A commonly taught axiom is, “The Customer is King.” Another is, “The Customer is always right.” In theory these statements are true. And they should be considered thoughtfully in business. But, when we allow this ideology to control every aspect of our business or when we take these axioms literally (as too many of us do) we will surely fail! The reality is…
Your customer and your company (whether you are a sales rep or owner) must have a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship. Sounds like common sense, right? But then why do so many of us have “problem” customers? Most of the time, it’s our fault.
To start and maintain a mutually beneficial relationship, each side must have an advocate. The customer has one – it’s in his/her mirror! Are we our own? Often not! Sales reps and solopreneurs are particularly guilty of trying to also advocate for the client at company’s expense.
We are so concerned with doing “right” by the client and keeping them “happy” that we sacrifice our own value and happiness. In the short run, this seems good. In the long run it leads to a terrible relationship, resentment on both sides, poor service, unhappy clients and no referrals.
What to do?
FIRST, remember that ALL relationships are built on precedent. So, immediately treat the prospect as an EQUAL. They require a product or service and you require payment. This is an equal exchange of value and should be treated as such. No one is doing anyone any favors. Act accordingly – polite and friendly, but NOT submissive. This attitude will destroy respect and credibility for the future and will lead to resentment.
SECOND, be the expert that they want and need. Do NOT assume that what they say they need is what they need. You must HEAR what they want and then TELL them what they need. If you simply give them what they say, you are just an order taker and you are replaceable. In addition, if you give them what they want and it fails, they will blame you even if you did exactly what they said. Again, you lose respect and a client.
THIRD, set expectations from the beginning. Provide them with a realistic picture of their future success with success stories, references and examples to the best of your ability. Set up timelines that work for YOUR Company, so you can meet them. If their timelines do not match, do NOT comply. Instead, compromise to ensure you can deliver and to let them know that this is an equal exchange. You are a team.
FOURTH, while discussing/negotiating pricing, emphasize their results and future success. They are paying for results, NOT your product or service. You may lower your price, if required for negotiating, but, always validate the reduction. This reinforces that this is a two way street and you will be happier and able to provide better service, in the long run, making them happy.
FIFTH, be prepared to walk away. If any of the above tactics are impossible due to an unreasonable or aggressive prospect, be ready to walk away. Not every prospect should be your client. In this case, they will either go punish someone else (good for you) or they will see more value in you (they can’t have you) and therefore gain respect for you and try to re-negotiate. This is all good for you in the long run.
Perhaps a better axiom might be:
“You and the customer are partners. The customer knows what he wants and you know what he needs.”
- The Neo-Sage
Take the needs of your company as seriously as your client’s and everyone will be happier in the long run.