This is third post in a series on The Trust Default, serialized from my upcoming book on Account Planning. You can click on the links to the previous two. (If you are interested in being notified when the book is available – sometime in March – please let me know ddaly (at) thetasgroup (dot) com.)
Part III – Building Trust
To develop a deep customer relationship you have to overcome the Trust Default. With the change in the shape of the Trust Circle you must accept that your customer’s perception of you will gain less ground from your company’s website or CEO pronouncements. You own this responsibility, and others will influence it.
If you are hoping to influence the customer’s attitude towards you then you better be sure that what they hear about you from peers, academics, company technical experts, and the regular employees is what you would like them to hear. The reality is that what you, as a business, might broadcast in your public statements is of diminishing value. The actions you take and the value you add to the community in which you and your customer exist is what will fundamentally determine your reputation, and how you are perceived.
Here is what you need to do:
- Invest your time to understand your customers’ industry and their business. If you’re to advise, you must be a subject matter expert.
- You need to give value first and expect nothing in return. You are building a relationship for the long term, and it is only OK to ask for something from the customer when you’ve earned the right.
- You need to be authentic, honest and fair – in everything, always.
- You must focus on areas of Mutual Value, where what’s good for the customer is also good for you – in that order. Explore the customer’s Business Strategy, understand or suggest Business Initiatives to deliver on that strategy, and when you find an area that will make a real difference to the customer, see if you have a solution to their problem. Start with the problem, not the solution. If you discover that it is only good for you but not for the customer, then you should explain that to her and explore alternative approaches.
- Choose your customers wisely, only applying the resources to customers for whom your products or services can truly deliver value. Don’t try to force-fit your solution. It will only end up in tears.
- Trust is a two-way street. If you are delivering on your promise, then it is only fair that the customer holds up her end of the bargain.
- Recognize that some customers don’t want this level of attention or relationship.
- It boils down to value, and value propositions needs to be business-based, not feature-based, addressing the Critical Success Factors for key Business Initiatives. This means that you must first truly understand the customer’s business.
- Recognize that the impact on a customer of a bad buying decision is usually greater than the impact on you of a lost deal – and then act accordingly
- Adopt the customer’s perspective. Sit in the customer’s chair and ask the question: “Would I buy from this company?” If you answer that question honestly, it will guide your actions.
Remember, customers don’t need you to learn about your product: they can get all of the information they need from the Internet. They don’t need you to recommend solutions: they can get that from their peers. Your opportunity is to help them shape their needs, identify or suggest initiatives, and then to figure out how you can apply your solutions to those initiatives. If you don’t know how to do that you should look for outside assistance.
Trust is Personal
Lasting business relationships between the seller and the buyer, like lasting personal relationships, are built on a foundation of trust that for each of us is fundamentally personal. While always important, trust as a determining factor of business transaction efficacy increases or decreases in amplitude at different phases of the business interaction, because risk transfers from seller to buyer before and after the sale. Be conscious of that shift, bearing in mind that while you and your buyer may be engaged in a commercial interaction for your respective companies, trust is fundamentally personal.
Nothing Else Matters is a very personal song written by James Hetfield, singer and rhythm guitarist with the American heavy metal band Metallica. He wrote this song while he was on the phone with his then girlfriend. There are four lines in the song that go to the heart of establishing a trusted relationship:
|Trust I seek and I find in you|
Every day for us something new
Open mind for a different view
and nothing else matters.
|Nothing Else Matters, Metallica, Metallica, 1992, reprinted with permission|
If you want to be trusted by your customer, you will need to trust her first.
Now you can flip the Trust Default on its head. It should refer to the default position you take – a willingness to trust. If this is not currently your default approach, you will need an open mind for a different view. You may feel uncomfortable about this – but it is a major point that will deeply underpin your future success.
Trust is so important in developing long-term customer relationships that it is not too much of a stretch to say “… and nothing else matters.” Thank you, James Hetfield.
(By the way – I guarantee that my book will be the only book on Account Planning that comes with a playlist!)