Too often I hear people give bad advice to others about how to talk with new potential clients. Rather than focus on what the customer is trying to accomplish now, they try to get their foot in the door for a long-term relationship with the company.
It’s like talking about marriage, kids and and the white picket fence before the other person has even committed to a first date.
I know why they do this. Part of it starts with good intentions. As a professional, you want to make sure your new (potential) client has the right information so they can make the best decision about how to accomplish what they want. That’s our job. Customers know what they want. We help them figure out the best way to get it done. So, we need to ask questions and, sometimes, suggest alternatives in the interest of helping them get what they really want.
And this is good. This is as it should be. But then too many people take a wrong turn. They start putting themselves first.
For example, consultants will go into a first interview for a specific short-term project and they talk about being the client’s long term advisor or partner. Something the client has shown absolutely no interest in.
Or, speakers and trainers will meet with potential clients about a single event the client wants done and they talk about multiple workshops, ongoing coaching and strategic consulting to help them accomplish their long term objectives. All they wanted was a 1/2 day training session!
It’s good to help our clients explore possible solutions to help them accomplish their goals. That’s our job. It’s not our job to take them in a different direction because it benefits us. We can justify it by saying “it’s in the customer’s best interest” or “I’m just covering all the bases”. But I don’t buy those excuses.
And the test is simple. If you find yourself always (or almost always) pointing your clients toward the same thing (something that benefits you and is different than what they came to you for) then you’re selling. You’re not helping. And you’re focusing on what you want, not what they want.
So stop doing it.
You might argue that you have to sell your products or services or you’ll be out of business. You argue that need justifies offering those products or service to everyone you speak with.
But that’s wrong. And it will not help you grow your business.
If a client (or potential client) wants something that your product or service does not fit, don’t offer it. Help them find a company that does fit what they need. That’s helping, not selling. And it’s the best way to build a loyal customer base. It’s also the only way to deliver Amazing Service.
The first requirement of Amazing Service is to deliver what your customers want, plus a little more. It does NOT say deliver what you want and hope it helps your customer get what they want.
Some people will read this and say “What’s wrong with trying to establish a long-term relationship with a client?” Or “What’s wrong with trying to look beyond their current need and help them with potential future needs?”
There’s nothing wrong looking toward the future. In fact, many clients will appreciate it. But the issue is how and when you do it. Your first obligation is to help them with their current need. Until you’ve done that, you don’t have the right (or, quite likely, the credibility) to talk about the future. Let your client get to know you first. Let your relationship build and develop. Show them how good you are by helping them accomplish what they want now. Demonstrate your ability and willingness to be partner with them.
You need to show them you can be a valuable partner, not tell them. Showing is helping. Telling is selling.
The first step in building a valuable long-term client relationship is helping them. Help your client get what they want and do it so well they’ll be happy to continue doing business with you in the future. Then stay in touch in a professional and helpful way and you’ll have a much better chance of becoming a trusted and valued partner for them.