What do Amazon, Netflix and ASOS have in common? They all use complex algorithms to try and figure out what you want next, before you’ve even reached that point. They understand that, sometimes, you don’t want to be overloaded with choices and told to make all the decisions: you want some guidance. You want suggestions. You want a little bit more input to lessen the burden.
Your customers are no different. They don’t want you to be a straightforward supplier anymore. They want customer collaboration. These days, they’re looking for a strategic partner.
They expect you to have a good idea of where their business is headed and what they need to help them get there. They take it for granted that you’ll have a good idea of where you come into the process. They want you to take a deep look at their business challenges and suggest creative solutions that go well beyond simply: “buy our product.”
And to make this work for you, you have to learn to position yourself as a collaborator, not a vendor – someone who’s on the same page, working towards the same long-term goals. You need to make yourself indispensable. Manage it successfully, and your revenue will soar.
Broadly speaking, there are five steps to building high-performing collaborative relationships with your clients:
1. Get a Really Clear Picture of What Your Customers Want to Achieve. What are their primary business goals? What major problems or pain points are they trying to solve? What kind of time frames are they looking at? And, just as importantly, how do they actually measure success?
2. Figure Out Who Your Key Clients and Relationships Are. No prizes for guessing that developing an in-depth, collaborative relationship with a client takes much more time, energy and resources than a quick catch-up sales call now and again.
There are only so many hours in a lifetime and it’s almost certainly not possible (or profitable) to have these kind of interactions with every customer. Instead, you need to think carefully about which of your clients you can serve best in this way – and of course, which are high value enough to make it worth your while. Plus, of course, which decision-makers you really need to focus on nurturing relationships with if you’re going to help tackle the bigger business goals effectively.
3. Establish a Way of Measuring Your Own Value. Getting complacent is never a good strategy, but it’s especially disastrous when you’ve been playing the long game with no guarantees.
Because you haven’t actually been hired as a strategist, it’s unlikely that your client will volunteer feedback about how well your advice and input is meeting their needs. That means you have to be extra-vigilant.
Based on the information you’ve gathered from your client about their business needs, objectives and timelines, draw up a checklist of factors that are logically likely to help them achieve each of these goals and when. Keep referring back to this, using it to refine your pitch, come up with new suggestions and keep you on the right track as you present your business case to them.
4. Develop a Plan Together. At the earliest opportunity, work with your client to draw up an action plan together: one that incorporates, but isn’t limited to, the solution you sell. The more embedded you are in their roadmap for the future, the more value you offer, the more elemental you’ll seem to success, and the less likely they are to start shopping around for other suppliers.
It’s all about building a team that tackles their problem – and one that includes you.
5. Measure the Results – and Keep Improving. Learning from the process will help you to keep getting better and better, winning more deals, upselling more products and earning more money.
Keep a record of your interactions with clients and be sure to do a post-mortem of all your deals, whether they close as hoped, fall apart or end up stalled. What worked? What didn’t? Where did it start to unravel? What signs did you miss the first time round that could have suggested it was heading in a different direction, that you needed to step up, that this client wasn’t ready for collaboration, etc.? These details will help you no end when you start to plan for your next sales relationship.
Ultimately it comes down to the same old skill that will always serve you best in sales: don’t push what you want, really listen to what your customer wants and needs. And then, do your level best to make it happen.
Got any thoughts about how to understand the needs of your customer? Write them below! And share this post with all your fellow sales-loving contacts.