Counterintuitive Lessons from Mentors and Mistakes
The customer relationship is different now. Consumers have a lot more information at their fingertips. The way they communicate has changed. Their expectations have increased. In short, they have more power.
While this might seem scary to some businesses, I would argue that as small business owners, this puts us in a better position than larger, more established companies. We have the chance to recognize their new power and use it to get closer to our customers. We have the opportunity to treat customers like partners instead, which changes the dynamic entirely.
This requires a mindset shift from traditional ways of doing business, however. When I started my own business, I had to unlearn a lot of the core tenets of the corporate world. I held some of these beliefs tightly, with good reason – they worked. However, repeated mistakes in key areas started to overpower my stubbornness and convince me otherwise. These factors are:
- What it takes to earn a customer now
- The new criteria of the transaction/agreement
- How the expectations have changed the relationship
- What makes a customer loyal now
In running my own business, I have found that taking the unconventional path has led to a lot more success. Doing content strategy has taught me how to embrace the counterintuitive, and I produced a 16-part series of podcasts called What Content Strategy Teaches You About Business.
Now, I know that not everyone listens to podcasts, so I wanted to collect up these episodes in one place so that they are convenient to consume. I hope that I’ve made it easy for you to selectively pick the topics that interest you – or skip the ones that don’t.
Let’s get started with the most important factor in any business relationship – trust.
Trust Comes Before a Transaction
Conventional sales “wisdom” says to ask for the sale early and often. With today’s consumers, it turns out that the opposite is true. Exhibiting a little patience and providing a lot of upfront value gets you away from the icky parts of self-promotion – and it’s more effective too.
Consumer behavior has changed, and customer expectations are a lot higher. You now have to earn a significant amount of trust before you can ask for the transaction.
Ask too early, and you can actually do damage. Then you’re working from a deficit of trust, and it’s hard to recover from that. The only solution in establishing trust is to consistently deliver value to your audience until you earn enough trust to ask for the sale.
This episode examines the importance of trust in the transaction:
- Why Do We Need Trust?
- The Parameters of Trust
- How to Build Trust
- How to Measure Trust
- The Difference Between Selling and Sharing
Earning Customer Loyalty Is an Organic Process
There’s nothing better than a loyal customer. You get validation of your business, a reliable revenue stream, and you might even benefit from word-of-mouth marketing – the most powerful driver of new business.
It should go without saying, but loyalty has to be earned – it’s not something you can force upon your customers. Unfortunately, that’s not what you see out there in the business world. Companies use a variety of methods to lock you in – via the contract or fine print, the EULA or terms of service, or even in the user interface itself (such as offering no unsubscribe button). In effect, they are holding you there against your will.
These cheap, short-term tactics may guarantee today’s revenue, but they will never add up to tomorrow’s loyalty. If I’m not free to go, what does that say about you? This sends a clear message to your customers – that you don’t believe enough in your product. If it was a good product or a good service, I would stay because I want to, not because you’re forcing me.
It’s Not About What You Get – But What You Give Instead
Everything in business is an exchange of value, whether you are pricing a product or pricing services. If both sides feel like they’re getting a good value, then the transaction works. That’s a good exchange of value.
If your business is a service business, conventional wisdom says to use project rate rather than hourly rate. My opinion: Project rate is not good for the client.
However, it requires a few important principles to make sure that the exchange of value works – for both sides. Here’s a more detailed explanation of the pros and cons of hourly rate, and how to engineer an exchange of value that works for both sides.
How to Make Contracts Low-Risk and High-Upside for the Customer
Contracts are often the first formal communication we have with a client or customer. It’s your opportunity to set the tone for the relationship, and the way your contracts are written will reveal your intent.
Establish trust early, and it takes the edge off the stress of a new business relationship. Start from a deficit, and you’ll never get the benefit of the doubt.
In my business, I try to put my clients’ minds at ease at the contract stage. Therefore, the way I view contracts is a little different than what I learned from my days as an acquisition editor in the publishing industry. Instead of a “letter of the law” approach, I tend to be more lenient – especially when it comes to the termination clause. There are two parts to it:
- Signing a contract is often a big commitment for a client, and I want them to feel like the investment is low-risk.
- I don’t want to trap a client in relationship that’s not working – no matter what our contract says.
Here’s my counterintuitive approach to writing a contract that is clear and simple, fair to both sides, and starts from a point of mutual trust.
Why I Don’t Sign NDAs and Why You Shouldn’t Either
At the beginning of a business relationship, you might get asked to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (also known as an NDA). These are very standard, especially in the startup world. Someone has a new idea, and is trying to capitalize on that idea. They don’t want someone to come along and swipe the idea and run with it. Sounds reasonable, right?
It may seem counterintuitive, but the NDA request is always a red flag to me. Asking for one shows a lack of confidence in your ability to execute – and sends a mixed message as well:
- “I value your opinion enough to ask for it.”
- “But I don’t trust you not to steal my idea.”
Obscurity is the enemy, not “stolen” ideas. New ideas are a dime a dozen, it’s always the execution that counts. Getting all protective isn’t going to buy you enough time to execute.
Let’s take a deeper look at non-disclosure agreements – pros and cons. And if you’ll suspend disbelief for about 15 minutes, I’ll make my case against them – both from a relationship standpoint and a practical standpoint.
The Customer Is in Control
As a consumer, I like the fact that customers have more power now. As a small business owner, I feel the same way. I’m always urging my clients to try to see it from the “other side of the table” so that they can try to understand where the customer is coming from. Before we close, let’s do two simple exercises so you can seen what I mean.
Exercise 1: You as a Customer
How do you behave as a consumer? What’s your evaluation process for a new product or service? Looking at your own process can offer some insight into how you present your offer to your customers and prospective customers.
Exercise 2: Me as a Customer
Before a purchase, your prospective customers are going to research you, read reviews, and ask their friends about you. They’re going to make determinations about you – even before the first “touch.” Are you set up to influence the process?
To Learn More / Go Further
What Content Strategy Teaches You About Business (Podcast)
This post was based on a 16-part podcast series called What Content Strategy Teaches You About Business: Counterintuitive Lessons from Mentors and Mistakes. Here are the links for your convenience:
How to Start a Business: A Case Example (Free Online Course)
Starting a business is difficult – there’s so much to learn, and the challenges that you and your business will face are as unique as your own fingerprints. It will be up to you to chart your own path. But it helps to have a map. That’s why I created a free online course on how to start a business, taking you through my process as I built my own company, Control Mouse Media, LLC.
In 8 video lessons, we go from a standing start on Day 1, and take you through all the major milestones of success and failure in the first 18 months or so. The course is free – register here:
Also published on Medium.