How service companies can turn a wild customer into an incredible partner
In a previous article, Treating customers like partners and friends, I challenge the temptation to view customers only as money-machines. Money is extremely important to every business or it’s frankly not a business. Without money you might have a hobby, but not a business.
However, it’s important to begin every business development strategy with the right values from the start, many of which don’t have anything to do with money. I try to evaluate my sales process process periodically with a few simple questions.
What do I believe about my customers?
What value do my customer bring to my business?
Does my sales process set my customers up to be consumers or partners?
The problem with most business development strategies is that they are often reactions to money problems in the business.
The other day I was reading an article on WikiHow.com about ways to break a horse. I’m not a horseman myself but I have an appreciation for ways some are able to carefully and gently train a wild animal such as a horse. The article presented 6 steps to breaking a horse and it reminded me of similar ways we should approach business and customer development.
I’ve taken each step to breaking a horse as describe in the article and translated for business development. The steps for breaking a horse is in parenthesis next to each business development value.
1. Gain the trust of your customer (Gain trust of your horse)
This is the most critical piece. Every company will have a different approach to how to build trust with customers, but remember this is a human-to-human process and not a formula. Slow down, spend time with them and become as interested in their success as you are with your own.
2. Become intimate with your customer’s problems (Train the horse from the ground)
Today’s average customer isn’t looking for a sage or know-it-all. They’re looking for a partner. Bunker up and get in the trenches with them and the problems they are trying to solve. Your product or service doesn’t have to solve all of their problems directly, but you’ll be surprised how much you can learn by becoming well acquainted with the bigger picture.
3. Educate and become a resource for industry knowledge (Prepare your horse for the mount)
Customers are often novices at best when it comes to your specialty. And even if they are more experienced buyers, they enjoy being led by someone with a little more knowledge and experience.
4. No surprises (Introduce the riding equipping you will use while breaking the horse)
Let your customer see behind the curtain or your team and process. Give them a few deliverables using the same tools and formatting as if they were one of your biggest customers. This will give them a taste of what it might really be like to partner with you longterm, and that vision is priceless.
5. Low commitment, big reward (Get the horse used to the weight of a rider on its back)
Trust your own process by offering a low risk, low cost way for customers to test drive you and your team with out a huge commitment on either side. We do this by making the first two phases of our service
6. Never lose your closeness (Ride the horse frequently)
Now that they are customers don’t stop pursuing them, caring about their success, and helping them solve problems. Your hunting skills are necessary to find a great customer, but nurturing a customer takes a patient shepherd.
In our business we’ve created a low risk strategy and planning phase called a Story Plan that enables us to deliver value to our customer, while also preparing them and our team for a loyal, long-lasting relationship. We’ve learned the hard way that business development is not a short-term operation, but it’s a strategy that begins with the DNA of your company’s culture and values.