Over time you can discover that where your customer wants to go isn't always where you are going. Sometimes they pivot faster than you're able to innovate. Other times it can feel like your managing a completely different client with very different needs and requirements than what you began with.
I began to notice this mild case of customer schizophrenia in my sales career but it never became clearer until helping my own clients with their close customers.
I’ve discovered the “five customer relationship personas” that describes who your clients need you to be at different stages of your customer relationships.
Unconsciously, as successful sales professionals, we're not always aware of the shifts our customers make emotionally and practically.
These shifts happen in response to our customers internal and external environment, which includes you. Sales professionals usually adjust based their own preference for change, on where they or their company is going. Instead we should adjust and evaluate who are customer is today and who we need to be for them tomorrow. The customer we begin with is guaranteed not to be the same a year from now.
Here are the five categories of customer personas that show up in every customer relationship we have.
1) On-boarded customer persona
The on-boarding stage of any customer relationship is a very exciting place filled with expectation and possibilities of results to come. This is arguably the most important place of your customer’s journey. Many believe that on-boarding (the process of integrating and merging the processes and communication between you and your customer’s business) only happens when they first become a customer. That is a fatal assumption to make and can often be the cause of apathy and greater attention to the emotional and practical needs of a customer needing greater reassurance in the process.
Action tip: Always have a clear next step for your customer that meets the emotional, practical and strategic needs of their business, career and internal relationships. The way you can know and identify this is in your pre planning process and weekly evaluation. Three questions to ask every week in this stage and really at any place with your clients.
- What is the feeling our client is experiencing this week?
- What is the appropriate next communication and step for them?
- Where can we surprise and over deliver?
2) Delivery customer persona
You're working together and now you're in execution mode. You have clear delivery timelines. You've mobilised the right people in your business and identified the right people to make work happen more easily and effectively in your customers business. This is where we tend to put most of our effort, in the delivery phase, for our customer. A ‘delivery customer persona’ is where your customers are watching, they're expectant but potentially apprehensive. They’re having to do unseen heavy lifting to ensure your product or service is received well internally and used appropriately. It's important to stay even closer to your customers in this moment. Your customer is in 'delivery' mode and ‘safety’ is the key word at this stage.
Action tip: Whatever the length of time for delivery build in weekly communication updates with your customer contacts and stakeholders. Troubleshoot potential challenges. Proactively look at opportunities to make the process better and have ‘make the customer feel safe’ on your desk. Promote this idea with those internal collaborators you work with to serve your customers.
3) Results customer persona
Your customers are looking for evidence of what’s working. They want to know that all things are working together for good. Here is where expectation management and the quality of communication needs to go up even further. Depending on your business there will be different early results criteria. It could be as simple as, “Is it installed correctly?” or “Has the shipment arrived been fulfilled?” “Do the employees like it?” “Or are we saving money?” It’s at this time you can experience what I call the value saturation effect ©. This is where the perceived value and effectiveness of your product/service is viewed as less valuable over time when no improvements or advancements have been made. The impact of this can be:
· loss of credibility with the client
· loss of extended sales or
· loss of competitive advantage
It’s proven that we can sometimes place unsaid bias on the time it will take to achieve something specific. What was penned by Daniel Kahneman in 1979 as the planning fallacy or optimism bias. It’s important to know that sometimes the expectations you began with your client won’t always be remembered or appreciated. This is particularly apparent if they’re experiencing internal pressures.
Action tip: Share mini successes, be upfront with your customer, be empathetic as they’ll naturally have their own pressures and internal expectations to the investment they’re making with you. You might be the only provider or you might be one of many. Either way managing expectations is key.
4) Satisfied Customer persona
Here is where you’ve delivered and a customer is pleased. The product did exactly what it said it would do and the service delivered. Here’s where you have the highest emotional and mental authority with your customers. You have good will, greater influence and open commitment to ask questions you may not have been able to ask or had the opportunity to ask previously.
Action tip: Once you’ve delivered for your customers and you’re genuinely looking out for the customer then it is your duty to do three things after every successful interaction.
1. Get specific. Ask them to articulate exactly what change they’ve seen and whether or not you’ve delivered on what you said. You may not say it exactly like this but the psychological importance is this. People will believe more of what they say that what others have been told. They are more likely to share that message when they’ve owned the outcome.
2. Make sure your customers get credit. Don’t make things about you. It’s about the results for your customers. Make it collaborative and talk about how they’ve won.
3. Offer the next step. This needs to be relevant to already agreed expectations, feed into the betterment of the results or expand results they want for their business, employees, career etc…
5) Future Customer persona
Your future customer is the one you have a vision for in terms of your relationship, goals and profitability. The future customer also envisioning where they go with you. They’ll have their own potential ideas but will be expecting your guidance and input.
Action tip: At the beginning of your customer journey during your strategic planning you will have written out your customer vision statement (a clear view of the relationships you want, sales, potential opportunities based on your customer’s goals). Get a piece of paper and draw a line. Write the word 12 months at the top of the line and Month 1 at the bottom.
Map the potential opportunities along that line relevant to where your customer wants, or needs to be, and where you see expansion. Break down those goals into smaller goals that align with your strategic activity. Bring that plan to your customer and talk it through. The more your customer can see and feel progress is being made with a clear route where they get to contribute to their success, the greater the trust that can be built. You will have persuasive power in your future conversation.
There you have it five customer relationship personas. Sages where your customer needs you to interact and communicate differently to help support them through their success journey with you. Taking note of the five customer persona areas will help you to more clearly identify the response and reactions you may get from your customers. Importantly you’ll have an external process you can attach to your sales process to ensure you’re serving your customers at a higher level.
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