There’s no way to move forward with a value-driven plan or solution for your customers unless you truly understand what they value. What your customers value isn’t always as obvious or simple as you think. Starting things off with the right understanding means you’ll be able to bring true value to the table sooner.
Set up a process and take the time you need to dig up the truth before you start. While every customers’ answers about what they value will be different, the process you’ll follow to get those answers will be basically the same for everyone. You need to ask good questions, summarize what you’ve heard, help them envision their ideal situation, keep communication open, and follow up.
The Importance of Questions
Questions are your gateways to information. Without asking the right questions, you’ll find it difficult to get the best answers. Ask questions that get to the core of value, to find out:
What they like in a vendor/product
What products do they like, and why? What is they vision of an ideal vendor relationship?
The purpose of these types of questions is to understand what their ideal is for a working partnership with vendors, and to see what they say they’re looking for in a product. Customers may not always know the full answer, but they can give you a lot of useful information if you ask simple questions like these.
What they don’t like
Have any vendor or product experiences disappointed them? What’s an example of something that didn’t live up to their expectations? What things do they know they don’t need, or don’t like?
In finding out what your customers value, it’s also helpful to identify past vendor/product failures so you can avoid making the same mistakes. While customers don’t always know exactly what they want or what they’d like, they can almost always tell you accurately what they don’t like. Identify what they don’t like to help you form a complete picture about what they actually value.
How something has worked for them/didn’t work
What did the vendor or product bring to the table that helped the customer meet their goals? How did a particular vendor address their needs successfully?
You’re not looking for repeat their past experiences or copy another company’s marketing tactics. Instead, you’re looking to find out what successful vendors and products have in common that you can attribute to customer value. Not every success relates directly to customer value, but in most successfully cases you can find something that will aid in your own search to provide value.
One of the principles of active listening is repeating back a summary of what someone told you. It’s a good practice because it lets them know you’re listening attentively to what they’re saying. Don’t repeat back word for word. Summarize what they’re said in your own words.
This has another benefit beyond demonstrating that you’re listening. It also helps you to know if you’ve understood them fully or not. If you summarize their statements and they correct something you’ve said, make a note of it and repeat that corrected statement again. While you’re summarizing, ask questions about anything you’re not 100% clear on.
Your objective is to leave the conversation with factual information straight from the source. It’s no use talking to your customers and taking up their time if you leave confused about what they’ve said. Use the conversation time wisely and walk away with better information.
Creating a Story
Sometimes it’s hard for people to really picture what you’re saying unless you give them a more detailed look. Take some time to create a success story that tells them how you’ll get them from where they are to where they want to be. Focus on the fact that you’re in it for their benefit.
Consider this like making a case study projection. If you were to work with the customer, how would you make a positive impact of their progress towards their goals? Try to show them what the process to reach success would look like before you’ve even started working together.
Keeping Up the Conversation
Customers aren’t going to reach out to you all the time, and they shouldn’t be expected to. The responsibility is on you to make sure you’re keeping the dialogue open. Track conversations you’re having with your customers, so you don’t get redundant at any point. Make sure you’re communicating often to keep you and your company in the front of their mind.
Value changes over time. If you lose touch with what a customer is focusing on, you risk missing out on small and large value shifts.
When you’re following up with existing or prospective customers, don’t lead in talking about yourself. Ease into the conversation by bringing up something that’s relevant to them first. Provide reports, data, new findings, etc. that will be of interest to your customers. Lead off with something that they will be genuinely interested in knowing, then segue into your own talk later.
You need to fully understand what your customers consider valuable if you want any hope of fulfilling their expectations. Get to the root of it instead of accepting surface level answers. Dig deep and get the full truth so you can make the biggest possible impact for your customers.