Tag Archives: customer development

4 Questions You Should be Asking Your Customers

photo courtesy of bluebetty @ sxc.huI walked into Gart Sports the other day and was greeted by a nice young women who looked like she was probably middle level store management. “Good morning sir. Can we help you find anything today?”

“I think I have it covered”, was my blithe reply.

A few minutes later I was back at the front of the store, on my way out, obviously empty handed. Same woman, same position. “Did you find everything ok sir?”

“Why yes, yes I did. Thank-you”

You see, I had only stopped in there because I really, REALLY had to pee. So, in the end, I didn’t need help finding the bathroom and I DID find it, just fine. The trouble was the nice young lady at the front had politely asked the wrong questions.

Allow me to suggest four questions that are the RIGHT questions. You might not ask these exactly as phrased but these are the question you want to have answered by your customers:

1. What are you trying to accomplish?
I walked into Home Depot this afternoon looking for a couple parts to allow me to use my compressor to blow out our sprinklers. Spring is NOT the time to be blowing out the sprinklers but we had tried to start ours up and run into a couple problems so we thought we might blow them out and start from scratch.

“What are you looking for?” Gets the answer that I am looking for parts. You, as the Home Depot guy, will be able to help me find parts.

“What are you trying to accomplish” Gets an entirely different, much more detailed answer. Home Depot guy now has a chance to provide real service in helping me find the right solution to the right problem.

Customers do this all the time. They come up with a solution in their head and ask for the parts to create THAT solution. “I need a button here” or “I need a widget that does x”. When you ask them what they’re trying to accomplish it opens up whole new avenues for potentially serving them well and providing value.

2. What else can we help you solve?
This again is a subtle twist on the old “Can we help you find anything else?”

Last summer I was in a running store getting a new pair of shoes. As I was getting my shoes and a couple packs of gel I looked around to see if they had any race belts. They didn’t. No biggie. Didn’t really think they would.

“Can we help you find anything else? ”  No, I can see the entire store from here and you don’t have what I’m looking for.

“Can we help you solve anything else? ” Well, I still need a race belt. And right THERE you have a chance to direct me to someplace that carries them thus providing service that will make me want to bring my business back again.

3. How are we doing?
I don’t mean the ol’ chummy, “Hey buddy how we doin’?” I mean “How are we doing at meeting your needs?”

Restaurants are the classic example of coming close on this one. What you typically get is “How is everything tasting this evening?” Well, the food may taste fine but it may have taken WAY to long to get to the table or the service may be sloppy in general or the drink menu may be too limiting, any one of those things may outweigh the taste of the food in terms of whether I’ll be back.

But ask “How are we doing?” and all of those issues are in play. WARNING: Don’t ask this one unless you’re ready to hear the answer.

4. How can we get in touch with you?

You may have to give something in return for a customer’s contact information, newsletter, white paper, coupons, but it is worth it because it gives you the chance to maintain the connection that occurs from the first transaction. You know, the whole bird in the hand worth two in the bush thing…

If a customers is looking to buy from you they’re looking to solve a problem or meet a need. Whether you’re trying to get them to buy shoes, schedule lawn care, or attend your church you need to know what need they’re looking to have met. You need to know if you can help beyond that one need. You need to know how you’re doing at meetings those needs. And you need to know how to get in touch with them again.

What are some other examples of the wrong questions that businesses ask?

5 Examples of Loyalty Building Activity

Continuing on the theme of building loyal customers I’d like to look at 5 examples of the type of activities that let your customers understand that they are known, valued, and cared for.


1. Knowing who they are.
I worked for a VERY short time in the car selling business…hated it. One of the things that REALLY bugged me was that we’d collect all the pertinent customer data, name, address, phone number, etc…and then, if we’d convinced them to purchase a vehicle, they’d go into the finance office where the first thing they were asked to provide was their name, address, and phone number. LAME, LAME, LAME…but I don’t feel strongly about that. pffft

I recently rented a very expensive camera lens for the fourth time from the same vendor who has also, by the way, done maintenance work on a camera body of mine. I have had to provide that basic info every time as though I had never been in their store. If I had another choice to rent from I would give them a try in a heart beat.

