“How Can I Help You — But First Let Me Tell You About Me”

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My friend, Ardath Albee, and I were commiserating the other day.  We see so many misguided approaches, whether they are sales people, marketers, individuals.  They know the theory–yes, they’re supposed to be customer focused.  They know they are supposed to talk about customer needs, problems, goals.  They know they should focus on solving customer problems by proposing great solutions.  But, to often it’s not like that.  Just after the words, “how can I help you,” or “what are your needs,”  leave their mouths — before we have a chance to respond — they go on and say, “but let me tell you about our products,”  or “let me tell you about me,”  or “can you help me?”  The focus shifts immediately back to them and what they want.

Hmmm….. is this what we mean by customer focus?  I thought the way it’s supposed to work is that after we ask the question, “what are your problems/needs,” or “how can I help you,” we were supposed to pause and give the customer a chance to talk.  I thought we were supposed to listen, probe, understand.

Too often, our real motives are so transparent.  We really want to talk about ourselves, we want to pitch our products.  We’re just going through the motions of asking the questions or expressing our concern because that’s what we’re supposed to do.  Or we listen long enough until we hear the key word, which causes us to interrupt and leap into our pitch, or as I’ve said in other posts, we jump to solutions.

We say it all the time, effective sales and marketing is all about the customer!  The customer has to be the center of our focus.  Understanding what the customer needs and wants to achieve is our priority.  Only after we have questioned, probed, challenged, explored alternative ideas can we start talking about what we can do for them.  If we do this, we maximize our engagement and alignment with the customer and maximize our likelihood of earning their business.

Don’t get me wrong, we want to be talking to customers that have problems we can solve, customers that intend to do something, and who want to consider us as a solution provider.  That’s why vicious disqualification of anything that doesn’t fit is critical.  But as we do this and move forward, it’s all about the customer, not us.

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