Connecting With Customers

Greetings.  Whether you sell your products, services and solutions to businesses, consumers or government agencies, connecting with customers is vital to your success.  And doing it in a way that is more valuable than your competitors is more important than ever before.  Aided by the internet (or the interweb as our daughter Sara likes to call it), today's buyers have way more access to information, insights, options and the feedback of others.  This lets them compare competing offerings and purported customer experiences in more detail long before they ever kick the tires.

So how do you and your company stand out in this new and information-packed world?  And remember that it doesn't matter if you are a leading restaurant chain, car dealership or systems integrator.  You have to be different in some meaningful way to remain relevant and profitable.  And the customer "connection" is key.

Here are seven things to think about as you work to strengthen your relationships with customers and prospects…

1.  Make sure you really understand their needs and desires better than anyone else.  This means "living" with them, walking in their shoes and asking them about their wildest dreams!  That's right.  How would they envision the most amazing result of working with a partner like you?

2.  Challenge yourself to cast a much wider net in the search for ideas and solutions that would really meet and then exceed their needs and desires.  This means imagining and evaluating decidedly more compelling ways to address their challenge and delight them.

3.  Create and tell a story that really matters in meeting the customer's needs and desires.  A story that has them winning the Academy Award for Best Performance by a Customer in a Leading Role as you quietly win the statuette for Best Supporting Actor.

4.  Center your story around a promise worth keeping that is wildly better than the promise of others.  It can be a promise tied to a guaranteed result or customer experience that matters and is truly world-class.

5.  Create the right customer engagement model that will support your promise from start to finish.  A model based on their hopes and budget and your creativity.

6.  Seek to make the customer smarter and more capable at every step along the way.  In an age driven by information, figure out how to consistently drive the most valuable knowledge and know-how to every customer and prospect.

7.  Reinvent what it means to be responsive.  With the goal of making your business available and brilliant instantly, 25/8, 366 days a year, rain or shine.

Connecting

We win in business and in life when we make powerful connections with our customers and prospects.  And when we inspire them to be everything they dream of.

Cheers!

Leading By Example

Greetings.  I knew that it was bound to happen.  It was simply a matter of time before I actually saw a police car with turn signals.  And since I wasn't able to take a picture given the compelling need to remain focused–rather than distracted–on driving, I realize that some of you just won't believe me.  In fact, I'm still in a state of shock.  But there I was, driving home from one of our projects, when the police car in question had the audacity to signal before thoughtfully coming into my lane. An act of civil obedience that has challenged me to question my assumption that these cars lacked turn signals and my lengthy quest to figure out the reason why.  

At first I imagined that there was something about the nature of turn signals that made it more difficult to perform the duties of a police officer successfully.  Then I imagined that the lack of lane changing guidance was due to a deliberate attempt to make police cars more discreet when pursuing the bad guys.  And recently I've conjectured that given the current economic climate it was a visionary move that was intended to save money that could be better spent on more important police equipment.  In any event, I had convinced myself that police cars came from the factory without turn signals.  Even though one might expect police officers to lead by example when it came to observing our traffic laws and demonstrating the best possible driving behavior.  After all, there are a lot of drivers out there who could use a strong role model.  Student drivers.  Distracted drivers.  Drivers from other countries where it is even easier to get a license (if that's possible).  

Of course, even I could appreciate the fact that there were times when officers were in the heat of a chase, or racing to a crime scene, or in need of an extra large cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee after a long shift.  But most of the time they seemed to be driving along just like the rest of us–with no great sense of urgency.  Or, at least, driving along like the rest of us who need to have our turn signals repaired. 

And I started thinking about the times that we expect the leaders in our companies and organizations to be role models.  Talking about the importance of innovation, or building strong relationships with customers, or being remarkably responsive, or collaborating and sharing insight and information…and acting in a way that demonstrates their commitment.  Rather than ignoring promising new ideas or stifling initiative, or not making customers a priority, or not having an open door, or not sharing valuable information that would challenge and empower employees at all levels.  Because they didn't see the power of leading by example.  Or because they'd simply gotten out of the habit of using their turn signals. 

Police car

We win in business and in life when we lead by example.  And when we never forget that no matter how busy we are, impressionable minds are watching.

Cheers!

When Less Isn’t More

Greetings.  They decided not to tell me that they were changing the very nature of our relationship.  Instead they let me figure it out for myself.  I might even imagine that they thought I would never notice given the flow of my slightly oversubscribed life.  But on a typical weekday morning over breakfast and the Wall Street Journal, it hit me like a gigantic meteor crashing into our driveway.  Actually that might be a bit over-dramatic.  But I did notice finally.  And painfully.  That a partner I had come to rely on had been less than truthful with our relationship.

They might have been honest and announced the change.  Oh, I know, it's never a great idea to tell people that you're less interested in them, or that you are putting less into your relationship, or that you are hiding important information from them, or that you have decided to give some of what you always gave them to someone new and different.  That you value their relationship less than you did before.  

7.8% less to be precise.  

Barely noticeable some people might say.  And besides, it's the exact same change that their leading competitor made to all of its relationships.  But as a result, I for one will never be able to trust them completely.  Will view each interaction moving forward with greater suspicion and doubt.  Will be forced to wonder why I invested so much time and energy in my relationship with Florida's Natural orange juice.  Why I took them in and made them such an important part of my life.

