Is Your Customer Engagement an Asset or a Liability?
By Ravi Kathuria
How well thought-out and executed is your customer engagement model? Is it something that has developed by default without proactive and deliberate thought? In your company, does every sales person and service-delivery team member develop their own engagement model?
Simple or Complex Sales
Simple sales typically involve commodity items such as printers or copiers. The customer's engagement with the seller ramps down quickly after the sale.
Complex construction projects, medical treatment, and legal representation are examples of complex sales. The customer is acutely dependent on the seller's services once the deal is inked. The service the customer buys has a material impact on the reputation, and/or well-being of the customer.
If your company is in the business of complex sales and you have not thought through and designed your customer engagement model in rigorous detail, your success and the success of your customer is at risk.
"A vendor's well-thought-out customer engagement process is the customer's insurance."
Apprehension, Confusion and Distrust
If a large construction project fails or is derailed, it may cost the customer executive his or her job. Customers involved in a complex sale are understandably apprehensive because of the risk factors and high stakes. Further, every vendor promises high-quality and superior products. It is often overwhelming for customers to sift through all the claims and counter-claims about vendor capabilities and competencies.
Your job, as a vendor, is to make it easier for customers to make the decision... hopefully, in your favor. You have to help reduce the confusion and address the apprehensions. If you do that, you will earn the customer's trust and business.
Customer Engagement Model
How do you reduce the confusion and apprehension? You must develop and detail your customer engagement model. The vendor's well-thought-out customer engagement process is the customer's insurance against things going wrong.
You must start with the problem space. Develop a model to describe the problem and need, so you and the customer can be on the same page, and the customer has the confidence you understand their need. If the customer recognizes you feel their pain, you are half there in winning the deal.
Next focus on the solution space. Develop a model to explore possible solutions. Help the customer understand how they can influence the solution, and what factors constrain the solutions choices. Remember, you know more about the solution than the customer will ever know. The customer does not want to learn about all the possible choices and nuances. They want to know that you have a systematic process to consider and analyze all the choices, and there is a way for the customer to guide you in aspects that matter to them. You do not want your attorney to impart all his legal knowledge to you, all you want to do is understand the process enough so you can provide relevant information and know that the attorney is thinking things through and not overlooking items because he is extremely busy with all his other clients.
Project implementation is part of the solution space. Educate the customer about the steps involved, what are the deliverables at each stage that will demonstrate credible progress, what are the gates/points at which the customer can provide input to fine-tune the project's direction and thrust. Address the risks involved and explain how you will manage the risks.
Engage the Right Team
Your credibility increases as you involve the right experts during the customer education process. It communicates to the customer you are serious. Customers do not always trust sales people and their promises, but they will almost always treat as gospel what your engineers and delivery-personnel say.
Develop a comprehensive customer engagement model, and earn credibility and trust. It is the best way to serve your customers.
A recognized thought leader, Kathuria has been quoted in various publications including The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, WorldNews, and featured on the BusinessMakers show, CBS Radio, Nightly Business Report, TEDx, and is a monthly columnist for the SmartBusiness Magazine.
Kathuria is the author of the highly acclaimed book, How Cohesive is your company?: A leadership parable. It is a realistic and intense story of how a CEO struggles to transform the business and, in the process, struggles with his personal transformation.
Kathuria is the founder and president of Cohegic Corporation, a management consulting, executive coaching and sales coaching firm. Halliburton, Hewlett-Packard, St. Lukes Episcopal Health System, AT&T, and Imperial Sugar Company executives have co-published seminal business articles with Kathuria in the Houston Business Journal on sales effectiveness, performance, corporate culture, and change management.
Invited to speak at large conferences and corporate meetings, Kathuria is a thought provoking and vivacious speaker. He has spoken at the 5th Annual Veterans Entrepreneurship Conference, Rice University, Business Forum on Emerging Markets, University of Houston's Wolff Center For Entrepreneurship, University of Texas' Fleming Center for Healthcare Management, Institute of Internal Auditors, Dover Club, Galleria Chamber of Commerce, American Business Women's Association, French American Chamber of Commerce, Business Resources Group, Financial Executives Networking Group, Silver Fox Advisors, Houston Technology Center and the 2011 SPE Americas E&P Health, Safety, Security, and Environmental Conference.