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Your Clients have Changed – 4 Ways You Must Change with Them

By Tim Deuitch

How are you approaching your clients as their business evolves? Are you adapting your own organization to better relate with your customers?  In Episode 25 of the Strategic Insights Podcast, Tim Deuitch and Susan Hall share four  approaches you should take now that your clients have changed in the current pandemic environment or any future industry shake up.

Tim Deuitch: 00:01 Hello and welcome to the Strategic Insights Podcast brought to you by Strategic Enhancement Group. I'm Tim Deuitch, Senior Performance Consultant with Strategic Enhancement Group. Today, I'm joined by Susan Hall, Vice President of Business Development and Performance Improvement. Welcome Susan.

Susan Hall: 00:18 Thanks Tim. It's great to be here.

Tim Deuitch: 00:20 This podcast comes in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. We all know it's a strange and heartbreaking time for so many people. It's a time that we know has been extremely stressful to business owners and employees and no doubt many of your own clients have closed or curtailed operations and that brings us to today's focus. We're at a point in the pandemic where businesses and their vendors are beginning to seriously think about not only when they'll open or return to some version of business, but how they're going to return. Susan and I have some very strong viewpoints on how salespeople and their companies should prepare to help their clients return to whatever version of normal they have. So Susan, why should salespeople in their companies approach their clients from a new perspective at this time?

Susan Hall: 01:21 Well, business has changed, right? And customers have changed and if you approach a client as if it's business as usual, I think it shows an outrageous lack of empathy. That, in turn, breaks trust. It crushes your credibility and frankly, it's just annoying. So it's important to make sure that you have a clear understanding of your customer's new world so that you can better help them. For example, one of my clients sells food packaging equipment and supplies and has seen their business increase exponentially in some of their divisions. They're on the other side of this pandemic where their business has actually increased, which you would think is a good thing because in the past, their concern was growing business, but now, the issue for them is supply chain.

Their customers are concerned that they won't be able to fulfill their orders and the salespeople need to be very sensitive to this and not over promise and under deliver. It's a very, very different dilemma for them. I think, Tim, many businesses still look the same on the outside, but they have all definitely been impacted on the inside. One of our lab companies is still working 24/7, but employees who work in the labs are fearful about coming to work and all of these changes, subtle and dramatic, impact the way that salespeople need to empathize and approach their clients.

Tim Deuitch: 02:48 That's perfect Susan. I compare this situation in our personal lives to how people change, how new parents change when they give birth to their first child. As friends who've known them one way, must adjust to this new arrangement in their friend's house, this baby that's arrived. They're the same friends, as you say. They look the same on the outside. They're the same friends but their situation is entirely different. The truth is, if you want to stay friends with these new parents, you must adjust how you work with them.

Susan Hall: 03:29 Yes. Good analogy.

Tim Deuitch: 03:30 What does this mean in a customer relationship? They have different needs, maybe very different needs than the ones you fulfilled in the past. They certainly have different capacity and capabilities and even motives that we'll speak to in a second. Let's look at the situation from both the salesperson's perspective and the leadership within the salesperson's business, the need for the leaders to help the salesperson be nimble in this situation. But let's start with the salesperson. Susan, you mentioned how annoyed a client can be if the salesperson operates as though it is business as usual. What's a sure approach the salesperson can take as they reconnect?

Susan Hall: 04:25 Well, first of all, don't expect to pick up where you left off. In many ways, approach the customer with the same open-minded inquisitiveness that you would with a brand new company. Don't make any assumptions. It's important to discover around their new current situation and their new desired situation. In terms of the current situation, you almost think of the customer like a friend that you haven't seen in a while. You really want to know what's happening in their life and in their world.

Show your authentic empathy and curiosity. What's new has new meaning in this time. Ask how these weeks have affected their company's strategy, their processes, their business and their people. Document the challenges that they face or that they're anticipating returning to fill business of what that new business might look like. Finally, learn what influence their decisions will have moving forward. What's being budgeted? What's being prioritized? How will they go about making decisions? What will success look like for them.?

Tim Deuitch: 05:39 I really like the idea of treating the customer like the friend you haven't seen for a while and we've all been in that spot. You really do want to know how they're doing and you listen closer than on a sort of a day-to-day connectivity or weekly even. You really want to know and listening and understanding and being curious as to how they're doing is so critical. That covers the current status. I'll go ahead and help us look at the desired situation. As you get a sense of and understanding of where they stand today, it's so important to find out, "Well what does this mean for your future? What are the things six months from now or 12 months from now, what do you imagine success would look like for you?"

