“Simply doing what you know to be a bad idea in order to get the business serves no one.”
– Robert Thomas Bethel, corporate turnaround specialist
When Stacey Hanke asks her clients why they choose her company to help build the leadership and communications structures within their businesses, the responses are exactly what you would want to hear from Fortune 500 executives.
“You speak our language.”
“We feel like you are one of us.”
“You fit into our culture.”
“You’re consistent and you practice what you preach to us on how we should treat our clients for greater influence.”
For the past 15 years, the founder of executive mentoring firm Stacey Hanke Inc. and her team have delivered thousands of presentations and workshops for leaders of some of the world’s biggest brands, including Coca-Cola, Nationwide, FedEx, Kohl’s and Wal-Mart. But if you ask Hanke, she’d be the first to tell you that to communicate with your clients, you have to understand them.
If you don’t understand their real motivations, it’s harder to give them what they need. If you’re thinking of using the old “put yourself in your client’s shoes” line, go ahead. It really works. “We would not be in business and be able to be competitive if we didn’t think like our clients,” says Hanke, who also is author of “Influence Redefined: Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be, Monday to Monday.”
Hanke Inc.’s approach to thinking like its clients is structured around a team of mentors and consultants who boast more than 100 years of training experience. Their individual backgrounds include news and entertainment, sales and marketing, recruitment, diversity and inclusion, organizational development and investor relations.
What’s the key? Ask what they need. Ask about their goals. Ask what has worked for them in the past and what hasn’t. Find out what they’re looking for in a partnership.
“You increase the likelihood that your clients will act on your recommendation when your words resonate with them – when you speak their language,” Hanke says. “This also communicates you care about what is important to them and that you’re not only focused on what you want from them. You have to ask the right questions before you can deliver on your promises.”
Robert Thomas Bethel takes it one step further (and puts it a bit more bluntly) – shut up and listen. As the orchestrator of 77 business turnarounds over the past 50 years, the strategic business consultant says that nobody wants to work with someone who doesn’t understand what their company does or how they do it.
Bethel remembers the time his team was in the middle of wooing a large customer that was, he admits, tough as nails. They called on the company’s leadership team several times with no results. Bethel decided to take several of his staff to spend several days talking with people in the industry the prospect served.
After evaluating the market, they created a survey that asked important questions about the marketplace, its competitors, challenges and trends, etc. Following their analysis, they made a presentation that blew the prospect away. “We took the time to understand their business, lost our ego, and went out and secured facts,” says Bethel, who also is author of “Strengthen Your Business.”
Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” It’s a line that Bethel never forgets when talking with his clients. Your advice and experience has value to your customer, only if you have taken the time to understand what they do and how they do it.
“You will not be helping if you go along with them – if you know it’s not the correct option,” Bethel says. “Simply doing what you know to be a bad idea in order to get the business serves no one.”
And if you do get the business? Stay involved in the entire process. “You don’t cut a deal and walk away,” he says. “You stay involved. Never lose touch. It was the best move we ever made. We got to know the market and the people, and instead of offering advice, we asked questions and listened.”
Keep it simple
What is the most important thing your client wants from you? The first thing that pops into your mind is ROI, right? But that’s not always the case.
Along with pinpointing their needs and expectations, you must be committed to the follow-through. And that means, in many cases, going back to the basics. Hanke recommends having a phone call or a face-to-face conversation. The truth, she says, comes when there is a built-in level of trust.
“Relationships build trust and trust is the key to influencing others,” she says. “Your clients have many choices. It is proven people buy when you tap into their emotions. You can’t tap into what’s important to your clients when you don’t have a relationship with them.”
That translates into staying in constant step with their thought process. The follow-up is everything. Without it, you end up guessing what your clients are thinking, doing and what’s important to them. “Following up communicates you care about them and the relationship,” Hanke says. “It communicates you are willing to do what it takes to take care of them.”
In the end, perfecting the process of communication is critical. “Without being able to see and hear through the ears and eyes of your listener, you will continuously be in denial and you will go off your feelings,” Hanke says. “And you’ll never reach that level of impact and influence that you really have the capacity to reach.”
5 ways to better communicate with your clients
- Be clear and concise in your communication to avoid miscommunication or frustration. Before you say too much, make sure your message meets their needs.
- Always be consistent. Expect excellence from yourself and your team. Your client does not want to be left guessing.
- Follow through. Deliver on your promises.
- Respect their time. Make sure they know you recognize that their time is valuable.
- Ask them what they need and want, and which mediums they prefer you use to grab their attention.
Source: Stacey Hanke, Founder, Hanke Inc.