Prospects and Persuasion

Every business starts with a belief that they have a product or service that others need and will buy. The business usually starts slowly, as time, energy, research, and an untold number of conversations with friends, colleagues, external advisors, and potential customers begins to congeal into a Vision, Mission, and Purpose.

Assuming the business has achieved a reasonable measure of market traction, and as the business pushes through its initial months and years, the structure, strategies, and tactics of the business solidifies. Processes and practices are formed, refined, integrated, and executed by employees, each with specific roles and responsibilities to create and retain customers. We call it Customer Building.

But, it’s not just about creating customers. Ultimately, it is about thrilling your customers to promote retention and long-term advocacy. To create, thrill, and retain customers is, truly, a never-ending set of activities.

What is included in the process of customer creation? It must involve:

  1. Understanding the opportunity and the prospect’s business needs and concerns,
  2. Creating trust in you and your company,
  3. Solving prospect problems aligned to your company’s offering,
  4. Effectively communicating how your company can and will accomplish the objectives, and
  5. Building an ongoing relationship.

Some would describe the above process as selling … the requisite steps in closing a sale.

In certain business settings and industries, these individuals would be titled as Sales Representatives, Sales Managers, Vice President of Sales, and similar titles. These companies are business-to-business oriented, and are in industries that are more typically product-driven and transactional.

Other businesses would prefer to describe the same process as customer or business development, and have the same objective – closing a sale.  These individuals frequently have titles that either say Business Development or Customer Development, or offer no indication that a core role and responsibility includes “selling” – regardless of the label assigned to it. These companies are also business-to-business oriented, but are in industries that are services-driven and far less transactional.

Many companies that emphasize “customer development” are lawyers, accountants, bankers, wealth advisors, consultants, architects, and engineers – and in other professions that have a longer vision of customer creation. Many of these individuals are owners, principals, and associates in their companies, or hold CEO, President, General Manager, and other titles that signify leadership rather than selling responsibilities.

Regardless of the title or label, the “selling” process is the same. Only the language is different.

You are persuading a prospect to become a client.

High Tech and High Touch

We live in a demand world. Technology has enabled businesses to push unlimited messages out to the consuming public. Emails with special offers pummel our inboxes daily. “Like us on Facebook today, and get a free doodad!” “Take our survey and get 20% off your next order!” We may tolerate the bombardment, but I’ll bet that most of us still don’t like it.

The more that “high tech” marketing and sales tools provoke negative reactions, the more crucial it is to differentiate your company—with positive “high touch” CUSTOMER BUILDING practices.

The thing is… human beings have real and specific needs. Have you noticed how you feel when you realize that a company really gets you? It is almost as if you don’t mind giving them your money—because they are providing you with what you really want.

It is not a mystery—we just want companies to understand us. That realization should be front and center for a business. Zero in on what people want, and then deliver it with good quality, and at a fair price. We call it the “FAIR EXCHANGE,” and we teach fair customer development and service practices at GAPWORX.

Your marketing messages should be understandable, and convey a clear value proposition to the prospect. Hire capable salespeople that can follow an effective and humane sales process. Teach them to ask probing questions, to uncover the prospect’s CORE interests and needs. Build capabilities in your sales team about product and service knowledge, so that they can answer any question about prospect FEARS, UNCERTAINTIES, and DOUBTS. A well-equipped sales person will be able to match real prospect needs, with your product and services.

The way your company sells… and the way your company serves, should be balanced to the same high level of performance.

Creating positive CUSTOMER EXPERIENCES should be a priority for every company employee who encounters a prospect or a customer. Just as with successful sales people, customer service employees should ask effective questions…to understand the customer’s problems, and their emotions about the problem.

You can’t fix what you don’t understand!

This does not happen automatically, but it can become the intention of a company’s CUSTOMER BUILDING strategy, tactics, and systems. It can work with knowledge, training, and perfect practice-practice-practice.

Build Customers That Advocate for You

If it seems that every company is talking about customer experience, it is because Customer Experience (CX) is one of the very hot issues in business management. As evidence of this – customers receive several requests each week to respond to surveys, and social media posts.

CX research has measured the “stickiness” of customer retention. Customers stick with companies, not only for the product and services, but for the emotional value of the relationship. The more the relationship goes beyond transactional, the more it becomes emotional. Obviously, companies want to minimize or even eliminate negative customer experiences. Neutral customer experiences do not build your competitive strength, or customer attachment. Your goal should be to design as many positive customer experiences as possible … ones that create customer advocacy.

