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Attention spans are never what they used to be, ranging from just 20 minutes to 2 seconds—enough time to read that sentence. Consider the paradox of choice, and it’s no wonder there’s so much indecision. One of my favorite pieces of research on this topic is the Jam experiment. Shoppers were offered a display of 24 different types of jam, which seemed like a great way to satisfy everyone’s taste buds. But when offered just six options, shoppers were 10 times more likely to buy the jam. The abundance of options attracted attention but hindered decision-making.
This does not mean that companies should opt out. This can also be a problem, as customers often research before making decisions. They know there are other options, so quickly removing too many can make them question your recommendations. In general, the companies that win are those in which teams play more advisory roles in the relationship—the relationship is not about driving a sale but enabling decision-making.
As a customer, I definitely prefer engaging in conversations about my challenges and goals but I also want someone to advise me, not up-sell me on certain products or services. Whether B2B or B2C, customers want companies to tell them which direction to take and how to get there. This can only happen once trust is built on the basis of humility, empathy, and kindness. It’s all about becoming a definite expert at what you do.
Of course, there is a learning curve. You must first become a student of your field – or at least give advice from an enlightened position. Allowing yourself to be a sponge because you are exposed to everything related to the industry will better equip you to share your cultured viewpoint. