Do you really want to be in the same place with your customers six months from now?
No one does! Yet thousands of professionals feel that frustration or deep knowing that they should be getting more from their relationships, not just for themselves but for their business and their customers.
From my study of 30 years of customer history and behavioural psychology, there have been principles hidden in plain sight being executed by professionals and organisations around the world, maybe without knowing what or why until now…
Organisations and professionals who truly earn raving fans and above-average customer results in the long-term, never try to retain a customer; they seek to become irreplaceable.
It’s organisations like Chik-fil-A, Southwest Airlines and Apple who connect through intentional relationships, build highly-valued and sought after results to create unforgettable moments.
There are 10 immutable laws that shape the philosophy, outcomes and actions of high performing businesses, key account managers and customer serving professionals over the long term.
Here they are…
You cannot move a customer to a new place without knowing what you need to change.
What do I mean by this?
I often find when it comes to strategy in key accounts or direct sales in any business, many professionals and organisations begin by asking the same or wrong questions and so get little to no change in their results.
When it comes to translating targets into activities, it’s important to begin with understanding what and who you are seeking to change, in order to achieve the result.
Understanding who you’re asking your prospects and customers to become is important.
Ask this based on your targets.
What would need to be different about your relationship, process, behaviour and offer to achieve the result?
Then define the activity…
If you’re not aware of the implications of the change needed to achieve the objective, you’ll end up doing a new activity with little or slow results.
You must have a clear understanding of what your relationship actually looks like.
If we were truly honest about our customer relationships, could we honestly say that at all times the relationships are great and the best they could be?
It would be unrealistic to say that we do this because we’re human. Even the best of our personal and intimate relationships struggle at times.
It’s knowing this that helps you to make better decisions. You’ll have a more conscious awareness of what might need to stop, start or be changed in the relationship.
Customer relationships should ideally be, a mutually understood respected partnership that is highly valued and sought after by both parties.
This won’t always be the case because what you solve for your customer and how valuable that is, will differ.
You must be clear on what I call the expectation of practice and importance.
The expectation of practice is what you’re contracted to do. It is the promised outcomes attached to beginning a relationship with you.
The expectation of importance is how valuable that promise and relationship is to the overall wider goals of the business.
In other words, it is the honest reality that for many of your customers you may not be a key provider. Why should they commit time, resources and the levels of access you’re asking for?
If you’re not clear on these expectations you’ll be constantly working on assumptions and your relationships will always be on a tightrope.
You might find my article on how to increase perceived value in your customer relationship helpful HERE.
You must know who your customer is trying to become.
This idea came out of two pieces of research; one from MIT and a man named Michael Schrage who wrote a book called Who do you want your customers to become? and the other through my studies on the evolution of customer service over the last 10 years.
As I began to explore the idea of “who your customer wants to become”, it hit me just how important this was to key account management and customer growth.
The big idea is this…
What your customer bought from you today helps them get to where they might want to go today, but it doesn’t always reflect who they’re trying to become.
A software company selling digital print solutions to a large engineering company maybe helping solve a range of challenges; cost savings, profit maximising etc.
What if the overall 2-year goal of that organisation is to become the first of the kind 4D engineering production company?
You need to understand what the master goal is for each department, CEO and the business. Only then will you really begin to create better relationships with customers and tap into deeper levels of influence.
You must know the natural next step for your customer.
I’m always surprised, despite having seen it hundreds of times how many organisations have no idea of what the natural next step for a customer is after purchasing their initial service or product.
If you don’t know what that next step is you’ll be searching for moments of opportunity, forcing an up or cross-sell and constantly getting push back and uncertainty from the customer.
This is because you’re now moving your customer from a safe environment into an uncertain one without clarity of, why this, why now and why them.
Very few ask the question before the customer comes on board “Where do our customers need to go next?” and “Where are we going?”
When there is no clear plan for growth, deepening customer trust, loyalty and profitability, even the best-intentioned organisations and customer serving professionals fall into “maintenance mode”. This mode is a reactional position of waiting for something to happen or a customer to bite onto a hook of content bait.
Don’t wait for this. Know what happens next!
You must know what the risks to your customers are.
Arguably every sale we make has an element of risk to the person in front of us.
Our job is to significantly reduce the perceived risk of purchase of our product or service to our customers.
Whether we like it or not, self-interest drives most of our actions. Self-preservation is a strong emotion that can sabotage, save and help us sell. Our customers’ fear of risk is tied to their sense of self-preservation. We have to understand this and work with it in mind. Identifying and eliminating risk should be your top goal.
There are many external risks to the management and health of a customer account.
What is often missed are the internal risks that occur.
These are four of the most common internal customer risks. They are the risk of:
- personal gain/loss – What’s in it for me?
- external perception – What will people say/think?
- a future result – Will I regret this later?
- present cost – What will this actually take? What is the effort required?
During your customer conversations you need to be aware of these internal and external factors that drive decision making influence.
Then… answer those questions!
You must know your customers trust criteria and triggers.
There is a strong dichotomy between trust and risk in any relationship and it all rests on the area of character. This is who you are to your customers, how they perceive and experience you personally.
