How To Understand The Needs of Your Client
Have you ever had problems with a client not believing you really understood their issues and needs?
One of the biggest challenges I have faced with various clients over the years is being able to establish credibility and have them believe that I understand their problems thoroughly, so any solution I suggest is treated seriously.
Years ago, when I was working for The Coca-Cola Company, I worked with a large company that had the franchise to sell all cans and plastic bottles for Coca-Cola in the grocery trade in the UK. No small enterprise.
However, they also had many other products in their portfolio and many were their own brands which was an even bigger enterprise.
Part of my role, was to ensure they gave us sufficient space in store and didn’t just use our products as “door openers” to promote their own, higher margin brands.
This meant convincing them that we had to be top of mind and treated with priority. However, telling them what to do had potential implications as they had enormous clout in the grocery business and their distribution network was unmatched by any.
Halfway through one of my meetings with, my main contact Jim, he said, “You know Peter, you don’t really understand our business do you?” It was a rhetorical question. He was right.
It stopped me in my tracks. What he was saying was that unless I understood their business I was never going to have a credible voice or any sway in influencing their decisions, as my views would just be written off.
This was a really important insight into their thinking and now I had to decide what to do. So I said, “Would you be prepared to help me learn your business?”
Over the next 2 months, within my schedule of other things, I visited 6 of their distribution centers and worked for 2 days in one. In addition, I rode a truck with a delivery guy for 3 days, accompanied a salesman for another 3 days and attended 2 of their daylong sales seminars for newly hired sales personnel. I learnt about their products and brands, their objectives, their sales techniques and their distribution system.
I was thoroughly brainwashed and indoctrinated. I discovered that as I learnt more about their business, I could ask far more intelligent questions and could much better understand why they made the decisions they did.
I still did not necessarily agree with those decisions, but at least I understood the rationale and my new knowledge provided a basis for me to be able to present to them a counter argument that was well argued and plausible.
However, it also had some interesting results. I now saw “their” side of arguments and found myself providing those arguments within my own company. At first this was seen as being disloyal, but as time passed it became seen as being objective and providing insights that would allow us to more partner with them.
So how can this help you and your client? When they see the effort you are prepared to make and the change in the discussion, the relationship will take on a whole new level.
Be prepared to be an “Undercover Boss” and learn their business.
So, why should we walk a mile in our customer’s shoes? The old adage that “You never truly know someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes”, is as true now as it ever was. Let’s make sure we really understand our clients’ business instead of assuming we do.
What could we do to learn more about our clients business so that our suggested solutions could be treated more seriously?