Business is only fun when you’re doing the right things for the right customers at the right time. The challenge is how you get to that position. If your approach is to grab every piece of business that walks through the door, chances are you’ll never get to that level of fun.

If you want to love your business life, you need to design your interaction with prospects and customers and not let it be accidental. Flying by the seat of your pants causes all sorts of problems:

*   You look unprepared/unprofessional.

*   You lose some of your authority.

*   You struggle to establish trust.

*   You definitely lose the upper hand.

*   You’re not in control.

Being committed to serving your customers doesn’t mean that you have to be a punching bag. In fact, quite the opposite. You establish control of the business development lifecycle by being clear about what needs to happen at every step. It’s especially important in the first interaction because you’re setting the tone for the whole relationship.

The lion is a powerful animal, but a lion tamer, although physically weaker, is a master of how to be in control. If you don’t want to get eaten for lunch, take control of the customer’s experience.

The ultimate goal is to guide the customer around the lifecycle (because you know it works). To be that kind of guide, you need to train the customer. Have you ever wondered why a customer pays some vendors on time and others not? It’s because the vendor that gets its money on time has trained the customer to pay on time. That training starts on day one.

It’s your business. Make sure that you say how things should go.

You may be asking ‘How can I be in control? It’s the customer who chooses to work with me, isn’t it?’, but you’re probably not saying ‘Be in control? I don’t want that!’

You’re definitely selling your firm’s expertise, your authority as one of the leaders in your firm, your track record, your references, your results. That all makes sense, right? Thing is, you don’t want to wait for customers to dictate the next step: to enquire as to your references, review your case studies or ask you for a proposal. You want them to immediately buy into the fact that you’re in control of the process. For them, control that’s powerful and authoritative doesn’t show up as arrogant – rather it makes them feel safe. They can relax and be fully engaged in telling you about their business and their problems, rather than trying to figure out if you’re any good at what you do.

When you display competence on day one, it accomplishes three very important objectives:

*  Customers see that you know what you’re doing.

*  Customers heave a sigh of relief (believe me, they’ve seen plenty of incompetence in their time).

*  Customers start to trust you.

 

If you can achieve this level of authority and control in your first interaction, subsequent meetings and discussions go well (as long as you can keep it up – that takes planning and lots of practice). People buy from people who seem competent and who they can trust, and you set yourself up for success.

These interactions are commonly handled amazingly badly. Compare the two versions of the same meeting in Table 4-1.

The First Customer Interaction (the Good, the Bad and the Ugly)

The Customer’s in Control You’re in Control
You come to the meeting knowing next to nothing about the customer’s company or the specific contact. You’ve done your research and you have a good overview of the customer’s business, size and how long it’s been around. You also know something about the contact. You have a sense of whether it’s a target customer.
The customer drives the agenda and controls how the meeting goes. You have an agenda. You outline it to the customer and get agreement. You’re clear about where you expect to be at the end of the meeting.
The customer tells you what it thinks you need to know about its situation/need. You introduce your company very briefly, so that the customer immediately gets the value.
The customer’s hard to interrupt. You can’t get a word in. You ask questions that you need the answers to in order to determine whether this is a prospect you want to work with.
The meeting runs short of time or runs long. You keep an eye on the clock. You leave time to cover the vital three items below.
Budget is never mentioned. You talk price. You tell the customer what you typically charge. If the representatives are still on their chairs, go to the next step.
You’re not sure what the customer’s buying process is, who to makes the decision, who else is involved, who signs the contract. You ask the representatives to outline their roadmap to making a decision (assuming this is a competitive situation). Get the decision-makers’ names and roles and understand the timeframe.
The meeting ends with no action items set, or commitments to next steps. If you think you’re on to a winner, ask whether the representatives are willing to entertain the next step (whatever that is). If they say yes, let them know what you need to happen to move forward. Don’t ever give anything without getting something back (‘before we send you a proposal, let’s set a date to review it together – we expect [the decision-maker] to be at that meeting’).

I’m sure that you can see from the table that the customer feels way more confident with the approach in column 2.

TIP: If things don’t smell right at the end of that first meeting, walk away. Take the same strategy with future meetings.

Let me just add one thing. One of my favorite treats as a child was those little netted bags with gold chocolate coins. Think of those coins as representing you, your customer and the relationship. On one side of the chocolate coin is what you’re selling. In big gold letters, it says ‘authority in every move you make’. On the other side of the coin is what the customer is buying. It says ‘peace of mind’. The chocolate in the middle is ‘mutual confidence and trust’. Oh, I love analogies featuring chocolate!