinking about what you need. 

You need some kind of information source for prospect information. Many times that's been ZoomInfo. At other times, it's been Eteilinsights. Something to automate outreach is helpful. The most important tool is a way to keep records.

Most companies have a strong CRM in place, but I am consistently amazed at how many companies don't use it effectively. I’m partial to Salesforce, but there are some great options out there. It's really devastating when you've put in work and energy but teams spend so much time going through sales processes that aren't actually well maintained. If you're not using your CRM correctly, there is no need to invest in other tools. That is the absolute core piece.

The last thing I’ll say is your business development people should be front and center as you're vetting and considering new tools.

Esteban: What would your step-by-step approach be for a tech company that wants to position themselves in the market and open up new space and a new place?

Liz: There are some basic questions when you're trying to launch a new product or service that a lot of companies skip over—why did you create these products or services in the first place? What problems do they solve? What did you hear from your buyers that inform this product?

If you didn't hear much from your buyers, from your current clients who need something new or clients you haven't reached yet, and you're trying to bring them on board with something new, you need to take several steps back and really talk to your potential or existing customers about what they need and what doesn't exist yet in the market.

I have seen a lot of new products go to market and more often than not they aren’t actually solving a problem effectively, or it is not extraordinarily different from what already exists in the market. You have to understand what problem your product solves and base your positioning on that solution.

I have seen a massive disconnect come from not understanding the buyers. That's a crucial foundational piece to focus on.

Esteban:  Which departments and teams do you typically have to work closely with in business development? What techniques have you used to build strong relationships internally? 

Liz: Internally and externally, my approach to business development tends to include a lot of different departments. I really believe in that model of consensus selling, bringing in anybody who would be affected by the purchase, and any sort of partnership. 

I’ve worked with groups like insights, marketing, strategy, international expansion teams, digital teams, and growth. Networking internally is important, making sure you have a ton of support and backing and a really strong rapport with your internal colleagues can really make or break your success.

I think we have a really broken relationship between marketing and business development. The other group to think about is product and delivery teams.

When I’m working effectively with marketing, and I’m working together effectively with product and delivery, the client experience, the sales process, my own personal experience has just been so much better. Drastic ways to improve the life of a business development person is to improve those relationships.

Esteban: Do you think it's good to follow the trends when it comes to business development? Should companies always be on the look for what competitors are doing?

Liz: I think some trends in business development are wonderful. For example, personalization is a huge trend right now in business development outreach. The idea is if I’m hearing from Sandra, and she's trying to sell me some kind of new B2B product, she's not just going to reach out and give me tons of information about the product, she's going to tailor her outreach to something specific about my company, something specific about me, something she and I have in common.

It's really important to think, "We're all people here. Let's talk to each other like people". A lot of other trends don't translate across different business types. For example, the sales tech stack for a 500-million-dollar business should be really different from that of a startup.

It doesn't make sense for a startup to listen to the incumbent player in the space. If they're trying to shake up the market, they should be finding new ways to do things. It's important to pay attention to the trends and then try to decipher which ones actually apply to your particular business.

The trends around understanding challenge to the business, trends that are challenges to the business, those will be relevant no matter where you go. The solutions, approaches, responses, those are the things you need to use some discretion with and understand that not everything is for you, not everything applies to your business. Figure out what will work and use those trends more than inspiration than as explicit instructions.

Esteban: When you train client-facing teams, what are the key factors you keep in mind?

Liz: In order to be an effective trainer, business development leaders need to stay close to client conversations. It is really hard to take advice and training from someone who hasn't talked to a client or dealt with a difficult client situation in years. The most frustrating positions I’ve been in with sales leadership over my career have been with out-of-touch leaders who have no idea what it's like to work with clients today.

So step one is making sure you're actually a relevant person to be training because you're still in the trenches dealing with client challenges. I don't like to be very prescriptive in trainings because individual style is extremely important in business development.

I try to focus on training on values, training on those key process milestones we talked about earlier, and training on outcomes, creating a framework. Within which, there's still room for that personal style. People's personalities, the experiences they bring to the table, inform the way they approach business development. I want you to bring your unique approach and experiment.

My goal is to set up an infrastructure that allows each individual rep to do that. If you're in a business where you want a room of sales robots who are just making a hundred cold calls a day, great, but most people don't want that. I don't train my team that way because I don't want them to behave that way. 

Esteban: Let's talk a little about books, podcasts, etc. What material would you recommend to people that want to improve their business development game?

Liz: Curiosity is important. If you want to get stronger in business development, looking at the industry that you're selling into, the industry you are a part of now, becoming really comfortable with that industry is most important. One of the best ways to do that is to start listening to industry news and industry podcasts, subscribe to newsletters, and read the relevant journals.

It isn’t a waste of time to learn from others, dig deep, and work collectively when executing your business strategy. 

Share this post