The truth about customer intimacy

8 ways to make contact, 6 elements of a good reputation, 3 levels of contact, 7 things you need to do to achieve it, and a bunch of things that can get in the way

Customer intimacy sounds so much cooler than customer satisfaction or awareness. No company is going to say that they’re not interested in customer intimacy. It’s pretty easy to convince the executives that it’s something you just have to have. But then you have a problem. How do you get it?

Customer intimacy is about trust and sharing. You have to earn trust and be willing to share before you are even a candidate for achieving customer intimacy. And some customers are reluctant to trust and do little sharing, let alone anything more… intimate. Do you really think your customer wants to be intimate with you, just because you want it?

So for starters, don’t expect to get intimate with your customer on a first date. If you don’t arrive looking for a long term relationship, you’re probably not going to get past their public persona. And you have to do more than just say you’re looking for a long term relationship, you have to walk the talk. You have to invest. You have to earn trust and share, and do it consistently, before you can expect the customer to consider you worthy.

A big part of achieving customer intimacy is avoiding the things that will destroy it and letting time do its magic. If you show up and do nothing but talk about yourself, you’re going to look like a taker and not a giver. If you, and your written collateral, do a lot of bragging and are full of unsubstantiated claims, you’re not going to look credible. If you ask for information but don’t provide anything of value, you’re going to sound like a vendor just trying to close a deal.

Once you have a relationship with the customer, you need to step up your game and not rest on your laurels. If you do some work with them and your performance is perfectly normal and sufficiently adequate, you can expect to get treated just like everyone else. It doesn’t mean you’ve achieved customer satisfaction just because they didn’t complain about anything. You can expect the customer to keep looking for someone to get intimate with because, let’s face it, you’re boring. And if you have customer satisfaction problems, then forget about anything intimate.

Once you make contact, you need to demonstrate how exceptional you are. Note the word “demonstrate.” It counts far more than all those claims in your brochures and proposals.

It all starts with an introduction. If you have to, you can introduce yourself. But it helps if you are a familiar face and have a good reputation. Your:

  • Awards
  • Association participation and sponsorships
  • Publications
  • Website
  • Social media presence
  • Press

Aren’t things to brag about but do play a role in establishing your reputation for you. In addition, your:

  • Client meetings
  • Capability briefings
  • Events
  • Trade shows
  • Webinars
  • Associations
  • Networking
  • Online contacts like email and LinkedIn

Can all play a role in becoming familiar so they’ll say yes when you ask for a meeting.

All of that lays an important foundation before intimacy even has a chance to occur.

Each contact is an opportunity to demonstrate that you’re not the kind of vendor who's only interested in one thing by delivering value to the customer. Helping them to understand the:

  • Issues
  • Alternatives
  • What they need to do to achieve their goals

And giving them the information they need are all ways of delivering value. You can provide information by email, website, or in white papers. You can bring in subject matter specialists or executives to demonstrate interest and responsiveness.

Remember, do not expect intimacy on a first date. Your first meeting with the customer must result in follow-up meetings to get to that stage. If you think you’ve achieved something because you got a meeting, wait until you see if you can get another. If you walk out of your meeting without an agreement to meet again or at least follow up, you may not have made much of an impression.

Keep in mind that most customers have multiple people influencing the decision making process. It can actually work against you if you only court one person at the customer. If you know one person at the customer and never reach out to anyone else, you’re not really showing much interest. To have an accurate picture, you need to have relationships at the:

  • Program or operations level
  • Procurement or contracting level
  • Executive level

You should reach out to all stakeholders involved in or impacted by the decision, as well as the decision makers or proposal evaluators themselves.

Timing matters. If you show up after they’ve written the RFP, don’t expect to have much influence over it, no matter what you think your relationship with them is. If you show up after they’ve decided their acquisition strategy, don’t expect to be able to get them to change to the contract vehicle you prefer.

We all desperately want the kind of customer relationships where they call on us for advice and where we work together to solve problems as if we were one and the same organization. What a precious but rare thing that is. It doesn’t happen like magic in a storybook. It happens because:

  • You were there for them when they needed it
  • You did things for them they couldn’t do themselves
  • You solved problems they didn’t even know they had before they even realized it
  • You made their jobs easier and were never a burden
  • You were easier to work with than their own staff
  • Everything you said was credible and they trusted you
  • They came to depend on you

Maybe it’s so rare because most vendors aspire to be like this but rarely are.

So how do you know whether you've achieved customer intimacy?

Does the customer come to you? Or do they wait for you to come to them? Do they ask you for help? Better yet, do they ask you for advice? If you are of real value in their eyes (in spite of whatever you claim) they will seek out that value. They won't wait for it.

The other way you can tell is what they share with you. A major part of winning proposals is having an information advantage. If all you have is the same information as everybody else bidding, you do not have an information advantage. When the customer shares their preferences, perspectives, concerns, and things that matter to them in a way that gives you an information advantage, you have a real relationship. You can even quantify the fact of its existence. But they've only shared like that because they want you to do something about it. They want value. Now it's your turn to share.



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Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY.

The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant. 

Carl can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com

To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

 

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