How well do you understand your key accounts? Do you know their current goals, priorities, and desired outcomes?
This is crucial as the market continues to shift and change. Otherwise, you’re putting your business at risk by failing to understand your customers.
But how do you plan to discover this information to prevent these VIP customers from being at risk?
Bob London, Founder of Chief Listening Officers, showed us how, in his presentation at KAMCon 2023, titled, “The 5 Customer Love Languages to Build Customer Relationships for Life.” He revealed the 5 customer love languages and 5 radically authentic discovery questions to get customers to share essential insights while developing stronger, longer-lasting relationships.
“How do we listen better?” Bob asked, “To listen better, you have to get customers to open up more.”
The problem is that our customers say that we aren’t listening. According to research by the Rain Group, leading a thorough discovery of the customer’s concerns, wants, and needs, and listening to them are two of the top three influences on B2B purchase decisions. The same study revealed that buyers feel that only one-quarter of sellers are effective listeners.
Why is that?
Overcome These Myths
Bob contends that there are some strongly held myths or misconceptions we need to overcome before we can get customers to open up about their priorities and challenges.
Myth #1: Customers believe they want to grow up to be the best customer they can be.
Reality: Customers want to do their job. They are experts in their business and not your product. When you ask them about what they do for a living, what’s important to them, and what’s going on with their job, they will open up.
Myth #2: You need to have a tightly scripted agenda.
Reality: Some customers want an agenda, need it to help them know who to invite, or want to be prepared for what will be discussed. That’s fine, but you need to carve out 10 minutes at the beginning or the end of meetings or schedule a 30-minute standalone conversation with no agenda other than to ask the customer strategic questions. That is when they become incredibly candid with you because they see that you’re not there to enforce your agenda and outcomes. Clients see that you are there to talk about and learn their outcomes.
Myth #3: If it is important, the customer will mention it.
Reality: We need to remember that these people are not only customers, but they also have a job to do. They have other things they want to accomplish in their job. Take the time to understand what they do and how you can help them.
Myth #4: You need a bunch of slides and stats.
Reality: Slides end up making you talk at customers and prevent true engagement. So, ditch the slides and prepare to ask your customer some radically authentic discovery questions instead. Your customers will appreciate your curiosity, effort, and interest.
Myth #5: We have to keep talking. We’re the account managers, it’s our meeting, and we have to be the authority.
Reality: You don’t have to sell something right away. Stay on mute and listen or ask second-level questions to delve deeper into what the customer is telling you.
All these myths need to go away because the cost is huge. It means we are not listening and don’t understand our customers, and this is putting customers at risk.
5 Customer Love Languages
According to Bob, “Listening is a means to the end of understanding customers, and listening and understanding are the keys to nurturing and growing relationships.” This thought made him think of the 5 love languages and the fact that understanding is the key to creating great relationships of any type. So, he reframed the 5 original love languages to the 5 customer love languages, where love equals value from the customer’s perspective.
Bob discussed each of the customer love languages, then shared five authentic discovery questions to initiate conversations with your customers about what’s really important to them. Let’s review the 5 customer love languages first.
1. Be curious: Ask disruptive questions then go on mute, don’t solve or sell, and support but don’t shift. There’s a time and place to solve customer problems, but it is not during the discovery process where you only want to talk about what is important to the customer.
This is essential because when a customer opens their mouth, you want them to continue. If you interrupt them to solve or sell, they will stop. You also want to do and say things that encourage the customer to go deeper. That’s why supporting them and not shifting them back to your perspective is a crucial element of ‘be curious.’
2. Be real: Loosen the agenda, ditch PowerPoint, and try not to talk at your customers. The point is to engage the customer in conversation by asking radically authentic questions to gain a deeper understanding of your clients.
3. Be in sync: Understand your customer’s one big thing, that thing that their company is counting on them to accomplish. Understand the bigger context of their job beyond your solution. Who knows, there may be something else they’re struggling with that you might be able to help with, either with your solution, some sort of innovation, content, or best practices.
4. Be holistic: Gain a deeper understanding of what the customer’s company is trying to accomplish or the challenges their company is facing. Company goals and challenges continually evolve due to market and economic conditions. So, it’s crucial to inquire about this routinely.
5. Be ahead: Bring innovations that are going to help your customers do their job better next year. Start by understanding the outcomes your customers are trying to achieve and building toward that with your product.
5 Authentic Discovery Questions
Bob explained “The reason I call these questions disruptive is because they are outside the typical boundaries of normal business speak and they relate to the customer on the customer’s terms. Each question has what I call a hook and twist. The hook is something everyone knows.” The twist is a question that most customers have never been asked and it makes them think.
Let’s check out the five authentic discovery questions that Bob shared during his presentation and what he had to say about them.
1. What’s the biggest thing that surprised you since you signed the contract?
Bob said that one of his clients used this question and the customer responses helped them increase the effectiveness of their website copy. Their customers felt that the business was selling themselves short in their messaging.
2. If you got a call from our competitor today, how would you react on a scale of one to five? One is, that you’d probably ignore it. Five is you’d respond and want to know what they’ve got going on. Then follow up by asking why they selected that number.
Bob pointed out that you shouldn’t be hesitant to bring up competition or this question, because the answer has nothing to do with competition. The answer is a number. If they say five, you can thank them for their honesty. The whole point is transparency in your relationship.
Remember, this is not an NPS score. If they aren’t engaging with a competitor, it might only mean that they are too busy right now, or it could mean that they are thrilled enough to remain your long-term customers.
3. Your job description is probably one or two pages long, single-spaced. There’s a lot in there. There’s often one thing that is the essence of your job such as the outcome your company is counting on you to deliver this year for your company to be successful. Can you talk me through that?
4. If I could sneak into your board meeting, or was a fly on the wall in your executive leadership meeting, what do you think is the number one priority or challenge for this year that I would hear being discussed?
If your customer can’t articulate how your product or service delivers value that aligns with what the company is trying to accomplish, then I would consider the business to be at risk. So, tie what you’re doing for the customer to the company’s highest level or organizational departmental priorities.
5. What would make you a customer for life? I don’t mean literally, but figuratively. What would be the perfect relationship for you?
The answer to this question may be the difference between early renewals or potential churn.
Leverage Customer Love Languages
The customer love languages are a framework for discovery where you get into your customer’s head, so they reveal more insights.
“You don’t need any new software to do this,” according to Bob. “You only need to be a little bold and curious by asking a question that disrupts the customer’s thought patterns and gets them to open up about what’s important to them.”
There’s enough talking about us in the meetings, a lot of slides, and a lot of bullet points. It’s time we let customers talk about what’s important to them.
Looking for more ways to better understand your customers? Register for KAMGenius PLUS. The next cohort starts on October 12th.