I have to confess that perhaps the most difficult thing I have had to do in my career is shut up and listen to the customer. You know those occasions when you are sincerely excited to meet with the client because you know that you can help him. So, you walk in the door and start talking. 10 minutes into it, you realize you haven't taken a breath and you lost them at, "hello!"
No matter how excited we might be about what we want to show the client, we can't forget that the client's priorities have to come first. After all, anything you have to say is only valuable in the context of what the client wants to make happen.
I think I have just the thing to help us remember to always put the client's priorities first. It's a two part question. Here's part one.
"What is the client attempting to do with his marketing without our help..."
We can get so caught up in what we are trying to sell, that we forget that our clients are busy making things happen for their business without us.
Maybe if you visualize them that way, you will see how unlikely it is that they are going to stop down to listen to what you have to say unless it is completely relevant to what they are attempting to do already.
Because, of course, some of the things they are working on are right in your wheelhouse and they could definitely use your help. But you don't know which one until you go find out what they're trying to do with their marketing without your help!
We want you to approach all your clients as if you worked at their company and not yours. That way, when you look at their website, follow them on Twitter, read an article about them, or visit a location, you are looking for what they are trying to make happen. You might come across a person in the company whose job it is to get rid of some products before the new ones come out. Maybe you find the name of a different person whose job it is to introduce the new line of products. What if they are considering pursuing a new target consumer or they are making plans to open a bunch of new locations?
Developing a point of view as if you worked for the client's company earns you the right to ask the second part of this question.
"... that with our ideas and our tools they might do more effectively?"
Your job is to create ideas that use your tools to accomplish your clients' marketing objectives.
As I'm sure you have already figured out, the first part of this question is at the heart of any productive Customer Needs Analysis and the second part of this question is at the heart of any good Solution-Based Proposal. Together, they are a very powerful way for you to prepare to earn that first appointment.
If you are a manager, you could start any conversation with any sales person about any account with this question. If you are a facilitator, this is a great question to ask before you embark on any project. If you are a sales person, you can help yourself or even one of your colleagues get your head on straight before you approach your next client.
Try it and let us know what happens.