Don’t sell a man a snorkel when he needs scuba gear

snorkellingClients think they know what they want, but is it what they really need? Learn to challenge them and ask the right questions, so you can give them solutions that grow their business and you’ll have a valuable client for life.

So, it’s a normal afternoon at StreetPR HQ – except I’m sitting at the client management desk, listening to the teams working with clients to deliver awesomeness.
The reason I’m sitting here, and not at my desk where I’d usually be, is simple. We’ve got a new kid on the team and I‘m checking him out. Overall, I’m really pleased with my hire; he’s sharp and super-keen to please. But…

He’s missing something. It’s not his fault: plenty of experienced business owners and client teams haven’t spotted it and they’ve been in business for years. He’s missing the actual opportunity due to an eagerness to please.

The phones ring and he does a fantastic job. He answers them professionally and politely. He engages the client or potential client intelligently. He tells them what we do and how we do it. He gives them some good case studies. And, judging by his close rate, I’m sure he leaves everyone on the other end of the line very satisfied that we are indeed the company to work with for what they wanted…

But that’s the problem. What he’s sold them is what they wanted – which in many cases may not be the same as what they actually need.

Let me try and explain…

A man walks into a dive shop and tells the shopkeeper he wants to go diving and needs a snorkel and a mask. The shopkeeper sells him a snorkel and a mask, they have a good chat, the man is happy, the shop keeper is happy.

The man goes off, jumps into the water, dives down into the deeps – and drowns, because a snorkel and mask is not good enough to go deep sea diving in.

This is real bad. My hypothetical dive buddy is no more, and that means he’s not going to be spending any more money with his new mate, the dive shop keeper.

What the customer asked for was not what he actually needed; and it killed him.

I see this all the time (well, without the clients actually dying). So here’s what I would do.

First rule when I talk to a potential new client is, I ask about their company. Is it old? Is it new? Where’s the cash behind it come from – crowd funding, Venture Capital, maxed-out credit cards, family money? Who are their competitors or their comparables?

And finally, the killer question: what do they actually want to achieve?

At this point, I stop and look at each person’s situation individually.

Then I tell them what I would do. How I would do it, who I have done it for in the past and why, based on my 15 years of experience in the game, I think this way would work.

Sometimes – more often than not, to be honest – it means the little piece of paper they had with “hand out 10k leaflets on” is thrown in the bin and we start again.

It also means that small jobs turn into big jobs, which is not just good for my bottom line, it also means my clients see results, grow and expand. They thrive and they keep coming back to my shop for more help, more advice and more marketing…

And that’s my point. Be nice to your clients and actually try and help them out with something that works for them. We were all start-ups once, and if you want to work with the big boys, the best way is be awesome for them when they’re small and starting off.

That’s not just hot air: we are currently working with names which regularly make national and even global headlines, because we delivered great service which grew their business when they were little. We told them what they needed, not what they thought they wanted, and it worked.

Remember, you’re the expert in your field (if you’re not, why are you pretending?). You know what works and what doesn’t. You could go for the easy sell and give them what they asked for; but that’s short-term.

Give them what they need (not what they think they want), make them a huge success – and make them a client for life.


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