General Election campaigns and gym memberships have a lot in common.
When it comes to critical client conversations and understanding how and why clients buy, vote and renew, professional services firms can learn a lot from the sales approaches of prospective general election candidates and gym membership sales teams.
That is, learn how it should not be done.
In recent days, I have had two similar ‘critical client conversations’. The first was an unexpected knock on my front door and the second was a phone call from an unrecognised local number. They both went something like this:
Canvasser / Gym: Hello Mr… Jon… Edwards? How are you? Have you had a good year? I understand you’ve recently become a father? Hope it’s gone well?
Me: Yes that’s me. Yes fine thanks? How do you know that? Can I help?
Canvasser / Gym: Well I’m representing a political party in the general election / It’s Sheila from the gym and I was wondering if we can count on your vote on Thursday / renew your membership for another year?
Me: To be honest, I’m not sure. Can you tell me a bit more about what you have been doing in recent years to improve things for me?
Canvasser / Gym: Sure. Well over the last 5 years, our party have been actively improving services in your area / we have spent a lot of money improving facilities.
So can we count on your support on Thursday / will you sign up for another year at a special promotional rate?
Me: I’m not sure; it’s a big decision for me.
Canvasser / Gym: Well if you have any questions, please look at our website. Remember you only have a few days to decide / your existing rate is only valid until Friday.
Me: Oh right… Bye then.
The implications on business development behaviours
These are two similar critical client conversations. Although one would hope most professional services firms are unlikely to have conversations exactly like these, there are some lessons we can reflect upon:
- A call out of the blue – without any on-going dialogue or relationship
- False familiarisation – no trust has been earned at this point
- A decision is pushed on the buyer
- A lack of understanding and empathy for the client’s needs
The key point is this: you cannot expect to create engagement and prompt a positive decision by calling at the last minute, when an election or renewal is imminent or when you are behind on quarterly targets. You win work based on the quality of the relationship and trust you have established over the previous months and years.
In order to create engagement, the key is to set the right context in every client conversation.
So how do you build context and create engagement? A few key points:
- Listen to what makes their situation different. Every voter / client is unique. The more you can demonstrate this understanding, the more engagement you can create.
- Don’t fake personalisation. Show genuine empathy. Clients are more knowledgeable, sceptical and savvier than ever before.
- Don’t push. Instead of ‘selling’ try and find ways to contribute and be helpful, even when there is no election pending or anything to invoice for.
- Prepare for each conversation so the client feels you are contributing some value to them – never go empty handed and never go empty headed.
Building sustainable client relationships takes time, regular contact and a commitment to investing in your clients’ needs – behaviours that canvassers and salespeople often fail to understand.
If you learn how to get these critical ‘moments of truth’ conversations right over time, then you will undoubtedly grow your business. Demonstrate the wrong behaviours and you can seriously damage your brand, client relationships and any chance of gaining a favourable buying decision.