In a previous post I discussed the need to build relationships in a business; not merely internally with the people in the business, but also and, perhaps even more importantly, externally with customers, suppliers, advisors and others in the community.
It is remarkable how much we can learn from discussions with customers when not in selling mode, but rather in research mode; in an atmosphere of trying to discover from them how their market is shaping up and what does the future hold for them.
This was brought home forcibly to me this week by one of my members who has taken the bold step of going to see all her clients, not to sell to them, but to start to build a different relationship; a move from merely transactional to relational.
Customers were surprised and very pleased to meet the leader and the visits were received with pleasure and enthusiasm. Naturally some took the opportunity of mentioning issues and that was also useful, while in one case, and much to her surprise, a serious problem came to light.
Without going into detail, the discussions brought to the light a situation which would have stayed unnoticed had the client visits not been made.
Feedback from customers, suppliers, advisors, the community in general is essential and merely sending out a general questionnaire to discover customer satisfaction is a step ahead but is not the best way forward.
It is said that the Chairman of a global Japanese consumer electronics manufacturer spends six weeks or so over Christmas working on the sales counter of a major New York department store, just to find out what the paying customers think of his products.
The only real way to have feedback from the market is to ask them personally and that says that the leader needs to take time out to visit his top 20% of customers to ask them “how are we doing and what else do we need to do”. I recall a Vistage speaker who said “build a wall round your customers so that they won’t want to go anywhere else” and that is by moving from the transactional to a relational interaction with them.
If you want to know what business you are in, ask your customers – they know the answer better than you do and it is a primary function of any leader to make thoses visits; to make time to see the major customers and to develop a real and lasting relationship. It is time very well spent.
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