Customer Relationships: Questions Managers and CEOs Should Ask Daily

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How many great mentors have impacted your career, and what lessons did you learn from them?

Most of us would not make it very far in our careers without these people who take a special interest in our success—possibly because this is how companies grow employees for future benefit, but more often it’s because these people are individuals who were mentored, and they just want to pass it on to others who are coming up the road of success.

I was a marketing manager at a company that manufactured products for residential and commercial builders, and that was where I experienced the first important mentor of my career—the CEO.

My office was next to the CEO’s office, just outside his office backdoor. Sales was outside his front door. He saw sales and marketing as two of the three critical functions that are important to the company’s success; the other was the factory. But where he spent most of his time was with customers—the source of all cash.

Every morning when the CEO came into the office, he asked two questions that determined what he would do that day:

  1. Are there any new orders in the barrel?
  2. Are there any problems out on the floor?

If the answers were positive, he would first start calling customers just to chat with them.

I’m not saying that all manufacturing CEOs should ask these two questions, but my gut tells me that many should. In essence, the first question was, “Are we growing the business, and am I making money?” The second question was essentially, “Are our operations running right?” or “are we making money on the stuff we are engineering?”

After that, he was either in meetings or talking with distributors or customers. And that was the real mandate he taught: take care of customers; build relationships based on caring about their needs.

This led to a simple formula that impacted how I thought about business:

Customer Relationships = Customer Engagement = Customer Loyalty

The common denominator is TRUST.

The customer relationship starts the cycle and is where you begin making promises to the customer. If you deliver as promised, the relationship ends with trust. With trust comes the first purchase and all succeeding purchases. It is the formula for recurring, sustainable growth that is profitable to the customer and to the provider.

Hanging in the middle is ENGAGEMENT.

Engagement is where the relationship becomes real. It is where you deliver as promised. Otherwise, it is all just talk, and customers have plenty of vendors willing to talk—mostly about themselves and how wonderful their products are.

Relationships cannot happen unless each of us do what my former CEO did every day of the week; talk with customers about what they need to achieve their most important aspirations. Most sellers want to talk about how they fix customer problems. I’m not dismissing this as something that’s not important to do; however, there is something more important to talk about.

Talk about how you can help make a customer successful. Discussing how you can help them achieve their aspirations is a more positive approach. Frequently, the conversation is not about your products at all, but rather truly providing ideas that can help customers achieve more. You have to be more than a consultant, you need to be a friend with genuine concern. You need to understand their world view instead of pushing your own on them. Try an opening conversation where you don’t even mention your product but instead just share ideas on how your customer can achieve their aspirations.

It’s an important lesson from a great teacher, and one that has stuck with me after so many years. That’s the value of a great teacher: Times and technology may change, but their lessons stick with you. What lessons have you learned from your mentors that you are passing along today?