Opinions expressed by londonbusinessblog.com contributors are their own.
We live in a consumer culture. On the one hand, commodity creation has always been capitalism’s raison d’être, and the concern about commodification is about as old as the market itself. But under advanced capitalism, we have seen commodification take on a new form. Today, almost anything can become a commodity – from knowledge and experiences to culture and (if you’re Paris Hilton) even the self. This shift also means that “market talk” is being applied to some of the most fundamental facets of business, including customer relationships.
Looking for proof? Keep in mind that companies have increasingly delegated customer success and training to a discreet team of representatives. According to an 2021 LinkedIn Analysis of more than 15,000 job titles, business development and sales positions (e.g., sales consultant, sales operations specialist, and strategic consultant) had one of the highest annual hiring growth rates at 45%. By smoothing out the customer-business relationship in this way, companies send a message: Customer education is a box to check.
This is a very short-sighted approach to driving business growth. Instead, I recommend a relationship-building coaching model. Coaching is by nature a collaboration. It’s about working with clients to become trusted advisors. And if you’re interested in establishing and maintaining a coaching-centric customer education model, implement these practices today.
Related: Why small businesses should prioritize continuous learning
1. Play the long game
I kind of made a career by giving away the farm, so to speak. What I mean is that I’m not stingy with free advice, because I know that sharing my expertise pays off, even if it doesn’t immediately turn a profit.
For example, I recently had lunch with a business owner who was interested in our app consulting services but couldn’t afford to work with us yet. Some entrepreneurs would have you believe that meeting people who don’t pay you is a waste of time, but I knew it was an opportunity to show my worth and build trust, which could lead to business in the future. Finally, PwC found that nearly 50% of consumers give trust as the reason they have started patronizing a company.
So I sat down with this person and talked about their company as if I had an equity stake. We’ve covered everything from today’s industry forces to the unique ways we work with our customers. And at the end of the meeting, this person thanked me profusely. I left feeling like I had forged a new relationship rooted in trust and respect.
The takeaway? Be gracious with your time and talents. For starters, it creates a sense of reciprocity: most people will remember your generosity and look for ways to work with you in the future. But even if they don’t, a positive trust-based experience will help build your brand awareness, build customer trust, and even increase loyalty.
Related: I Talked My Way To Make $50,000. This is why it was a good business decision
2. Manage an Educational Library
There is an inherent power imbalance in sales: salespeople have expertise that customers don’t. This is what is called information asymmetry, and customers must be confident that the seller will use that authority responsibly. But when companies value deals won over built relationships, they encourage sellers to take advantage of this information asymmetry — unintentionally or not. That manifests as salespeople withholding vital information or misrepresenting the company’s ability to close the sale.
This kind of exercise goes against a coaching mentality. Instead, pave the way for valuable, long-lasting relationships by empowering employees to guide customer education, provide feedback, and provide ongoing strategic guidance. To help them do this, you should develop training materials and customer-oriented content to explain not only your product or service, but also your company philosophy. For example, we create and publish on-site content that is explicitly focused on customer education. Sellers and account managers can use this collateral to adjust customer expectations.
Also, don’t overlook the value of general education. We’ve found that potential customers use our blog to learn about broader topics, such as software development. Similarly, Progressive’s commercial department publishes: blogs intended to help business leaders navigate challenges ranging from data loss to HR blunders. Building this library is time consuming, but worth it when you consider that Demand Metric discovered that a whopping 80% of people prefer to learn more about a business through custom content.
Related: 3 Ways to Educate Buyers Online
3. Integrate coaching into everything you do
We have a coaching mentality in everything we do: our ceremonies, demos, processes, deliverables, etc. This reinforces the idea that informing customers is not relegated to the beginning of the relationship. Rather, it is a through line. Ideally, your customers should learn something new every few months. That is the difference between a supplier and a partner: Partners continuously add value; suppliers offer a one-time service.
Ongoing education also helps you manage customer expectations and adjust if things go wrong. This is especially relevant in my industry because our clients rarely understand the ins and outs of working with software: Why do I have to pay to fix bugs? Isn’t that your job? Why did this thing break even though we tested it? These are common questions in my job, so education is vital to maintain confidence – what PwC says 73% of business leaders agreement promotes better customer loyalty.
At the moment it is almost easier to name what has not been commercialized than what is. But just because we can trading something doesn’t mean we should. Transactional customer relationships lead to short-term transactions. Instead, business leaders can prepare themselves for sustainable success by designing and maintaining a coaching culture.