YOU want to do the best for your customer, and, let’s be honest, you want the best return for your own business as well. But if your customer’s success is really important to you then you’ll need to park your own agenda and focus on what matters to them.
The only way you’ll ever be of genuine benefit to your customer is by putting yourself in their shoes.
I was invited recently to speak to partners at an Inspire seminar on how to boost lead generation and I began by stressing the importance of understanding the world your clients inhabit.
“If we can understand what it’s like for the customer, what it’s like on a daily basis, if we can get out heads around that, it can help us put our offer together in a way that speaks their language.”
I gave an example of the plant hire companies we work with, where we urge salespeople to think about the plight of site managers having to juggle the unpredictable nature of staffing, machinery and the weather.
“Whereas buyers are processing requests from site; looking at price, they are probably not as focused on how well a piece of machinery can do a particular job. By stepping into their world and seeing it from their perspective, as salespeople, we start to get insights about what we can do to help them,” I said.
By asking the partners to recognise the pressures, constraints and expectations their own customers were working under, I could hopefully help them visualise how they might be approached with a little more empathy. If a customer is aware that you appreciate their situation, are there to help them achieve their goals and realise you can help their company grow, they are far more likely to want to work with you.
The key to this is to become a trusted advisor – a model developed to help accountants advise their clients. Trusted advisers are people who have three vital attributes – credibility, reliability and intimacy* but most importantly they focus on the client – not themselves.
“If you are highly credible, your clients will see you as having experience, honesty, a good track record and come highly recommended,” I said.
Doing what has been promised as the only way to be seen as being reliable. I explained: “We work with larger corporate clients, and they are talking about the say-do ratio. Do we talk a good game, or do we actually do what we say we are going to do?”
In a relationship with a new client, reliability may score quite low because they won’t have the experience of you making good on your promises, so it is even more key to deliver.
Intimacy is about how quickly you can build a rapport with the customer so that they feel comfortable opening up to you about their ambitions and problems.
I told the seminar: “There’s a lot of things going on for a business owner, it can be quite a lonely life in some ways. So, to open up to somebody we have to have the ability to really engage them in a conversation about the things that matter. *Intimacy is a strange term – we prefer to describe it as an intelligent dialogue.”
All of this can be qualified by our own self-orientation – how genuine we are in our interest. “If you are going into a meeting with something on your mind, or you have your own agenda you are trying to drive, that can lead to pushy behaviour, particularly in a sales situation,” I said.
At the end of our session I urged the partners to score themselves out of ten on being credible, reliable and intimate and how self-orientated they are.
I finished by telling them: “If there is someone you are struggling to build a relationship with, either within an existing client or perhaps a prospect you are trying to develop, give yourself a score, one to ten, from a client’s point of view on each of these headings and start to think about what contributes to your score with that person and what you can do about it.
“Then ask yourself honestly, am I driving my agenda or am I really listening to what’s going on in their business?”
This is advice I’ve given often, and it is always heartening to see it work because the theory is sound, and it requires real commitment from the person doing the selling. People buy from people they trust and who they feel is on their side.
It is very difficult to fake that kind of empathy but by leaving our own needs and wants out of the conversation and focusing on what will make a difference to the customer, we can achieve it. You can trust me on that.