The Psychology of Making Your Customers Want You
As business owners and marketers, the assumptions we make about our target customers and the purchasing motivations we think they have will have a powerful effect on the health of our business.
Make a mental list of some of the world's most powerful brands and you'll find that customer satisfaction lies at the core of their phenomenal success. Companies like Apple, Starbucks, Disney, IKEA, and BMW attract a throng of loyal, nearly fanatical followers whose zeal often infects people around them, creating a virtuous cycle that sustains these brands' market successes.
On the other hand, one study found that almost 90% of consumers immediately start doing business with a brand's competitors following a painful customer experience, taking with them millions of dollars worth of lost revenue and opportunity cost. As a business owner, this is exactly what you don't want to happen.
While big brands possess the scale to weather significant customer backlash (here's an example of the VW backlash everybody's talking about), small businesses and professional freelancers simply cannot afford to screw up the way they engage with clients and customers. For service providers, the mere act of finding customers and successfully landing a profitable contract can become a recurring pain point in the business cycle.
What does it take to make your brand more appealing to clients? What does it take for clients to notice your product, service or proposal and decide to give you a try?
Being Selfish in Business Will Result in Failure
The Chinese general Sun Tzu, a source of inspiration to countless military commanders and business executives, reportedly said that knowing yourself is a key to winning battles. Certainly, it is common sense that you need to be an expert at what you do, to thoroughly know your strengths and weaknesses, and to aggressively advertise your value proposition to your potential clients. You need to dedicate some time updating your portfolio website, have a compelling stable of past projects to refer back to, and create visually appealing marketing assets.
What's even more important, though, is how well you formulate your value propositions for the exact type of client you want to attract. Sun Tzu also said it will take knowing your enemy to win battles consistently. Tzu brings up this point in the very same paragraph where he said self-knowledge will help you win battles only half of the time. In order to always win your battles (and new clients for your business), your knowledge should extend to the entity you are engaging with.
You need to know your clients and know them very well. Thus, you have to genuinely want to know them first and take concrete, decisive steps for that purpose of learning more about what motivates them to buy your products or services.
Talking about yourself without showing empathy to your client's needs will likely cause your prospect to ditch your proposal and go for a more customer-centric competitor, even when you're better at doing the actual job. In the end, we as humans choose to work with others who show us that they care. If someone doesn't care about genuinely helping us achieve our goals, we'll move on.
Using Psychology to Pick Your Client's Brain and Nudge Them Your Way
Customer engagement has at times turned into a form of war game with many American companies. Not in the sense that you and your customer attempt to browbeat or trick each other into ceding territories, but more like a psychological-based war wherein you imagine what it feels like wearing your customer's shoes when making important decisions. Unlike a real battle, the relationship between service providers and their customers are grounded in the assumption that transactions between them are mutually beneficial.
So here are seven steps to make customer engagement a win-win for both you and your clients:
1. Do Your Research. Spend extra time researching about your client, probing their culture, deciphering their needs and managing their expectations.
2. Sound the Bugle. Show your client that you know their business and care about their goals by drawing up a roadmap that will help them succeed in the particular aspect of their business you want to be involved in.
3. Discuss Tactics. Help the client understand how your strategy (i.e. process, work parameters, etc.) will help them achieve their goals. Use action language in your correspondences and documents, exuding an aura of confidence that will assure your clients that you know your craft well.
4. Determine Your Rules of Engagement. Put in place rules for how high and low you're willing to go when it comes to closing contracts with your clients. Don't over-sell yourself, but don't undervalue what you're doing for each client.
5. Know Your Buyer Types. Understand that there are three kinds of buyers, each requiring a different approach that taps into their respective priorities. Leo classifies clients into:
- Spendthrifts (15% of customers): Understandably, these are the most preferred clients by every business owner and freelancer. Keep them engaged and regularly updated on the progress of the project you are handling as well as the value you help generate. Offer them all the appropriate premium services you can deliver.
- Tightwads (25%): Because this group prioritizes budget, be sure to offer clever service bundles and to reframe your prizes to make rates more acceptable to them.
- Average Spenders (60%): These customers occupy the middle ground and will likely comprise a large part of your portfolio. Keep them motivated by using language that emphasizes results and success.
6. Move at Double Time. Establish a sense of urgency when setting milestones, deadlines and other time-frames. This includes the period of time (usually one to two weeks) you're giving clients within which to respond to a proposal.
7. Fight for Something Good. Differentiate your brand by showing that you care about something greater than yourself. Maybe an idea, an advocacy or an organization you truly care about. You can even narrow your range of subject matter expertise that will allow you to claim that you are a specialist bent on delivering only the finest output in your field. This works like magic when you and your client share the same values or advocacies. In addition to work, you can also cite charities and non-professional causes such as the environment or cancer research.
Note that this will be more believable if you actually donate part of your service income to these causes.