A client of mine recently told me about how he had dodged death twice. The story of the first time is especially hair-raising, but I must save it for another newsletter.
The second time this happened, it involved a seemingly innocuous growth on his arm. It looked like a mole, and he ignored it. He was so incredibly busy running his successful, global company that he hadn't seen his doctor in several years. He felt fine, and was in peak health by almost any external measure.
His doctor looked at the large mole on his arm and told him to see a dermatologist immediately–the same day. It turned out to be a melanoma that was on the verge of invading his body–of metastasizing. It was, in short, about to kill him (metastasized melanomas are highly lethal, according to doctors).
Here's the point: Your client relationship may seem healthy. Even radiant. However, there may be something small bothering your client. It may be a benign issue–for now. But over time that concern may grow and even merge with other concerns. Your client's dissatisfaction can grow larger than the sum of the individual concerns. In other words, without regular communication and a thorough, annual client relationship review processes, you risk losing a client because you were unaware of their true feelings or perhaps dismissed them in your mind.
You think it's a small, innocuous spot but it may grow into something more deadly. By the time you react to it, the relationship may be over or at best hard to recover.
This is a general question that can help kick off the conversation in a non-threatening way.
We often think we know what has "added value" to our clients. But often, they have experienced value from things we've done that we thought were minor or insignificant. You need to find out, so ask!
If a client is not very forthcoming, this might spur an answer.
This question is especially important if you work with larger businesses where you need to be developing multiple relationships.
Ideally, you should co-create–that is, collaboratively define–the type of relationship management that suits that particular client.
Now you may want to shift towards several "agenda setting" questions to better understand your clients upcoming issues and challenges. Note: These are questions for existing clients, not a prospect. Agenda setting questions for a prospect will be a little different. These assume a personal familiarity.
Remember, you do not just want to ask open-ended questions about your client's "issues"–you want to consistently demonstrate that you understand your client's business environment and the key trends that are affecting them.
I like this because it is a "right-brained" power question. It will help you understand what your client is truly excited and passionate about in the business.
"Ease of doing business" is an important and underrated concept, and you might close your conversation with this one. I have even said, to a busy top executive, "Is there anything else I can do to make life easier for you?"
There are a few other questions you might also think about asking, depending on the circumstances. For example, if this is a firm relationship and you have a designated relationship manager and team, you need to find out how the client feels about them.
What if the problem with the relationship is the relationship partner or account manager? This doesn't happen every day, but I have witnessed this type of issue a number of times. An incompatible or poorly performing team member is one thing; the wrong relationship manager is quite another.
Do clients know how to navigate your organization? Do they know exactly whom to turn to? The last question will help ferret that out, and what you learn may be very critical information.
Finally: once a year–probably in a separate conversation–you need to ask for a referral. "My business grows through word of mouth—can you think of anyone you know who would benefit from what I do?" If possible, try to ask for a SPECIFIC referral–e.g, "I'd really like to build a relationship with Bill Smith, who sits on the XYZ board with you…would you be willing to connect us?"
A Few More Points To Uncover Your Customer’s Needs
SPIN is also a great tool to help you organize gathering information when designing market research projects (like segmenting your email list, creating a sales inquiry page on your website, and gathering survey responses).
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