2. Knowing what they’ve done with you.
I’m becoming a fan of Discount Tire. Every time I go in the look me up in “the system” and quickly ask something akin to, “Great Mr. Fletcher which car today? The Altima, the Toyota Van, or the MR2?” Last time that was followed with, “Shouldn’t be the Altima, looks like you got a full set six months ago at our Arapahoe store.” (60 miles and six months away in Denver.)

It’s a simple thing but it says, “We know you’ve done business with us in the past, we know what it was, and we value that.”

3. Knowing what they need.
I started my corporate career in B2B eCommerce with Corporate Express.  This was way back in the day when people were still saying the internet might just be a fad. We had customers ordering paper and copier toner cartridges from us on a very regular basis. The info we had made it possible for us to proactively suggest orders.

“Based on the timing of your order history it looks like you may be due for a couple toner cartridges, can we order up a couple for you?”

This is non-intrusive, provides a reminder when someone may be otherwise swamped and says, “hey, can we provide a hand here based on what we know about you?”

4. Creating a sense of belonging.
I’m really surprised that more car dealers don’t do this. When I have had a question about my Nissan Altima or my Toyota MR2 I go online and look for car enthusiast forums. I typically find the answer in a heart beat. If I were one of those companies I would be the one creating the forum.

When I was a product manager at Oracle we found HUGE value in creating and monitoring user groups. We knew what our customers liked and didn’t like and were able to be a part of the conversation and in turn they felt like they had a voice. Create the forum and you get to help guide the conversation.

5. Offering based on knowing.
I received two offers in email today. One from Disney for some children’s films and one from The Fall Frenzy Triathlon reminding me that early bird registration was opening next week AND referencing my age group. Both offers knew me as a past customer but only one knew who I was and added that to the offer. The other, sadly because I am a hug Disney fan, didn’t recognize that my kids, whose data they have, are all much older than that.

What are you doing today to build loyalty amongst your customers, followers, readers?

3 Strategies for Developing Loyalty by Promoting Your Brand

I do believe that the first rewards program to which I was ever subjected was in Sunday school somewhere around second grade. We knew if we came prepared with our memory verse each week for enough weeks in a row we’d earn the reward. Pencils, stickers, small toys, whatever it was we wanted it.

The trouble was we always forgot about it until Sunday morning. Mom would ask in the car en route to church if we had our verse memorized and the scramble would begin.

This is really no different than the challenge faced by most loyalty programs today. They’re looking for repeat buying behavior but they have to find a way to stay top of mind so that you’re not scrambling to remember your card, or your coupon, or you membership number when you’re already out the door.

Granted a lot of that trouble is solved with electronic record keeping, I don’t think I have used my Block Buster card at the video store in years, but the challenge remains: How do you keep your brand top of mind for your customers in a way that promotes easy loyalty?

Allow me to suggest three strategies for building *brand loyalty:

1. Offer, don’t Overwhelm
Don’t think that just throwing your name out there time after time after time will build loyalty. It WILL build name awareness sure, but it might build annoyance as well.  Customer Loyalty assumes a customer exists and that you’d like them to be loyal, this is different than pure acquisition.

You offer them the opportunity to self-identify and connect, that’s your loyalty card, or your buy 5 and get the sixth free, or your “subscribe to my blog via”. Now they’re bought in. Don’t feel you need to keep throwing your name at them so they’ll remember you. Move to strategy #2

2. Serve, don’t Suffocate
Now that your customers have self identified find opportunities to serve them. That doesn’t mean sending them a 50% off sales flyer every other week. It means providing value that fosters connection.

