Think Like Your Customer in 3 Steps
Watching the US Track & Field Outdoor Championships this weekend put me in a reflective mood. My middle child loves the sport and is learning how much time and effort it takes these elite athletes to reach their potential. He can tell me all about building a base, developing strength, working up speed and the right way to taper before a big race.
It sounds a lot like business development.
The prep work determines our success. How much effort was put into knowing our customer before time spent with the “object of our desire”?
In this note I will give you some questions to help you think like your customers while you’re out developing new business. I’m going to start with this Abraham Lincoln quote:
“When I get ready to talk to people, I spend two thirds of the time thinking what they want to hear and one third thinking about what I want to say.”
Love it. The man was a communications genius.
The hardest part of new business development is getting out of our own heads and getting into our customer’s world. I’ll blame it on Budget or Quota or whatever we call our goal setting exercise. We start with a number, then we try to figure out how we’re going to get there. I understand the value of having a target, but once it’s tossed out onto the table, we need to move into a customer mode and put the focus on what kind of value we need to bring to them in order to hit our targets.
That’s Step 1: get off what’s important to you and make it into what’s important to them.
An example: a small accounting firm wants to increase revenues by 10% this year. (the Budget) We’ll say that’s $150K on revenues of $1.5MM in the previous year. So far, we’re firmly in our own heads. It’s all about us. Let’s use a little trick to view that $150K number through our customer’s eyes. Ask yourself this:
“What value would I have to see in order to justify paying $150K to Greg’s accounting firm?”
For simplicity sake, I default to something I learned in my first sales job. Robert Reighter told me, “As long as you bring in 10X more than you take out of this company, you’ll always have a job.”
Made sense to me. Still makes sense as a general rule of thumb. Getting back to my friend’s accounting firm, we move off the $150K and move into “how do we provide $1.5MM more value to our clients this year?”
It’s a great question. I’d expand that to 10-15X so that “value provided” number looks like $1.5-2.25MM in additional value because that forces you to go out looking for problems to solve. Right? If you can find 10 $200K problems or 1 big $2.25MM problem to help your clients solve, you’re taking a step closer to reaching your goal.
Step 2: think about the places your customer will turn to when looking for help with the problems you solve.
I am going to avoid the long discussion on identifying buyers that could creep in here and stick with a high level approach because we’re still in the planning phases. Right now, I’d suggest brainstorming in search of some insight about where your customer is going to go in search of answers.
What do they read? Think publications – websites/newspapers/magazines/trade rags etc.
Who influences them? Think outside influences (peers, gurus) and inside influences (leaders, peers) as well as thought leaders in the industry.
Are they involved in any outside organizations? Volunteering, continuing education, social circle etc.
The obvious reason for doing this is because it gives you some ideas on how to be discovered, but it also does a wonderful job of putting you into their shoes. The better you are at helping them, the easier it is to hit your goals. (trite but true)
Step 3: Start asking questions, making recommendations and keeping in touch.
Here’s where I lose my professional services friends. “What? Are you suggesting that I give unsolicited advice?” Yes. Yes I am.
I’m suggesting that you know what problems you solve, you know how you’d solve them and you need to get in front of some buyers and offer your advice. In a nice way. “You have operations in 3 states. 2 of those states have new tax incentives for job creation that may help your company.” That’s a nice way of hinting at a benefit.
Here’s the trick. New business relies on Trust. That doesn’t come overnight. The previous statement coming from you and delivered to a current client is going to be perceived differently than having it delivered to a stranger. So work on turning that stranger into a stranger that trusts you and your advice.
To do that, use a tool that manages these relationships. I’m a huge fan of auto-responders from email service providers like MailChimp or Aweber. I’ve seen people successfully use Outlook or Gmail too. The point is, get them into a database and drip content out to them. This was a staple of professional service marketing in the early 90s with newsletters and postcards and shows up today as email newsletters and blogs. As long as you’re providing value – providing perceived value – you’re allowed to stay in touch.
That’s how you build trust. Communicate with integrity, demonstrate consistency, and deliver on requests, right? New business has to start somewhere, so start now.
That’s how it’s done. Start expressing your goals in terms of benefits you provide customers, get into your customer’s head and look for solutions where they look for solutions, reach out them and stay in touch to build trust. 3 simple steps, but it’s not easy.