Required Reading: How to Find Out What Customers Really Care About

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Think long-lasting business relationships rely on complicated strategies and technology? They don't, says The Relationship Edge in Business: Connecting With Customers and Colleagues When It Counts (John Wiley & Sons), by Jerry Acuff with Wally Wood. The key to developing successful professional connections, it contests, doesn't stray far from the techniques we use in our personal relationships. Acuff reveals the questions to ask to discover what people really care about, and how to optimize this information and incorporate it into our everyday business interactions. CRM
magazine's Emmy Favilla spoke with Acuff to discuss this approach. CRM: You say personal relationships are crucial to business success. What is the biggest challenge for individuals to grasp this mind-set? Jerry Acuff: The reality is that 80 to 90 percent of our waking hours, we spend thinking of ourselves. To think of others is not an easy thing to do. I think that CRM has not lived up to its promise for many people; I have an equation that goes like this: C + R + M - R = zero, because the thing that's lost a lot of these times is the relationship. We define relationships in terms of databases and information about what the customer purchases or how they make purchases, but not who the customer is. For instance, where in your CRM database does it say that I might like NASCAR? You need to say to the customer, "Tell me what you do when you're not working." I think that organizations don't ask a lot of the right questions and capture the right information so they can build meaningful relationships that actually last after the account executive has left. CRM: What are the most important relationship-building tactics? Acuff: I would challenge people to think about how important the relationship is in CRM. The relationship can be enabled by technology, but it cannot be done by technology. Relationships are about people. And if that's true, make sure that the information you capture is information both about what they treasure and about their purchasing patterns, likes, and dislikes. Too often we don't capture the kinds of information we really need. If you're going to create a valuable relationship with a client, it's going to be based on the fact that you care more about them than another given person does. Caring is never a technology. It's not a technological exercise, it's a people exercise. CRM: How do you ask the right questions in the right way? Acuff: There's a pretty simple rule: You want to ask a question so that 1) someone wants to answer, 2) someone wants to answer truthfully, and 3) you get them to answer so that they don't feel bad or uncomfortable when they do. I want to preface the question with a sort of opening dialogue that validates why I'm asking this question, which makes you feel safe answering. If you don't feel safe, you're not going to answer truthfully. Good questions are a function of four things: preparation, intent, condition--the environment I create that makes [you] feel safe to answer the question--and content. Most people don't take the time to prepare the question with the proper intent and condition. CRM: What are some of the misperceptions that sales professionals have when assessing customer lifetime value? Acuff: Far too much emphasis in business is based on short-term results. When you focus on success alone, you have much less success than if you are to focus on the big picture. Most people don't really estimate the long-term value of the customer; they look at it from the short-term result perspective. What they need to do is take a more long-term perspective and understand that the less you care about the sale, the more you sell. What you care about is whether your product or service is the right fit for the customer. The problem is that most customers don't know what kind of product they're looking for--it's up to the company to help them. Other Page Turners
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