In the blogosphere Michael Hyatt is a master at this. If you subscribe to Michael’s blog and follow him on Twitter, as I do, you’ll find that he doesn’t inundate with you email updates about new posts. What he DOES do is regularly tweet links to things he believes his subscribers will find valuable. In short he provides a service to his community. He gains credibility in an unobtrusive manner and in that way he stays top of mind because he serves.

3. Analyze, don’t Assume
I’ve mentioned this one before but your long term strategy must be based on understanding your customers behavior. Capture, analyze, test, don’t assume that my return visits automatically mean I am a hug fan of everything your brand entails.

Starbucks is a great example of a company that want’s to tailor your experience based on your behavior. Their Gold Card program helps them understand who you are as a customer and react to you accordingly. It isn’t nine stamps on a paper card to get your tenth coffee free. It’s knowing what you order and when. Their analyzing you as an individual because you have self identified and joined. That analysis helps them make you feel known, valued, and cared for.

Whether you’re a blogger, a coffee shop, an author, or a hotel chain you need to offer, serve and analyze. In doing so you’ll stay top of mind and they’ll remain loyal.

What tactics do you use to keep your brand top of mind for your customers?

*There is no way to build brand loyalty if you have a crappy product or service. That goes without saying, which is why I didn’t say it.

The Conerstone of Loyalty: Capturing Customer Behavior

I was saddened to learn within the last few weeks that the television show Cheers is not quite the cultural reference it once was. Sam and Diane’s clumsy relational tension, Norm and Cliff pontificating from the corner of the bar, Carla’s cutting wit…it just doesn’t hold the same sway it once did.

That being said I still believe that show’s tag line pretty much sums up the idea of why we need to capture customer behavior:

“You want to go where everybody knows your name”


Cheers was one of those bars where the regulars WERE known by name. All they had to do was walk in the door and a glass was pulled up to start provision of their favorite libation. Part of the draw of the show was that we all like that kind of service. We like walking into a place where we’re known and treated like family.

But it’s more than that. If it was JUST knowing someones name it would be easy. The difference comes when you can ask, “So what’ll it be…the usual?” and know what you’re talking about.

I fly United probably more that any other airline because Denver is a hub for them. What if United defaulted to an aisle seat when I booked online because I have proven, over ten years, that that is where I want to sit.

I stay at Hilton properties quite often. What if the Hilton web site picked a king size, non-smoking room as a first choice every time I logged in and looked to make a reservation. They should be WELL acquainted with that choice by now.

And perhaps the craziest of all…Based solely on my direct purchase history with them, Disney SHOULD be able to identify:

  • The names and birth-dates of everyone in my family
  • Our wedding anniversary
  • The time of year we like to travel
  • The number of days we typically visit the parks
  • The extras we like to include in our trips

Data like that is a GOLD MINE. With information like in hand they could tailor enticing offers based on specific data and past behavior. They could actually ask, “Mr. Fletcher will it be the usual this year? A three day stay sometime in October?”  or “Mr. Fletcher would you and your wife like to join us for a cruise this July to celebrate your 22nd anniversary? What about bringing the kids this time? They’re probably a little…Grumpy…you left them out last time. We’d like to offer you a free cabin upgrade so you can bring them along.”

I know, I know, it sounds like it could border on creepy and I do push the boundaries there to make a strong example but the data they should already have on file would make that type of communication incredibly simple.

All of a sudden I’m not just receiving 20% off coupons like everyone else. I’m known by name. I’m not standing in line, pun intended, with a thousands of people who have never had an annual pass. I’m appreciated. I’m not clicking on a blanket email link. I’m getting a specific offer that says : ‘We know you and have something special for YOU because we value you as a customer.’

Let me say that one more time:

  • We know you
  • We value you
  • We have something special for YOU

THAT drives loyalty like nothing else.

What more could you do with the customer data you already have? What other types of data should you be capturing in order to show your customers you know their name, and so much more?





Customer Loyalty Programs: Some Do’s and Dont’s

I knew I had a couple loyalty program cards around somewhere. It turns out this wasn’t even all of them.

