The most gratifying part of training is seeing the people you teach succeed. I wanted to share a cute and rewarding story with you. I had a very rare opportunity to overhear how I had positively influenced one of our research associates. She is now a full consultant in her own successful business.
Jane was visiting us, consulting on a project that needed her particular area of expertise. During a break, she and Carrie Preston, our EVP were chatting over coffee. As I was walking by, I heard her saying, “Whenever I meet a new client, I ask myself what would Sharon do?” This of course caught my attention.
I stopped to listen, not sure what she would say.
“What is that?” asked Carrie.
“No matter what it is, be enthusiastic about the client’s request. I smile and energetically express great interest in the project.”
Carrie laughed. “Yup, that’s Sharon. And, she means it.”
“I KNOW!” laughed Jane. “But it really works. I don’t hold back like I used to.” “Then, regardless of what they ask, I say ‘yes, I can do that.’ Once the project is a ‘go,’ I do what I can to give them what they request. Then I help them to prioritize what they need within the given time frame or cost structure so they feel happy about the results.”
I couldn’t resist hearing more, so I walked into Carrie’s office. “So what else did you borrow?” I ribbed her.
What follows is a quick guide to some very useful selling and client management tools that I’ve picked up from my mentors over the years. If you have any you’d like to share, let us know and we’ll be happy to credit you with the tip to the newsletter readership.
- First encounters. Concentrate on the other person. Listen and be enthusiastic and positive.
- Say Yes! Yes I can. We can do that. Say yes to new project requests whatever they are as long as they sound feasible and somewhat related to your area of expertise. You can always figure out how and who later if necessary. If the particular project is different than you’ve done before, what a wonderful opportunity! You’ll grow and learn by stretching to meet your client’s needs.
- In the proposal, dare to be a little personal. Express excitement and pleasure about working with the actual project and client. Find a way to relate to the topic and the client that shows GENUINE interest so your excitement is grounded in authenticity. Feedback more of what you know about the client and the project needs than how great you are. While the client will say they want to know what you can do, it must be within the context of their problem. Showing you understand their need is most important. A rule of thumb (Sharon’s thumb) is 2/3 about them, 1/3 about you.
- Help your client be a hero to his/her client/boss. Give them the tools that will make them look good to their higher ups. If they look good because of what you do, they’ll be back for more, even if you never get credit for it. That means you need to find out what the real boss wants beyond the stated intent of the project and help your client manage that need.
- Shaping behavior -- The concept of small bites and baby steps. You may know the right way to do the project, but your new client has an idea of how it should be done. You may feel compelled to teach them how to do it and you’re probably correct - after all, as the research expert you likely have more experience and training. However, in order to get the project you may need to back off enough to help them. In fact, it can take years to train your clients to do the right thing. Think of working with your client as an exercise in training. People learn in small steps and can only take in nourishment in small bites to really digest it. If you can stay connected with their needs and pace them in their way of thinking for awhile, you’ll be able to take the lead and give them the tools they need to do the work that needs to be done, in the way it really should be done.
- When finishing a project, validate your clients by declaring a victory. “We did it!!” If you give your client a feeling of confidence that they accomplished what they set out to do, they will be likely to feel triumphant regardless of the information that was uncovered.
- In reporting: Applaud what worked well and, present shortcomings as opportunities instead of problems.
Some researchers feel compelled to reveal the brutal truth without concern for how it will be taken by the client. They forget that a marketing research project is not an isoloated experiment, but a complex endeavor which takes place in the context of a maze of politics and agendas. Very often, the issue under examination is a sensitive, fragile issue where feelings can be hurt, and jobs can actually be put in jeopardy.
People will act as though they are interested ONLY in honest feedback (the brutal truth), but often there is too much at stake to have raw facts presented without a cushion. Don't get me wrong - you have to report the facts - but think of it like this - an iron fist in a VERY VERY SOFT velvet glove.