If your customers are patients visiting your hospitals and looking for healthcare services, they cannot avoid going there by themselves physically, regardless of the position they hold in their company. If your customers are passengers travelling from poi
But if you are in a business such as financial services or retail banking, will the real decision-makers go to the branches by themselves? The answer is clearly, “No, not at all or not too often”.
No matter how hard you try to attract customers with innovative and high-class service outlets, the people physically visiting them will simply not be the decision-makers. They are too busy to go there. Yet, the dilemma is how to increase your sales figures and expand your customer base. Nowadays that requires that the decision-makers accept your meeting with them and agree to your proposal.
Training staff to smile and be courteous to customers is necessary but may be deficient in building a partnership with the real decision-makers. Companies now look for ways to build a partnership with the person who can say “yes” or “no” to their business.
Ideally, if you can say, “My customer trusts me and looks for my opinion on matters other than my core offering,” this is great news! This could mean you can see these people anytime you wish because they value your partnership.
Or if you can say, “The customers want to talk to me. They suggest new products or services that I can develop which might help them,” this means you have developed a good working relationship with this customer.
Many companies are struggling with how to move proactively and make these decision-makers see their salespeople or key account managers as their partners.
A successful partnership does not just happen. It starts with an innovative viewpoint – how we see the people whom we want to build the partnership with.
First, they are individuals to be respected, not an adversary to overcome or a target to be persuaded.
Second, you need to focus your energy on understanding their priorities, providing insights to them and deepening the relationship.
Last, you need to listen more to their challenges and discuss ideas on how to meet these challenges rather than the features of your products. Your behaviour dictates the extent to which they want to engage with you.
To successfully build a partnership with customers, you need to evaluate your current relationship with them. Do they feel that the current relationship is social, or ad hoc, or technical or a partnership? From there, you can take the proper approach to moving toward a successful partnership. Here are some tips.
_ Social relationship: If they only meet you because of a social relationship, the disadvantages are little or no business buy-in and the customer controls the relationship. This kind of relationship can be fun, but where work is concerned there is an expectation of discounts. What you need to do is move the meeting venue to a more formal location, or send the customer relevant business commentary on their interests.
_ Ad hoc relationship: This could turn into a nice surprise. The disadvantages are that it is reactive and urgent and you cannot plan your resources well. You should try to arrange meetings to discuss issues outside the project’s scope and ask how you can improve your level of service the next time to serve them well in the long run.
_ Technical relationship: Customers value your expertise, but they normally don’t forgive your mistakes. It is also easy for your competitor to displace you. You should try to become less aloof and more accessible, hold some less formal meetings and invite them to social events that your company organises.
Most importantly, adjusting your communications to fit the customer’s lifestyle is necessary. For instance, the use of social networks or contents through mobile devices will be useful to cement relationships with younger-generation executives. Learning their language and matching your interests to theirs and their ambitions cannot be avoided.
Atchara Juicharern is Managing Director, AcComm & Image International