I have written at length this year about how to communicate with customers. Our visual, verbal and in-person contacts with customers are the base plate on which they build their opinions and assess our value to their organization. In a personal contact, experts say it only takes 7 seconds for the other party to form an initial impression about you, and subsequently, your organization.
This is why it’s vitally important to engage customers “on purpose” and find ways to quickly and artfully express messaging that properly sends the image that YOU want the customer to have. I spend a great deal of time in my consulting work teaching companies to: “Create Your Image – On Your Terms”. We have so many opportunities to do this every time we engage a customer. Sadly, many organizations don’t do this on purpose. Sadder yet, many have not even ASSESSED or DEFINED their value proposition in ways that their employees can easily communicate.
Defining, and being able to articulate a company’s value proposition is what separates market leaders from mediocre performers in your industry. Being able to CONVEY and actively REPLICATE that message to every person in your company that interfaces with a customer, is what can move you from a simple market leader to a position of market dominance.
Without a well-defined and properly communicated value message we end up with the trite, tired, worn-out platitudes that even large companies still use to try and get the customer to pay attention to them.
Over 30 years ago (wow, time flies), I was visiting a friend in the Houston area. I had met Mark while attending college, and years later he would be a groomsman at my wedding. While I was there, Mark and I went out car shopping. There was a certain model of car that he was looking for, and he wanted to visit several area dealers and see what kind inventory they had on hand, and what kind of deal he could get.
At that time in my life I was a territorial equipment salesman for a Caterpillar dealer. One of the things I enjoyed was watching how other salespeople navigated the sales process. What did they open with? What questions did they ask? How well did they communicate? What did they spend their time talking about?
With rare exceptions, most auto dealerships did, (and still do), a less than stellar job when it came to customer engagement. The process quickly degenerated into a price volley, back and forth, with plenty of “let me talk to my manager” moments.
One thing that both I and Mark noticed about every dealership was the way they were fixated on being “Number One”. During our last stop of the day, we were laughing about how EVERY dealer we visited was the number one dealer in Houston. A salesman behind a partition heard us, stood up and popped he head over the wall, and said “but we really ARE number one! Mark stood up and replied (louder than he needed to), “I really don’t care if you’re number one. NOBODY cares about that. All I want is to get a good deal on a car, and to get out of here in less than 4 hours!”
A hush fell over the showroom. How could this be? How could customers not value the coveted number one status? It was unthinkable!
What is really amazing to me is that nothing has changed in over 30 years. Automobile OEM’s and dealers alike, spend untold millions of dollars on advertising campaigns that still have the central theme of “we’re number one”. They tout the fact that independent consulting firms have made these determinations. So let me ask: How many people actually make their final buying decision based on the awards granted by J.D. Power & Associates? I’d venture to say few, if any.
Don’t get me wrong. All of the plaques adorning a company’s “wall of fame”, and all of the emblems on the letterhead distinguishing an organization as a “company of excellence” are certainly a valid source of pride and a measure of accomplishment. I’m not discounting this. These awards are important. They provide a touch-point that builds morale with your employees. But, what do these awards really mean to your customers?
“We’re number one” is not the only low value claim out there. Another one is: “Were the biggest supplier in (insert territory here)”. Many customers have come to the conclusion that bigger is not necessarily better. Again, we make “size” sound like a value, but a customer who has never done business with you before may worry that your immensity may cause you NOT to focus on THEM. Just because your company has 15 branches, doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the customer will consider that as a point of value.
I have gone back to my “we’re number one” experience many times over the course of my career, if only to remind myself that it doesn’t matter what I value, or even what I think the customer might value. The secret to resonating with a customer, is to discover what matters to the customer, and stay focused ONLY on addressing those issues. Your value statement has to be client focused, and widely appealing to the customers in the marketplace you are serving.
When engaging customers, your goal should be to translate every capability that you articulate into a customized value point. I like to use the phrase: “what that means to you”. For example:
“Our service department has earned Platinum standing for 5 straight years”.
This statement, on its own means very little to a customer. So, lets change the statement.
“Our service department has earned Platinum standing for 5 straight years. What that means to you is that the technician we are sending to repair your equipment is trained, certified and capable. It means our service vans are properly stocked with the right parts, and it means that our ratio of ‘first time fix’ is over 80%.”
This second statement connects the award, with multiple value components that are significant and really mean something to the customer.
“Discover what matters to the customer, and stay focused ONLY on addressing those issues.”
I even use the “what that means to you” method when reviewing my own bio during a training session. My standard bio includes the distinction of being awarded by Unicarriers with a “Pinnacle” award for “lifetime achievement in aftermarket sales”. I usually follow that up with this statement: “This award certainly means a great deal to me. What it means for you is that this OEM recognized meaningful value in the programs, policies, and training that I put in place at my company. I am here to share those same practices with you”.
The bottom line, is to know your value statement. Also know that those people representing your value both understand and are able to articulate your organization’s value confidently. Most important of all is their ability to connect these points of value to the individual needs and desires of the customers being served.
Doing this produces resonance, and success normally follows.