In the world of personal relationships, it can often be a mystery why some people stay together, ever got together, or seem perfectly happy, but then split up. In the world of business relationships, it should never be a mystery why a relationship succeeds or fails.
One of my longest-married friends told me that every year she and her husband review where they are, goals for the year and make sure they are on the same page. Unlike a lot of couples after they become empty-nesters and look at each other and say, “Who are you?” These two actually still like each other and are one another’s favorite person to be with.
Let’s apply that same concept to our business relationship. Nobody wants to be with someone in any relationship because it is too expensive to get “divorced”...
In your relationships:
- Are they looking for the first opportunity to dump you?
- Are they feeling neglected, and starting to have a wandering eye?
- Are they bad-mouthing you to their friends so no one else will ever date you?
Just like in our personal lives, our relationships can provide us with the most insight and growth potential if you are willing to ask the questions and really listen. In business, everyone knows it takes less time and resources to up-sell an existing customer than it does to acquire a new one. Even more importantly, your existing customer base is your best source of product marketing information. However, most companies don’t take the time to slow down and mine that data.
One area many companies fail is asking customers the hard questions, which must include:
- What are we doing right for you?
- What are we doing wrong for you?
- What do you think our strengths are? Weaknesses?
- Did we represent the product, its benefits and capabilities accurately?
- Who do you consider our nearest competition?
- Where would you like us to go next?
- How do we become a better partner to you?
- What features if we added would have the most positive impact?
- Who else do you think would benefit from our solution?
- And most importantly: Would you marry me again knowing now what you know?
Just like in a personal relationship, you may not like all the answers you get, but these are the answers you need to hear. Don’t get defensive, say: “Thank you, that was tough to hear but we will be better because of it. I want you to know you have been heard; let’s do this every quarter and make sure we are moving forward.”
This conversation is pure gold. Not only have you just strengthened a relationship, you received invaluable data, for free, that will help you build a better product and company. You don’t need expensive market research; the experts are the people using your products.
I have been fortunate to work for one company that did a great job in creating a customer success organization and see them becoming an integral part of emerging companies. However, these organizations are only as good as the questions they ask. Remember the hardest questions to ask are the ones that are going to give you the best information.
Once you get your customer to say “I do”, a card on your anniversary is not enough to keep the romance alive. Keep courting, ask the tough questions and say "thank you, you are right"-- often.
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