For a customer to become an advocate for your company’s products and services, it requires passing the “warm and fuzzy” tests.  Advocacy requires trust and confidence. Advocacy happens when a customer feels good about exchanging their money for a fair deal. Advocacy happens when a customer feels understood, valued, and appreciated by you. Advocacy is built when you follow up, to understand how your customers experience your company, your products, and your services.

Twenty years ago, quality initiatives were all the rage, much like customer experience is now. We learned that evaluating processes, adjusting, and measuring outcomes were vital – every step of the way. Continuous measurement … and continuous improvement was the mantra.

It is the same with CX – evaluate every customer touchpoint. Examine how you sell, how you solve problems, and how you serve. Go beyond the simple feedback of surveys, and hold in depth customer conversations to peel back the layers of complexity. Use objective outside analysts to help you uncover problem areas. Positive customer experiences can reinforce your customer relationships, and help you build advocates for your company.

Frameworks That Drive Customer Advocacy

Every business struggles with creating new clients. Whole departments and countless resources focus on selling – on finding and persuading prospects that your company can satisfy a given need, solve specific problems, and that your value proposition is a “fair exchange.”

Whether your business is small or large, or you are selling to consumers or other businesses, the challenge is constant. Create more customers.

But, then the big challenge is to keep the newly onboarded customer. This challenge is frequently underserved, with less resources assigned to assure customer retention. Given the cost and extreme effort required to land a new customer, focus on delivering heightened customer experiences that emotionally connect your new customer to their initial decision to give you their business.

Improved customer retention is about meeting … and even exceeding customer expectations. Beyond the actual delivery of a service or product, it is about how the customer perceives the interaction with your company. It is about consistently creating a positive emotional connection with your brand promise.

How Is This Accomplished?

First, it takes a commitment from leadership that customer retention is a top priority. Second, there must be a candid assessment of customer-facing processes and points of contact, either direct or via an employee’s work product. An independent third party typically best accomplishes this, to assure truthful feedback and objective analysis. Fourth, get candid input from your customers. Again, this requires third party objectivity. Finally, a strategic customer retention plan is then devised, dedicating resources to move forward a variety of initiatives that address specific priorities.

As each company is different, retention initiatives will be different in each company. Often, the changes are simple and exceedingly low in cost – from small changes in customer-facing processes that give a greater voice to minor or major shortfalls in customer service, to training employees to better understand that their individual behaviors can have a negative or positive impact – providing them a clear understanding of company expectations and how best to elevate performance.

The ultimate business goal goes beyond achieving customer retention. It is to achieve customer advocacy, wherein your customers are so thrilled with your company that they actively recommend and support the ongoing success of your business to other prospective customers.

Want a Strong Business? Work on Your Gaps

A business culture is all the thinking, decision making, and actions within that business. Put simply – it is observable and measurable behavior that happens every day.

It is not a secret … strong business cultures are more successful than weak ones.

The short list of attributes of a strong business culture are:

  1. Clear vision, and achievable mission
  2. Leaders who inspire
  3. Supervisors who coach rather than manage
  4. Employees who work from talents and strengths
  5. An engaged workforce, aligned to the business purpose
  6. Job specific training
  7. Career paths
  8. Rewards and recognition
  9. Customers who become advocates

Almost every person has some awareness of what is not quite right, or what is missing from their lives. The striving to be better, to live better, and to have more of what we want stimulates the progress of individuals, companies, and even society.

In a competitive business environment, there is no place for complacency. Being GAPWORX … we want to have conversations with business leaders who are CURIOUS about how their business culture stacks up – their strengths and weaknesses. All businesses have gaps, and we think every business should work on them.

We help our clients work on cultural gaps, and that directly affects what we call Customer Building. Some employees have job-specific selling roles and responsibilities, others for serving. But generally, to fulfill the company brand … Everybody Sells and Everybody Serves.

I would be surprised to learn of any business that did not have to continuously create more customers. I would also be astounded to know of any business that did not have to continuously serve those customers well … to keep them.

Gap analysis is quantifying (measuring) the difference between what is, and what is desired. Qualifying (understanding) the rational and emotional discomfort about gaps, is why problem solvers and action takers succeed better in reducing their gaps. The awareness is … “I don’t like my results, I want something better, so I must do things differently.” That is simple psychology. Even though it is not complicated, it is still not easy.

The correlations are clear … strong business cultures create engaged workplaces. Engaged employees who are aligned to vision and mission, and who feel they have a place in the company – create stronger customer relationships.

If you want to sell more prospects and keep more customers … first understand your cultural gaps, and work on them.