Empowering Your Customer

I’ve recently done a series of coaching sessions where my client was a very experienced consultant. Between us, we think we’ve co-created a new insight in business-development: a fresh perspective that neither of us possessed even a month ago. I have his permission to tell the story, on condition that I don’t reveal his identity nor his (new) value-proposition.

So, here goes: We began with a fairly classic question: how to upgrade his consulting offer, or value-proposition, so as to be more compelling (and valuable) to his firm’s clients. We went through the usual “raw material” for this challenge: his experience, talents, client base, values, publications, networks, niches, etc. He’d already done a lot of this work, so we didn’t need to trudge these roads for long.

He wanted fresh perspective: something new that he hadn’t read or thought of before. Not so easy when working with a professional of his calibre. He was already fluent on the challenges facing his customers, the approach that made him different, even the penalties of ignoring those approaches.

What value could I add? I wondered, too. It often takes months of work to get to where this guy clearly already was: almost in his first session. So, I said as much. His reply was simply that we knew each other a long time, so he had faith in the process.

We explored his “customer world” a bit more: the uncertainties facing them, rather than facing him. This was where the insight happened. As we got into the shoes of his hurried, harassed buyers, we realised something important. When you are feeling unsure of the future: you don’t necessarily buy on the basis of benefit, NOR even on the basis of cost, but on something else entirely.

So what is that? Before you skip to the answer, think of a time when you yourself were feeling very uncertain (or unsure) about an investment you were going to make. When a salesperson sings the chorus of benefits associated with a Rolls Royce solution, how do you feel? Does it add to your confidence in the product / service… or sow the seeds of further insecurity and uncertainty?

If alternatively, your salesman gives you the cut-price, bare-bones low-cost “Ryanair solution”, how confident are you that it will really do the job? This is the problem with both the Rolls Royce and the Ryanair approach, when used with an uncertain prospect: both approaches deepen uncertainty. So what can we do instead?

When dealing with a prospect who is uncertain (and often has a dizzying array of choices in front of them), the key to success is to de-risk the choosing. In other words, to help make the choice easy, by removing risk. In this scenario, the customer is neither buying the Best nor even the Cheapest, but the most Certain outcome (and the sooner the better: as this multiplies perceived Certainty).

In an uncertain, fast-moving marketplace, the rules of play are not the same as in the past. This was our joint insight: my consultant client and I. Today, we need value-propositions that improve Certainty, rather than just reducing Cost or increasing Benefit. Of course, we want to do these things, too… but our chances of engagement are massively higher if we can empower our customers by reducing their risk.

At a practical level, it’s good to give certainty, at every step of the process. For example, at VCO, we reduce risk for coaching clients in three ways: First by doing some work together, up-front, so that we experience each other’s style and make an informed choice of each other. Secondly, by offering both quarterly and annual payment options. Thirdly, by offering a money-back guarantee, which has never yet been requested in 18 years of working with >500 clients. People don’t just buy benefit, they buy certainty.

My next webinar is on March 27th at 12PM GMT is on Dealing with Uncertainty. You can sign up here.

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