Do Customers Need to be Led?

The short answer to the above question is: of course. If someone is in one place, and needs to be drawn to a different place, that means exercising leadership.

However, there’s a whole different relationship involved. If you’re leading employees, there are built-in motivations, and a hierarchy of authority to enforce leadership. Not so with customers (or others where influence is more indirect – volunteers, collaborators, etc.)

Let’s say you are a graphic design consultant, and you have been hired by a customer to create a website design. You know what works on the web. You know what color schemes are appealing to the eye. You know about typefaces and layout and all that other juicy designer stuff. Yet your client wants you to put a 1,000-word marketing dissertation in 8-point type on a black background. With 14 references to Justin Bieber because they read an article on a plane once about keywords and SEO. Does this customer need to be led?

To ask the question is to answer it. And just replace the details with a hundred other business scenarios, and you’ll see that we need to lead customers every day.

As a consultant, I am leading my clients all the time. I have no value unless I’m leading them in the direction they need to go. Here are three basic ways in which I seek to lead a customer:

  1. Listen and ask questions. Put on your therapist hat first. Draw out the thoughts and goals and ideas bubbling in their minds (yes, typically, that is the way it is – very few customers actually come to you with a pre-packaged blueprint. Why do you think  they called you??)
  2. Steadily direct the questions and conversations to this one main point: What are you seeking to accomplish? It is amazing how many questions and ideas appear in a different light once you help the customer reach that one-sentence statement of purpose.
  3. NOW begin to apply your expertise to answering that question. Believe it or not, by playing the therapist and then clarifying the issue, you have attained a leadership position far greater than if you trotted our all your qualifications and pointed to your wall full of awards. Customer resistance is removed, not by intimidation, but by understanding. People are ready to hear your expert point of view and recommendations once they see that you’re standing right next to them, helping them see the main goal with 20/20 vision.

I have an accountant, and a financial planner. I want their expertise because I don’t have the bandwidth or interest to mess with all that financial stuff. They are both younger than me (I used to lead one of them in his high school youth group!). And I gladly let them lead me, because they can track and think about issues that I can’t or won’t. They ask the right questions, and show their ability to come up with a plan. Now I have one less worry.

Customers want to be led. They want one less worry. And you’re the answer – right?

Join us on Tuesday nights for #LeadershipChat on Twitter (8 pm ET). And, before you pull up a seat at the table tonight, read what my lovely and talented co-host, Lisa Petrilli, has written about this topic, drawing lessons from the life of Abraham Lincoln! And, to make your chat experience even more enjoyable, try out ChatTagged, a custom-made Twitter client for helping manage your on-line chat interactions!

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