The dangers of prospecting for ‘cultural fit’

We were speaking with a client about the types of customers they want to attract to their B2B business, and rather than weighting factors like market segment and industry vertical, they focused instead on cultural fit.  It’s a growing trend that companies are not just seeking new business, but new business partners—a coming-together of organizations that aspire to similar futures, approach their challenges with like mindsets and share analogous values.  The discussions are vivacious and engaging. And why wouldn’t they be?  It is, after all, not just a goal of marketing, but a tradition of human inquiry to grapple with the indefinable and to seek connections that transcend the merely physical.

While cultural fit is a fine topic of conversation with marketers, it’s not an appropriate prospecting criterion to provide to your sales team.  Coaching your salespeople to hunt for prospects that have the right cultural fit is like telling a car dealer “I want a car that thinks like me”.  The dealer is going to ask, “Do you think you want a truck or car? Two rows of seats or three? Stick shift or automatic?”

Culture is conveyed through symbols, behaviors and practices.  Your challenge, therefore, is to translate cultural fit into tangible attributes that can be easily recognized by your business development team when they’re identifying prospects.  You’ll achieve more efficient results by focusing on practical business aspects such as annual revenue, number of employees, years in business, ownership structure, industry vertical, market segment, experience using your type of products and services, history dealing with your competitors, geographic location—and then and only then, secondary factors like mission, values and goals.

Sales people produce their best results when the task is concrete, defined and measurable.  Indeed, if you’re a sales professional tasked by your manager to hunt for prospects with criteria that include largely intangible qualities, ask the questions: What will the prospect look like? How will I know them when I see them?  What tangible attributes are indicators of these cultural qualities?

Equally hazardous is tasking your sales team to hunt for anything with a heartbeat—but that’s for another discussion.

Written by Kylie Hughes for Concentric Marketing’s ‘Breakout’ blog


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