What would your business look like without customers? What does your business look like to your customers? How much time do you spend actually listening to your customers and trying to understand not only their needs, but also their perception of you and your company?
I hear so many people talking about how important their customers are, but when I sit in on meetings with them, with their customers, I frequently cringe on the inside when all I hear is talk about themselves.
I used to work with a market leading Japanese manufacturer who made electronics business products. When I told them about problems my clients had with their products, they told me to get better customers. It took me over a year to get them to trust me and modify their products to make them more user friendly and our (and their international) sales went through the roof. I got them to trust me by listening to them, by asking lots of questions and then keeping my mouth shut, listening to and understanding them, showing them respect.
The maxim we are taught in the business of success is to use your ears and mouth in proportion, i.e. we have 2 ears and one mouth. The question is ow often we practice it. Here are a few thoughts and experiences I’ve had over the years:
- Active listening is good. Repeat important things your customer is telling you, it ensures that you are hearing what they think they are telling you. It shows them you are engaged.
- Active listening stops you from falling into the trap of thinking about what you are going to say next instead of listening to what your client is saying. You could miss very important messages.
- I was very fortunate to do business with some sharp business people early in my career. One very patient client in my early days, fresh with a 3 year diploma in sales and marketing, listened to me promote features and benefits in response to what he told me he needed. He asked for the price. I continued to explain the benefits. He looked at me again very intently and asked for the price. I told him the investment figure (expecting some negotiation) and started again on the ROI, but he was already writing a cheque for $10,000. He taught me a valuable lesson that day.
- People come to you because they hope or believe you can solve their problems. Most of the time they don’t want to hear about how great your company is, or how many impressive people you can name-drop. They care about their problems and they want you to help solve them.
- One key to my success over the years has been the use of a CRM. I make notes on everything a client or prospect tells me. It might have be about golf, or their child who had a success or an illness, it could be anything. Being able to return to those conversations even months later, showed them that I cared about them. My first CRM was on a Sinclair Spectrum computer with a cassette deck, a TV set and a dot matrix printer. I printed off meeting notes for each prospect or customer I was visiting each week. My colleagues laughed at me until I outperformed them all. These experiences led me to write ‘Unleashing the Road Warrior’. The technology has changed, but the concepts haven’t.
- How does your customer perceive your business? Ask them what they think you do and what they are expecting from you. Ask them about their problems. Don’t make hasty assumptions, and when you do have an assumption, test it. Ask them if what you think they are telling you is right.
- Ask open ended questions and try to get the full picture. It may be that you have other products or solutions that you hadn’t considered as being useful to them, or it may be that you can’t help them yourself, but can refer them to an associated company that can.
- Like your customer. This isn’t always easy, they may not be very likeable. Find something you can like about them. They may present a rough exterior, unfriendly or unreasonable, but if you want their business, you need to find something you can relate to. You don’t have to like them 100%, but if you can find something you do like about them (perhaps their dedication to their children, or a passion for rugby) and like that 100%. It will show.
- Business is about communication and communication is a 2-way street. If you are not in harmony with your client during your discussion because you want to do all the talking, even if you win a sale, because the customer desperately needs what you have right now, chances are they will churn as soon as they no longer need you.
- People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
I’m going to get off my soap box now. If you need customers to ensure the prosperity and success of your business, treat them accordingly. Use tools and keep records. By all means follow Agile and Six Sigma systems, but take note that they all lead back to the most important person, the customer and the problem you want to help them solve. It’s not about the tools, they are just that, tools.