I just fired my accountants.
They really hadn’t done anything wrong. They were responsive when I called. They appeared to keep up with the latest information in their profession. Their work was neat, accurate and timely. Their prices were fair. They conducted themselves professionally.
But, I fired them anyway.
Here’s why. While they consistently reacted professionally, they never, ever pro-acted. They never came to me with an idea, never offered a suggestion that I didn’t first initiate. Never suggested a change for my benefit. I wanted someone to think about me, to hold my best interests up before their regular scrutiny, to extend themselves to keep me at the forefront.
My life insurance agent, on the other hand, makes it a point of contacting me at least twice a year, more likely three or four times. While there always is a bit of self-interest motivating these contacts (he always asks for referrals), I always take his calls.
He can be counted on to share ideas with me based on his knowledge of my business and my personal affairs. I don’t know if he has ever tried to sell me something I didn’t need (like more life insurance), but he has consistently demonstrated that he’s thinking of me by making recommendations and exposing me to ideas that I would not have had otherwise. He recently, right out of the blue, approached me with an idea for a different kind of business retirement plan. Only one of 100 people qualifies for this kind of plan. But, he knew me well enough to know that my business did, and to make it a point to educate me about it.
Hmmm. Keeping my interests at the forefront… Knowing me and my business well enough to be able to regularly scan the horizon and find things that would fit me. Pro-actively presenting solutions and ideas that would benefit me and my business. Could there be a lesson in here somewhere?
Of course. People like to know that you are thinking of them. (Observe the greeting card industry, which is built on that thought.) They like to know that you are considering their interests. They want you to understand their businesses well enough that you can scan the horizon, and spot things that may help them. When they consistently see that in the people from whom they buy, they quickly develop loyalty to those people.
Why is that important?
You know that it is far more difficult to see your customers today than it was just a few years ago. People just don’t have the time to spend with sales people today. Their jobs are more demanding, their task lists are overwhelming. More and more, they are asking the question, “Why should I see you?”
Ultimately, the answer to that question will, to a great degree, determine your success. They will make the decision to spend time with you based on what they think of you, and what they expect to get from the time they invest with you. In other words, they make the decision based on your reputation.
In the long run, your reputation will be your greatest asset. While there certainly are lots of other elements to your reputation, you develop that reputation in large measure by your proven and consistent ability to show that you are thinking of them.
That doesn’t mean that you show up every month and leave them a catalogue, or that you regularly spew samples of the latest gadget on their desk. It’s not a “throw a lot of mud against the wall and see if anything sticks” approach. The world is full of sales people who focus on their product instead of the customer. Don’t do that.
Rather, spend time coming to know their business goals and objectives and finding products, services and ideas that you believe will help them – whether you sell them or not. Then make a point of showing those to them and explaining exactly how you think your recommendation will help them reach their goals. Do this, sincerely, regularly and with forethought and sensitivity.
In return, they’ll come to respect you. They’ll see you as an important and integral part of their business. You’ll develop a reputation as a valuable professional.
In the long run, nothing is more valuable.