Whether we consciously think so or not, at the beginning of any relationship a person evaluates whether the reward of the relationship is equal to or greater than the cost of starting or maintaining the relationship.
Trust is a huge component of this. As I began to study social relationship theory and psychology three helpful distinctions arose.
One: Trust is on a continuum – the stages that lead to deeper trust, influence and intimacy.
Two: Trust carries criteria – what someone needs to see consistently to trust you.
Three: Trust has triggers – things you can activate in a relationship to deepen trust.
These are important distinctions as it breaks down the mystic of how you truly activate trust.
I want to focus first on the idea of trust criteria and triggers which I’ve not seen explored in a business context. It matters to the very nature of perceived relationships.
If you can understand the conditions for trust with your customer and then what behaviours trigger them, within a moments notice you’ll have the ability to create an environment that leads to greater distinction and influence in your relationships.
Then first dive headline into Dr Amy Banks book Wired to connect. For more information read my article on trust.
You must know what your customer values.
The commitment-trust theory of relationship marketing says that two fundamental factors, trust and commitment, must exist for a relationship to be successful.
The most important commitment you can have with your customers is who you are together. This rests in the ideas of shared values and future expectation.
A Corporate Executive Board (CEB) study published by the Harvard Business Review that included 7,000 consumers across the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, showed that loyalty to brands is almost impossible to achieve without one key element:
“Of those consumers who said that they had a strong brand relationship, 64% cited shared values as the primary reason.”
You may or may not agree with this but it can’t be ignored, nor should it be.
In today’s new economy it is very evident that buyers are more aware of ethical practices of those they work with, causes supported and even political viewpoints which could become sensitive areas.
The idea here is not to conform to what your customers believe but simply understand what they value. How do they do business? Why do they do business this way?
I’ll be fair. Sometimes our customers have no idea what they value but they do have an intuitive sense of what they might be against. Pay attention to those moments of contention or causes supported. See where appropriate you can be a part of supporting your customer in it.
You must eliminate distraction to create extra-ordinary moments.
The term “Moment of Truth” was coined by Jan Carlzon, who managed the Scandinavian SAS Airlines. He used the term to mean those moments in which important brand impressions are formed, and where there is a significant opportunity for good or bad impressions to be made.
Ken Blanchard author of raving fans called this “making the ordinary exceptional”.
In its rawest form loyalty exists in the ordinary moments we might take for granted. As an organisation, leader or sales professional in the simplicity of responding to an email or the unexpected customer call, you can make those moments extra-ordinary.
Satisfaction is about a rating but loyalty is about an emotion. We need to create more places for emotional connection with our customers.
In order to truly activate raving fan loyalty you have to eliminate distraction. Meaning; only choose to do things that bring meaningful connection and results to your customer that are highly valued and sought after by them.
Everything else is ego and a waste of time.
You must lead from the front and the side.
When you think about customer relationship management, customer growth, customer success do you immediately think LEADERSHIP?
Neither would I.
Although intuitively we may think in terms of leading in our roles, the act of developing leadership based skills hasn’t been a focus in the area of account management and customer serving professionals.
Research from the Reputation Institute, Covey Institute, Mckinsey and more on the area of customer growth and relationships, showed in more than 30 academic articles. Leadership was the most consistent.
What does it mean to lead from the front and side?
Simply, it means to be willing to go out front with your customer’s vision, share risk and come alongside them when they’re struggling or require collaborative support to execute.
It can be too easy to write off a customer because they’ve had a bad year. Maybe payments haven’t been on time or they’ve had huge redundancies.
All of a sudden your communication goes down. Instead of leading from the front and side we choose the apathy of comfort and read the signs wrong.
You must choose to be a leader regardless of where you or your customers are.
You must be able to see ahead of your customer.
Finally, this is perhaps the most challenging but exciting. I created a tool called Growth Mapping, which is perhaps one of the most powerful tools for thinking through new opportunity creation.
I call this blue space thinking as it was inspired by the book Blue Ocean Strategy.
This is all about opportunities unknown to you and your customer that could significantly accelerate your results together.
Two questions you might ask in your business today:
- What insight do you have about your customer that they don’t have?
- What do you know about the depth and value of your service or product that you haven’t fully explored?
In many cases there can be a great divide in communication between product creation, sales, marketing, customer service etc; this is a fatal mistake.
If you truly want to deliver unrivalled value to your customer’s you must tap into the collective genius of your company. This will allow you to get a full view, along with any CRM or technology you use, of the varying perspectives and insights of the customer from different departments.
It is important to note that seeing ahead doesn’t mean you must race ahead.
Customers are more likely to invest in companies that help and foresee solutions they need in collaboration than companies who just present them with a solution.
This has to be done with a narrative connected with all nine points covered previously in light of who your customer is trying to become.
Which of the 10 laws are you not intentionally working on?
Which of the 10 laws do you do well?
Wherever you are there is an opportunity for you to grow faster, go deeper with your customers than you thought possible.
If you aren’t receiving my weekly customer growth emails (where have you been!) time to join now.
If you’d like to know how you and your team can integrate these ideas into a process of mastering your customer interactions. Get in touch with my team.