Let’s face it everybody has some flavor of loyalty program these days. Almost every last one of them is designed to do the same thing: get you to come back to buy more. Airlines, hotels, grocery stores, restaurant chains, they all have something to offer.  In fact the notion of a loyalty card or membership card is so pervasive we almost take them completely for granted.

So how do you rise above that mess on my desk?

1. Don’t assume: just because they come back doesn’t mean they’re loyal.

Loyalty programs are funny beasties. On the one end you have people who love you and WANT to come back. In the middle you have people who feel they OUGHT to come back, they’re more loyal to attaining the next level than doing business with you specifically. On the far end you have those who feel that they HAVE to come back because that’s where they have all their points.

I confess I’m typically of the ought to variety. Old Chicago’s World Beer Tour is one of the loyalty programs to which I am most loyal. I’ve completed the tour twice and am working on my third trip. But that doesn’t drive me in there any more often. It just makes me mad when I forget to bring my beer card.

DO pay attention to whether your loyalty customers are WANTs, OUGHTs or HAVEs.

2. DON’T forget: Loyalty and Appreciation are close relatives

Most loyalty programs include discounts. I’m becoming less of a fan of discounts because they seem to speak to value. I rather like the Chick-Fil-A approach, if they’re going to give you something they’ll give it to you for free. They aren’t going to comment on the value by discounting.

While discounting does make me feel appreciated as a customer it’s really just price manipulation. I’d rather get “something else”. Maybe it’s a particular set of items only available to members, even the standard “tenth one is free” is ok.

Even better though I’d like you to tailor offerings to how I do business with you. For example, United Airlines should know by now, after hundreds of thousands of miles, that I will do whatever I can to get an aisle seat. What if in knowing that preference they offered me priority aisle seating? Not only would I feel appreciated, I’d feel like they knew me.

DO appreciate your loyalty customers by showing that you know them.

I could go on for quite some time on this topic, and probably will. For now though ask yourself two questions:

1. How do I get my loyalty customers coming back because they love us rather than because they are after the next point level?

2. Do I know my loyalty customers well enough to appreciate them personally?

More to come…

In some industries it cost cost as much as five to ten times as much to get a new customer as it does to keep an old one. What are you doing to keep your old ones? What does loyalty look like in your customer base?


Relationship Building – The Four Levels of Agreement – Level 4

And so we come full circle in our exploration of the four levels of agreement. Level 4 agreement – Committed Rapport – is when we have made Disciples.

I have no doubt that on October 4 a scene much like the one depicted in this graphic will emerge at the Apple event where they are predicted to unveil the iPhone 5.  Apple’s Disciples will fill the room in eager anticipation of the new device.We all wish we had such devoted customers.

So let’s look back and remember how we get to this fourth level agreement:

Level 1 was that mental ‘click’ that caught your attention. Level 2 was the move from thought to action. Level 3 is where you entered into a contract based on expectations and promises and Level 4 is where you become the ‘more than satisfied’ customer we refer to as a Disciple.

So how do you move someone from Level 3 to Level 4? What is the secret sauce, the mystery of the ages, the magic bullet that creates these fanatical followers? It takes work. In order to become a Disciple-making organization you need to remember three keys:

1. You start with Customer Service

Customer service always starts with a set of expectations. Those that were created at Level 3. The expectations of those delivering the service may not be the same as the expectations of those receiving it. The closer the match the easier it is to deliver on the expectations. Do you see why the Level 3 agreement becomes so crucial? You need to set the right expectations early on.

On the delivery end you can compare yourself to the competition and create higher expectations for what you will deliver. Your customer will be pleasantly surprised the first few times they experience this higher level of service.
After that you’ve set your own bar at a minimum that is higher than the competition but is still a minimum…for you. Now the customer set of expectations is higher when they enter your store. Now, what was once “higher than anyone else” has become “the minimum expected in this place” Because that is the minimum set of expectations, even though it is better than the competition, the best you can do is “not fail”.
Even if your standard is the best in the industry.