That type of question is really important and sometimes people are just, we're all dealing with today, right now, noses down. Trying to take them out of that could be helpful. In short, we make no assumptions that your business relationship, even after you say, "How's everything?", is going to meet these new needs. So yes, we ask about what success looks like. We confirm, what is essential to achieving that success? What new business strategies have they implemented and why did they implement? Why do they think those are right for the times? They may have entirely new outcomes than when you knew them before like employee morale, employee safety, customer safety and productivity. What does productivity look like six months out, 12 months out? All these get you to that most important question that you need to present to them, which is, "How can we help you achieve this success, this state of being you're in?"

Susan Hall: 07:48 I also think this crisis presents a unique opportunity to bring value and build relationships with customers. Even if customers are tightening budgets and not buying your company services and products right now, you can still help. You can share through thought leadership and research if there's information that is impacting their industry that you can share with them. There are a lot of ways to think outside the box and help.

Tim Deuitch: 08:15 That's right. Let's switch our focus to the salesperson's business or the leaders within that business. It's fair to say most salespeople will be sensitive to the needs of their customer, but will their company make it possible for the salesperson to be truly responsive to those needs? Will the salesperson's company be as resilient? Will they adjust along with their client? Simon Sinek, he wrote a book called, The Infinite Game. In it, he contrasts businesses that operate with a longterm view and we're in that. Versus an emphasis on finite wins, wins like the sale or the quarter or profit at this point, profit margin. His research tells us that the businesses that match the resilience of their customers earn longterm loyalty as a result and it makes sense. This shared resilience, we adjust, you adjust. It proves that your relationship matters more than just today's sale. Susan, what do we mean, in our case, in this context? What do we mean by matching the resilience of the customer?

Susan Hall: 09:33 Well, it's really about being flexible and restating your value proposition to your customers. A new relationship can thrive if you're prepared to do a number of things. One is, offer resources and services that fill a customer's new gap. Secondly, adjust pricing and invoicing to meet the customer situation. Again, flexibility, it could be even your payment terms. Three is adapt your products to new strategies, priorities and capabilities that they have. Finally, introduce your capabilities to new contacts and decision makers. There's a lot of different ways to be creative around those four different approaches.

Tim Deuitch: 10:14 It's true and it really means that as a vendor or a partner, you're walking beside them as they come back. You're helping them return.

Susan Hall: 10:23 I love that.

Tim Deuitch: 10:24 You're serving them versus simply keeping a business connected in a static way. I'm interested in the belief that matching resilience builds loyalty. You shift, we shift and we do it together. This makes complete sense to me because you're sharing the challenge. Both parties share the need to return in common, but the vendor partner that helps the other must build greater equity in the relationship, don't you think?

Susan Hall: 10:56 Absolutely. Lately, Tim, you and I have both been talking with clients about ways to help keep their employees positive and productive during this time. I know that in many cases, if not most cases, we're not charging for this coaching. It's our version of live streaming free concerts. It's our way to share best practices and lessons learned and help during a difficult time. It's all about helping.

Tim Deuitch: 11:26 Susan, that's a great example. It's so important that the help we've been giving our customers through this should feel exactly the same as we reengage them. All right, so let's review the four key points of today's topic. Number one, your clients are going to be different as they return to full business in subtle and significant ways, and their pace of return can different, and their ability to buy from you may vary. It's incumbent on you to understand these differences. Number two, salespeople who act as though it is business as usual, risk being considered tone deaf and can lose credibility if they don't fully seek and understand the customer's situation. That brings us to number three, re-establishing your customer's situation, current and desired. What success will be for them as they return is absolutely critical to knowing how you can best help them.

You should expect to learn about changes and processes and protocols and decision makers and certainly in financial abilities. If you don't clearly identify these, keep probing. And last, the salesperson's company must re-examine and communicate its value proposition to customers. It should be revised in some fashion. Restating your value, the value you intend to bring them is the way you as a company demonstrate that you are as resilient as your customer and that you operate with them in mind.

As you return to your version of normal, we wish you the best of luck in helping your customers do the same. We hope you'll bring your customers the kind of help and value they need most and we're certain that in the long term, you'll build a more loyal and profitable relationship as a result.

If you have additional questions or thoughts, please visit us at StrategicEnhancement.com.

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Published: April 22, 2020

MEET THE AUTHOR

Tim Deuitch

Senior Performance Consultant

Tim brings over 25 years of experience working closely with business leaders throughout the Twin Cities and the USA. He has worked within a multitude of workplace cultures and economic cycles, helping leaders and teams improve their effectiveness and results. Since joining SEG in 2007, Tim has continued his work as a change agent, helping organizations meet their goals. Tim graduated from Warren Wilson College in 1983 with a B.S. degree in social work.

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