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Get inside your customer's mind

Inside the mindI recently gave some talks, on behalf of both Wolverhampton University Business School and the IoD, to business leaders in the West Midlands to help them develop better relationships with their B2B customers.

It’s something I love doing because however much the attendees get out of it, I always get more. Partly from the often feisty Q&A sessions, when I will typically throw the most incisive questions back to the group with a “what do we think?” and draw the key points from the discussion as it flows, but also partly because it challenges me to distil years of disparate experiences into a few coherent stories and simple insights.

 For your edification, these were the top three insights I shared:

  1. There is no single “buyer’s mind”. Every buyer is an individual human being in a unique situation, with their own personal character, professional pressures, and aspirations for the future.
  2. The way to understand those three things is to build rapid rapport, ask the right questions, then listen, really carefully, to what they say and how they say it. In short, to take a genuine interest in them as an individual.
  3. The more you understand, the more you can help, but to influence them to accept that help, you need to build three more things: a rational case for them to do what you suggest; an emotional commitment because of what ‘success’ would mean personally for them; and a genuine confidence in you – that you’re the right organisation to help them make it happen.

The problem, of course, in delivering these insights in a talk, is that it’s like giving a lecture on how to ride a bike. Irrespective of Dale Carnegie’s timeless best-seller, reading a book won’t make you better at either making friends or influencing people – you need to get out there, on the bike of experience, falling off and getting back on again in order to really absorb the lessons that you’ve seen, read or heard. Which is why, for well over half the sessions, the attendees found themselves in a variety of role-plays and exercises to get them pedalling around the practice park and ready to hit the road.

So why am I telling you this?

Because, to really understand, to get inside the mind of a buyer or anyone else for that matter: your team, your customers, your shareholders, your board members; the single best thing you can do is take an interest; to ask a question, like “what do you think?”, then shut up, and I mean really shut up, and genuinely listen to what they say.

For those of us who are used to being listened to, that’s actually a lot harder than it sounds and takes conscious practice to master. If you don’t believe me, get on your bike and try it.

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