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Engage customers for the right finishing order

Do you spend more time talking about you’re capabilities than asking questions? If you’re not engaging with customers around their very individual finishing problems you’re simply adding to them. Change your habits and you’ll build stronger, longer-lasting relationships and you will attract more business in the process. Standing out from your competition comes with the package. Stop taking orders and take a few more notes. Pose more questions and make it your mission to create more value. A slight shift in your sales process puts customers ahead and gets you the right order.

Short interactions seem like one-off experiences to even the best of customers—it seldom adds up. Devise interactions that create positive experiences, or better yet, positive outcomes for your customers. That could include solving problems or something as simple as listening to ideas and answering questions. People will let you in when they feel your support. And they will shut you down when they hear you say they have it. Relationships build through open, trusted and meaningful dialogue over time.

It’s easy to overlook the obvious. Here’s the low hanging fruit:

• Build a customer profile—over time, learn what you can about their personal lives and document it (CRM software can help here). You don’t want to be the one that didn’t know the annual family retreat is always the week after Memorial Day
• Know their preferences—what’s the best time to communicate with them? What’s the worst? Do they prefer the phone, email or will they accept text?
• Survey for more insight—every 18 months or so, create a simple objective survey with your customers. Spend time on the questions. Find out what they’re really thinking and feeling. (Try Survey Monkey.) Make it anonymous if you can, and offer an incentive!

Terms, conditions and channels

There’s one condition you have to remember when trying to connect with customers: you have to make it their decision—they expect the control anyway. The best thing you can do is to facilitate the process. Offer tools that make the interaction and communication easy. It’s a good idea to open up more than one channel in order to have different types of conversation. The survey idea is one type of channel. The aforementioned text is another simple example. If they offer you a cell number, it’s your cue to 1) ask “do you text” and, if they do 2) ask them if they will permit you to use it for business communication. It is the least formal of all the above options and people who use it tend to like it. Text messages are also very reliable. You can count on a text message reaching its recipient because if it is not able to get through immediately, it keeps trying until it can.

Communicate with customers on their terms, and allow them to initiate where possible. When you give them the control they want, you’re much more likely to meet their needs.

Reality check

Emotions shall not be left out. They shape all human interactions, and they are particularly important in sales because of the need to connect with, and persuade customers. So the first step in your makeover may be the hardest.

If you’re perceived as an order-taker-supplier you’ve got a hole to dig yourself from. With that kind of relationship there’s not much loyalty to lean on and there’s certainly no quick fix. Price sensitivity may also restrict your ability to have the kind of conversations you need at first. Focus on becoming more authentic in your interactions with customers. Draw on a greater self-awareness and use insight and intuition to build rapport. Be creative!

As a starting point, figure out where you stand. You may not know how you are perceived anyway. Take some steps with each customer to determine where you are with them. Not to keep harping on the survey but a baseline study will do wonders for your ego next year if you’re serious about this now. Plus it’s rarely harmful and it might be the best warning flare to let your customers know something’s coming.

Eventually you’ll be writing proposals with more insight into your customer’s pain, because you know more about them and they have shared more about their problems. Finally, when you get invited into the fold there’s usually less focus on price.

I welcome your comments. Let me know what you think.