One of my favorite parts of my job is learning about my customers, which also includes my client’s customers. There is no better way to gain an understanding and discover insights than by working side by side with them. Without a question, learning about your client(s) is the most important part of our job and although there are some steps that I can recommend, this is more of an art than it is a science.
Be an expert. Be personal.
So, how do you do it? If you’re not an expert, you must become very familiar with your client’s industry, their business structure and their current and future competition. Even if you are not new to the industry, things change so fast that being up-to-date is necessary knowledge. Fortunately, you have the vast internet at your fingertips. There are numerous resources available online (most of them free) that can provide you with the latest and greatest information on those topics to keep you as close to being an expert as you possibly can.
Now, not all important information is available, some of it can only be provided by your client. Sometimes the information you need is not offered and other times they don’t even know they have it, which is why building a personal relationship with your client is crucial. To achieve a personal relationship you can start with the basics:
- Know the name of his/her spouse
- Know about his/her kids
- What are his/her hobbies?
- What is he/she passionate about?
Showing real interest in their personal life will help communicate that he/she is more important than the sale. This helps position you as more than a vendor, but rather a partner. Remember people are more likely to buy from people that they like and can relate to.
Ask and listen.
Most of the time, clients need help decoding and understanding what it is that they need. Before you offer solutions or ideas, take the time to ask questions and listen very carefully to their answers. When listening to your client you also have to read between the lines and pay attention to their body language: the most important message is not always communicated directly or verbally.
When starting a project, I always want to know what success means to my client. To get this answer I begin by asking them to imagine us at the end of the project and what they expect out of that final report to make them say “wow, I am so happy that I hired AC&M”. Their answers give me a laser focus on what is important to them and helps me identify their most important KPI (Key Performance Indicators).
The bottom line: Knowing your customer both on a professional and personal level is a very important aspect of your job. It’s your key to success and it will help you do your job in a more effective and efficient way. Although it requires commitment and work, it is one of the most rewarding parts of my job since I am constantly making life-long friendships.