So how do you create opportunities for a “pleasant surprise” that lives beyond the first or second visit?

2. You have to Empower your People.

I was marshaling at a local golf course several years ago sending groups off in order from the first tee. I had a twosome who somehow got lost in the rotation. The club house had delayed in calling them down to me so by the time they did get called they were almost an hour behind their scheduled tee time. There were NOT happy. The late start meant they wouldn’t get the full round of 18 in that they had paid for because they had appointments later in the day. I could easily have blamed the club house, they HAD messed up. I could have apologized profusely,  which would have made no difference to them.

Instead I offered that we’d give them their money back for the full 18, get them out to play the 9 holes for which they had time, and give them a 2-for-1 on their next visit. They went from haters to fans in an instant! Was there a procedure for such a thing? No. Did I ask permission? No. Did I cost the golf course money? Not really in the long view. But I was empowered enough to make a decision that served the customer.

You have to empower the people who interact with the public to make service decisions instantly and you need to applaud them when they do. (Spoiler Alert: This means that every “mishap” is really a golden opportunity, but we’ll talk about THAT another day.)

3. You must Anticipate Need

Have you ever found yourself struggling to open a door with two armloads of stuff?  Ever had someone see you struggling and come up to help? Better yet ever had someone see you approaching the door, bounce past you before you got there, and opened it for you? That anticipation of need creates a different level of appreciation than just meeting the obvious need of someone struggling with a door. As I mentioned in Preparing for Disciples:

“Customer service that fosters Disciples does not seek to merely serve the customer needs in the moment. It seeks to anticipate what the customer’s needs will be tomorrow and stands prepared to meet them or even preempt them.”

Anticipating need is all about knowing your customer. Not just at a transactional level but at a motivational level as well.

These three keys, customer service, empowered people, and anticipated needs will help you move from Level 3 agreements to Level 4 agreements smoothly setting you on the road to Disciple making.

Expectations are crucial in moving from Level 3 to Level 4. What would you guess your customers expectations are when they deal with you?

Do you meet the minimum expectations or do you constantly seek to raise the bar?

Relationship Building – The Four Levels of Agreement – Creating Level 2

Last week we started to look at relationship building from the perspective of four levels of agreement.

Level 1, Cognitive Resonance, was that mental click that happens when something gets your attention. Level 2, Completed Response, is the move from thought to action. That thing you do in response to the mental click. So if our premise is that relationships build as you move through these four levels of agreement how do ensure that your “call to action” is something doable?

Have you ever been in a meeting where someone presents a 30 slide presentation FULL of information that is nothing more than just that, information? No application, no ask, no call to action.

Several years ago I was doing some communications consulting with a large technology company. They told us of a meeting that had been held by the Senior VP of sales in which he recounted which of their product lines they were going to focus specifically on in the coming fiscal year. Good information right? Problem was he didn’t provide any call to action and as a result:

  • The support group wanted to know when they were supposed to announce end of support for the lines that were not in focus for the coming year.
  • Development teams on the non-focus lines started updating resumes in fear they were going to be let go.
  • Marketing started working on messaging around migrating customers off of the non-focus product lines.
  • Multiple meetings were called to try to figure out the impact of dropping several of the product lines.

Finally the VP had to call yet another meeting to “announce” that they weren’t going to drop ANY product lines. They were just going to put specific focus in the coming year on the ones he had mentioned previously. Which, by the way, didn’t alleviate ALL the fears…it just extended the runway.

Contrast NO call to action with the sidewalk evangelist who approached a friend and I, when we were nine years old, leaving little league tryouts. This kid was probably in high school or college, all the same to me…I was nine, and he was really in to “sharing the gospel”. Having “grown up” in the church I was interested in what the guy had to say, not sure if my friend was, and listened politely. He came to the end of his schpiel, with a few leading questions along the way, and asked if we wanted to confess our sins and ask Jesus into our hearts. Hmmmm…call to action (for a nine year old): Admit that much of what you have done in your nine years is wrong, confess that to GOD, and give Him complete control of your life, right here, while we’re talking, on the sidewalk, after little league tryouts, without asking your parents. Yikes.