Yet if they'd tried, they might have made me understand the necessity of changing the game.  They might have even had some fun by openly and honestly promoting the change and adorning their cartons and ads with the following ideas…

–  "New Smaller Size"

–  "Less Great Taste for the Same Great Price"

–  "Fewer Calories and Less Stomach Acid"

–  "New Easier to Hold Carton"

–  "Florida's Natural–Your Partner in Losing Weight"

–  "Fits More Easily on Your Refrigerator Shelf"

–  "Innovation–We've Reinvented the Half Gallon"

–  "Savor the Difference (Because You Don't Get as Much)"

–  "It's Lighter–So Why Not Buy a Case"

–  "We're So Excited, We Tried to Hide It"

–  "Now With Only Seven Servings"

–  "Helping You to Drink More Responsibly"

–  "A New Size for a New Generation"

Or to simply quote the renowned architect Mies van der Rohe: "Less is More."

Sometimes less is more.  Smaller and lighter laptop computers are one excellent example. Or cars that get much better fuel economy without reducing safety or acceleration.  But often it's not.  And orange juice is a case in point–because less is actually less.  So while Florida's Natural is not the only product that has given me less than I bargained for, it has caused me to wonder about some of the other relationships I hold dear.  I've even begun wondering if the holes in my Cheerios were getting larger.

 

Floridasnatural
 

We win in business and in life when we are open and honest with those we have relationships with.  And when we never forget that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  

 (Which suggests a possible bumper sticker:  DON'T MESS WITH BREAKFAST!)

Cheers!

Rethinking Business Networking

Greetings.  A few weeks ago I was invited to facilitate a "speed networking" event for the French-American Chamber of Commerce.  A chance to help forty successful and extremely busy business professionals connect with each other in the hope of building new and productive business relationships.  And a chance to test some of my latest thinking about how to connect with strangers in a more than superficial way by turning the notion of business networking on its head.  Thinking that has been influenced by more than 8,000 years of history from around the globe.

Mind you, the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Assyrians or native peoples of the Western Hemisphere would never have invented speed networking.  They all knew that building relationships takes time, patience, and a willingness to get to know what really matters to someone.  But then, they didn't live in a time of high tech, high touch, high energy, high definition, high octane, and higher stress.  A time when time was constantly of the essence and it was essential to size up other people in less than a moment of–dare I say–superficial conversation.  No, unlike us, our ancestors didn't always have places to go, people to see, deals to make, and another networking event to zoom through on the way home.

You get the picture.  And as a result, most business professionals go to networking events much like dogs wander through a park.  Quickly sniffing the bushes along their way with the dream that they will catch the scent of a lead and make a quick connection that turns into business.  Hope springs eternal.

So there I was, given exactly four minutes to get total strangers to begin to build a meaningful relationship before they moved on to the next stranger, and the next.  And so what did I ask them to do?  Spend their four magical minutes together not talking about business at all.  Not bombarding each other with superficial questions and superficial answers about the one thing they came to talk about.  No slogans, taglines, 30-second infommercials, or summaries of their resumes.  No elevator speeches about their jobs, business objectives, unique value propositions, or the amazing benefits of doing business with their companies.  No, instead I asked them to simply spend four minutes finding 10 things they had in common that had absolutely, positively nothing to do with work.  Just so they could make a human connection and, in doing so, figure out if there was a more substantive basis for connecting, talking further, and then possibly building a business relationship.  In four short minutes.  At a speed that would rival Usain Bolt.

And what they discovered was the joy of meeting another person without the stress of having to talk shop.  The joy of connecting at a much easier and deeper level.

FACC

We win in business and in life when we understand the real basis for building relationships that matter.  And when we realize that each of us has at least ten things in common with every other person on earth.

Cheers!

Re-Competing

Greetings.  If you're a government contractor an essential part of your business is winning "recompetes"–i.e., winning the opportunity to keep working on a project or program.  And, if you've done a good job in meeting your customer's objectives, there should be reason for optimism about your chances.  But that's only half the battle.  Because times change, needs change, people change, and even the best of relationships have a tendency to get a bit stale.  So while past performance is very important, agencies also need to know what you can do for them now and moving into the future.  And most are also hoping for a spark of innovation that can rekindle an aging flame.

"Well that's obvious enough," is probably your first response.  Yet I'm constantly amazed by the number of leading companies that fail to prepare effectively for critical recompetes.  Resting on their proverbial laurels until the new RFP hits the street, then scrambling to put together a credible bid filled with just the right new ideas and just the right hastily gathered set of "partners."  Ideas generated in the waning moments of battle, rather than in an ongoing and systematic process of understanding the customer's evolving needs and building an inspiring plan to achieve them.  

In fact, the right time to prepare for a recompete is the moment we begin the initial contract.  It starts when we show up, ask questions, listen with conviction, share ideas, test possibilities, and take the initial steps to create real collaboration.  And it continues as we consistently strive to expose them to our best thinking and the best thinking of the world around us.  Thinking that can be leveraged together to reframe the challenges they face in meeting the needs of their customers.  And that is continually translated into big and small innovations that matter today and also provide a solid foundation for helping them to succeed in the future.  Thinking that is adaptable in the face of changes in their world.

Spark Plug
We win in business by being prepared long before the present is upon us.  And by continually bringing new ideas, people, and energy to those we have the privilege to serve.  It's not simply a challenge for government contractors.  But for any relationship that's worth keeping.

Cheers!