A former colleague and friend of mine gave me a phrase a few years ago that I find I use all of the time.
I was speaking to her about a situation with a client in which I’d recommended one course of action and they took a different path. Now they were in trouble and I was saying what a shame it was that they hadn’t taken my advice. She said, “You know, after a while being right loses its impact.”
I realized then – and continue to realize every day – that you can’t tell people anything. You can only ever create the conditions under which they discover things for themselves. This is how we all really learn.
So ask questions, listen, challenge, seek to understand – all while keeping your objective in mind – and create the situation in which the client can make the right choice. Just don’t bother telling them. They won’t really get it unless they get to it themselves.
Some years ago I worked for a friend of mine at his hotel in Austria. At that time they were only open during the summer holiday season as this was when they had most of their visitors. After the first week or so I asked him when I would be taking a day off.
“Day off?” he said, “But what would you do?”
I said well, relax, go for a swim, rest, that sort of thing.
He looked at me like I’d suddenly lost my mind and said,
“If I’m a farmer and I have to milk my cows, do I run around the field trying to milk them? That’s so much more work than milking them when they’re in the barn. This is what we’re doing here – we’re milking the cows when they’re in the barn.”
I didn’t have a day off for about 4 months.
While I don’t by any stretch of the imagination think of my clients today as cows, the metaphor still works. Working with those clients you have is much less effort than frantically chasing the clients you might be able to catch in the field.
I’m seeing more and more ads in the US for “Customer Success Managers” at technology companies such as Salesforce.com, Birst and Citrix, to name only a few. This is partly just a change in nomenclature as I’m pretty sure these companies all used to have account managers, but there a different flavour to these ads. They’re less sales-orientated and more about the longer-term success for the client in their use of technology. This is an excellent development in the marketplace and a trend that will hopefully continue.
Why? Because technology companies used to be a little bit lazy about customer care. They could sell products that would support a client’s business for a couple of years at a time. The sales team would make a sale and think that they could rest easy, touching base with the client executives at infrequent intervals with the Support team interacting more regularly at the lower levels. Now, as the pace of change increases and every business adapts to its market at ever-faster rates, no product remains static. New features and functionality are demanded on a daily basis and new metrics are available through which a client can understand whether or not anyone is using the solution they’ve paid for. The client is more engaged than ever in their technology solution and as a result the solution provider has to stay in every conversation. It’s the only way to help clients adopt new ways of working and understand what they may need next.
This is the focus of these types of roles – not just selling but engaging, listening and advising at several different levels to prevent valuable clients from churning out of the business. If you’re not following this approach, you may keep the top of the sales funnel full but find that clients end up dropping out downstream.