Let me share a couple characteristics to remember when sorting out your call to action, that thing you’re asking someone to do to move to a Level 2 relationship.

1. Make it Clear and Actionable – “I want you to consider supporting” is not a crystal clear action. “I want you to support” isn’t either, they’re both passive asks. Remember this is an action step. You want them to do something physically. “I want you to support this initiative by taking two actions…” Those two actions are your clear ask.

2. Make it Right Sized – The ask of the street evangelist to a nine year old is huge. How about asking the kid to attend a church service with his folks?  “Get up out of your chair and sign up for classes today.” Again, huge. There’s cost, schedule, class choice, a lot of decisions that go into that ask. “Come try a one day class for free.” Relatively easy. (By the way this is where offering freebies is a GREAT call to action: come try it.)

3. Make it Low Risk or at least Risk Appropriate. – Remember you’re early on in relationship here. Trust has to be earned. Think about the risk you’re asking someone to take. Give them an easy first step to build confidence in the relationship, then follow that with a next easy step.

The “risk free 30 day trial” is a great attempt at a clear, actionable, low risk call to action. Are you skeptical when you see that ask? Why or why not?

Can you think of a time when your call to action was either absent or too big? How Could you change that?

Relationship Building – The Four Levels of Agreement – Level 2

Last week we started to look at relationship building from the perspective of four levels of agreement.

  • Level  1Cognitive Resonance
  • Level  2Completed Response
  • Level  3Contractual Responsibility
  • Level  4Committed Rapport

We explored Cognitive Resonance: that mental “click” that happens when something stands out and makes you take notice, and talked about how to create Cognitive Resonance for your potential customers, parishioners, or clients.

So what is this Level 2 – Completed Response all about?

Imagine that you’re walking through the kitchen in your home and the TV is playing quietly in the background. A commercial comes on, it’s for a local car dealership, the LAST thing you need to do is listen but the volume has suddenly reached that epic, please-don’t-use-your-outdoor-voice-in-the-house level like all commercials do. You grimace, shake your head, plant your face firmly in the fridge, and then you hear: “Everyone who comes in and test drives today receives a free trip to Paris, France!”

You stop what you’re doing and turn quickly to face the TV. You want to be sure you heard that right. The announcer continues ranting but manages to convince you that there is no apparent catch. All you have to do is go test drive a car and get a trip. Your interest is piqued! You’ve JUST entered into a Level 1 relationship with the dealer. Now what?

Now you have a choice to make. Will you believe it enough to go test drive a car? You rational brain kicks into overdrive analysis mode.  There has to be a catch. They couldn’t afford to do that even if they marked up every car significantly AND sold one for every two test drives. “Paris, France” must be a name they’ve given to their sales office or something. It cannot be.

At the same time your heart is fighting back. What if it IS true? What if their owner also owns an airline? How big of a hero would I be if I took my wife to Paris? I’ve got nothing else going on this afternoon, I should go do it!

At this point you’re on the verge of entering into a Level 2 agreement, the Completed Response.

While Level 1, Cognitive Resonance, is a passive, almost automatic reaction Level 2, Completed Response, is a cognitive active choice that involves some form of physical action.

You observe the girl across the room, hear her talk and are intrigued by her combination of looks and intelligence…”click”…Level 1 agreement. But unless you walk over and introduce yourself OR go do some “friend research” to learn more about here, both Completed Responses, the relationship never moves forward.

You hear the car commercial offering the trip…”click”…Level 1 agreement. You internally debate. But unless you go test drive a car OR talk to someone who has tested the offer, both Completed Responses, the relationship never moves forward.

