WorkWise: Adjusting to a new customer base

March 31, 2009 

People who've had customers, both business and consumer, acknowledge that the differences in working with each may be significant. One, in fact, cautions against taking on a new customer base before you think hard about it. If your company opens a new revenue stream and your expertise with one is tapped for the other, you might be in for some surprises. Ditto if you're in customer service and accept a new job with an unfamiliar base.

Aviv Shahar, of Woodinville, Wash.'s Aviv Consulting L.L.C., has spent 30 years working with senior management and coaching individual clients in developing potential. His conversation is rich with words such as "meaningful," "engage" and "transformational." He maintains that business people need to be consultative, regardless of customer.

Shahar states that self-knowledge is essential so that you match your customer base well.

"If not," he remarks, "there will be friction and misunderstanding. We each find the affinity group, the unique niche most meaningful for us. Distinguish yourself by focusing on your core talent and strength, being where you can make the most difference." He believes that if you can't adapt, you must find your way out of the problematic customer base: "Don't dilute your capacity."

ADAPTING

Sculptor Kevin Caron of Kevin Caron Studio L.L.C., in Phoenix, creates welded steel sculptures, contemporary work and figurative pieces, like plants. He doesn't spend all of his time in the studio, though, because he sells to private individuals, companies and municipalities. Although he doesn't impose his values, he does want people to react emotionally to his art. However, he doesn't communicate very differently to different customers.

"I've found very, very knowledgeable private individuals and I've found some very, very knowledgeable committees," he comments. "When dealing with businesses and municipalities, I make a formal presentation -- who I am, what I've done, why I'd love to help on this project. Normally it's a committee, which can be a little more challenging, requiring a little more brainwork, give and take, and compromise."

Caron describes himself as self-taught, which might be part of the reason that he tries to speak plainly and avoids technical jargon. In any setting he adheres to this rule: be openminded, fair and honest so that you can understand the customer's needs and desires for the sculpture. Ann Latham, president of Uncommon Clarity Inc., in Easthampton, Mass., contends that solid interactions with customers "before, during and after purchase and delivery" are critical. Changing from business customers to consumers might be "a shock" if your communication is efficient and predicated on customers being well-informed. "In many B2B transactions," she says, "you're dealing with buyers who:

-- "know the product or service almost as well as you do;

-- "know what questions to ask;

-- "are eager to get quick answers to their questions;

-- "know under what conditions they're likely to buy before they even contact you; and

-- "know what to expect over the lifecycle of their purchase."

Most consumers don't follow suit, she points out. Furthermore, they might need more interaction from you while selling, then using your product or service. She recommends identifying potential problems they might encounter when using the product or service long-term, which might require education or training that business customers wouldn't need.

Shahar would add that you must be interested in your customers, that if they're very different and you can't adjust, you can't be consultative and, ultimately, won't engage them. In other words, if, in the process of the transaction, you cheat them of your best, then you're cheating yourself at the same time. He advises you not to "engage where you cannot . . . and transform people in the most optimal way." Copyright 2009, Passage Media Passage Media.)

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