Trust, credibility and respect are the three main ingredients to creating long-lasting customer engagement. I was recently sitting in front of a key client and realized within minutes that the reason I thought I was there was not the reason he thought I was there. I came into the conversation ready to outline several key products and services that I was convinced would really meet his needs. He wanted to talk about something completely different.
I had two options, deflect, take a bunch of notes and tell him I’d get back to him or switch my thinking to his perspective, offer some value and help him address the issue that was of most concern to him. What do you do in these situations—freeze and hope to get another chance, or do you enter every conversation with a client ready to engage them in a way they want to be engaged? Your response either builds trust, credibility and respect, or destroys it.
So what are some keys to creating good customer engagement?
1. Give value first. Be willing to share ideas, concepts and information that show you know more about what you sell than features and benefits. Talk with the buyer about trends you are seeing and issues that other buyers may be facing. This builds confidence in your expertise and gives you flexibility to engage the customer in discussion, not a sales pitch.
2. Understand the buyer’s perspective of your value. Rather than starting with a series of questions, that every buyer knows are meant to uncover their “pain” and lead you to telling them what to buy, start with open discussion. Find out how the valuable information you shared resonates with the buyer personally. What relates to their needs and where might their needs be slightly different? Listen closely, because this is where they will mention things in passing that are critical to the final outcome.
3. Build your offer with them. Rather than leaving the customer, creating a proposal, and then trying to come back and “close the deal”, take time with the customer to outline what they would really like to buy. Have them help you build the outline of the solution and identify the next steps to saying yes—immediately, near term and long term.
4. Be flexible. Recognize that you may need to adjust your offer to create a mutually beneficial outcome. Be sure that whatever you promise, you and your company can follow through on. Also be sure the buyer feels valued in the final deal. The best way to have them make a positive buying decision in the future is to have them see their first decision to buy from you as a good one.
In sales it is easy to get overly focused on the process of selling and lose sight of the basic human elements that help to engage customers. By engaging customers in buying (rather than focusing on selling) you can create strong customer engagement built on trust, credibility and respect. A relationship in which you demonstrate that you trust the customer, see them as credible and respect them. This in turn allows the customer to trust and respect you because they find you to be credible. Being credible with your customers will allow you to meet your short-term sales goals and build lasting relationships that will help you meet your goals long into the future.
Great conversationalists are able to find connections with others by asking the right questions and learning their likes and dislikes. Hone the skills needed to have powerful conversations that will improve professional relationships, build trust, and get real results.
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Kevin J. Sensenig, Ph.D., serves as Global Vice President, Learning and Organization Development for Dale Carnegie Training®, Hauppauge, New York.