In traditional sales this is typically referred to as the “call to action”. This is the “what I want them to do” after they hear the pitch. It is important to remember that the Completed Response involves physical action. It moves the relationship from thought to action. Too often we present ideas, try to sell products, attempt to build relationships with little or no thought to this call to action. We present information to folks and HOPE they’ll make the right choice or give them an ultimatum: buy today. There is art in creating the right call to action. There is elegance is providing an easy path to a Level 2 agreement.  We’ll look at the “how to” next time.

Think about the last time you tried to recruit someone, to sell something, or even to convince someone of a new idea.

Did you present the information in a way that would inspire a Level 1 “click”?

And did you follow that up with an easily achievable and understandable call to action that made for a seamless transition from thought to Completed Response?

Relationship Building: The Four Levels of Agreement – Level 1

Last time we looked at how relationships grow through four levels of agreement. We identified the first level agreement as Cognitive Resonance, that instant where your attention is captured enough to create a connection, a first level agreement. We described Cognitive Resonance as:

It’s the brain buzz, the ‘click’, the “hey, that looks interesting”. It’s that thing that happens when the server walks by with someone else’s food and you start madly scrambling for the menu to see if you can figure out what that was because “THAT looked goooood.”

It’s that moment in a conversation with someone you’ve just met where you start to pay closer attention because you were suddenly struck with the thought, “Hey, I think there could be more to this person.”

It’s that third recommendation of a restaurant that makes you think, “Yeah, we should check that place out.”

Make sense? Good. So here’s the question of the day…

If you can identify what the moment of Cognitive Resonance feels like how do you inspire it in others?

Whether you’re trying to woo potential customers, build a congregation, or simply make friends knowing how to create that moment of Cognitive Resonance is key to getting out of the gate on the right foot. I believe there are two key operating principles you MUST  employ when you’re looking to create a moment of Cognitive Resonance for people.

Principle 1: It isn’t about you, it’s about them.

The picture at the top of this post is the first magazine ad I was ever tasked with creating. It was a half page ad in a magazine that was going to be distributed to all attendees at a large industry conference being put on by a large software company.  I looked at the ads that all of our competitors had done the previous year and they all sounded the same. “We’re the best.” “We’re the biggest.” “We have more.” ” We, We, We”  That’s why my ad emphasizes the word YOU. I wanted to start with the prospect in mind. In fact, we go so far as to tell them what they want. Pretty bold move.

This was an ad that I really thought would be more or less a throw away. We got it free as a sponsor of the event. But you would have been amazed at how many people came by our booth and mentioned it in one way or another. The change in approach that put the focus back on the customer prospect, rather than on trying to scream how good WE were louder than our competitors, actually caused people to pause. It created a moment of Cognitive Resonance.

Now I’ll admit, taking that approach you have to know pretty well what the prospect really wants. But that is exactly where marketing lives today. Traditional marketing was about screaming more loudly than the competition how good your stuff is and because it is so good, Mrs. Customer, you know you want it.

Relational marketing, or tribal marketing, or social marketing…whatever label we’re going to land on here shortly…is about understanding the customer and speaking to their need. And if you do THAT well you’ll create a moment of Cognitive Resonance.

Doing that WELL leads to principle number two.

Principle 2: Understand the customer and start where they are.

Customers, potential church attenders, soon to be friends all have needs both recognized and unrecognized. The better you can identify those needs the better you can meet them with a product, service, or relationship.

For years I sold software. People selling software always assume the customer wants to buy software. What started to bug me was that we sometimes lost the sale, to “no decision”. WHAT?!?! They bought NOTHING? The reason was that while software sales people were assuming that the customer need was for software, the customer felt they needed to solve a business problem. They HOPED software might solve it but the NEED was a solution to a business problem. In general then the bulk of the software sales people I was running across were starting in the wrong place!

We began creating presentations that said nothing about software. I had several CEO’s for whom I worked nearly go through the roof with me on that. Our presentations started talking about the business problem, in detail. Without fail we’d have a major prospect, or analyst, or board member stop us only a third of the way into our presentation and say, “You get this better than anyone else we’ve talked to. Now how do we solve it?”

By starting where the customer was, with their felt need, we were able to move very quickly to a moment of Cognitive resonance that set us apart from the competition. We also started selling more software.

Looking at your set of potential customers, or attendees, or friendships how can you start making the conversation more about them than about you?

With those folks you have in mind is there a difference between what they think they might need and what YOU think they might need? How can you start where they are and bridge the gap?



Relationship Building – The Four Levels of Agreement

Imagine for a moment that you’re trying to figure out how to build and grow a customer base. Or, if that’s not your thing, imagine you’re trying to figure out who you ought to mentor. Or, if you need something more basic, imagine you’re trying to sort out who to date. In any of these instances what you’re really trying to do is build relationships. Some of us are good at it, some of us stink at it, but all of us need to do it really to be successful in life.

Look again at those three scenarios. Beyond just building relationships what’s REALLY going on there is a desire to build ever deepening relationship and THAT takes work. It’s work that move people closer to each other, work that builds bonds.  In fact I want to suggest that people enter into deeper relationship based on increased levels of agreement.

Think about that statement for a second. You probably can’t name a single person with whom you have any depth of relationship AND with whom you completely disagree. It just doesn’t happen. (Except perhaps with some random members of your spouse’s extended family but that is a unique category.) There is always a “something” that draws us towards some people and away from others, towards one product and away from others, towards one service provider over another and that “something” is the level of agreement.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you and your close friends agree on everything, nor does it mean you like all the same things, nor does it hint at some sort of bizarre, cliquish, neo-cloned relational similitude. What it means is that the relationship itself is moving through four levels of agreement.

We’ll look at each of these in the days ahead but in overview the four levels are as follows:

  • Level  1Cognitive Resonance
  • Level  2Completed Response
  • Level  3Contractual Responsibility
  • Level  4Committed Rapport

So what in the world is Cognitive Resonance?

It’s the brain buzz, the ‘click’, the “hey, that looks interesting”. It’s that thing that happens when the server walks by with someone else’s food and you start madly scrambling for the menu to see if you can figure out what that was because “THAT looked goooood.”

It’s that moment in a conversation with someone you’ve just met where you start to pay closer attention because you were suddenly struck with the thought, “Hey, I think there could be more to this person.”

It’s that third recommendation of a restaurant that makes you think, “Yeah, we should check that place out.”

Years upon years ago I was working with a bunch of crazy Junior-high kids in San Diego and, as happened every summer, we took a bunch of them to camp. The first night of camp the guy who was serving as the “men’s dean” for the week introduced the women’s dean as the “cutest girl in camp”. Being a guy in my mid-twenties I obviously took a more than a passing interest in THAT pronouncement and thus invested a more than casual glance. While I had to objectively agree with his assessment I was, at the time, engaged to be married only a few months hence, and thus I took no other action. No, really, I promise, I didn’t do anything.  Until the next morning.

When the “cutest girl in camp” got up on stage to do her morning announcements and devotional with the kids I experienced a SIGNIFICANT moment of cognitive resonance.  (No, I did not think in those terms.)  What I did think was:

“Wow, she’s pretty sharp… and funny… and pretty good at what she does, and…man, I’m thinking that what I’m seeing here may answer a couple questions I’ve been asking… and…”

See where that’s going? Yeah, that’s where it went. We got married a year later and have been married for 21 years.  To be fair, and transparent, our relationship moved through all four levels of agreement over the course of that year but it all started with the moment of cognitive resonance.
Who are the people in your life today, probably in the category of acquaintances at the moment, with who you’ve had that twinkling of an ah-ha moment, that moment of cognitive resonance?

If you’re looking to build a customer base what are you doing to provide those moments of cognitive resonance for your prospects?

Have you had a personal experience where you can clearly identify the moment that cognitive resonance first took place?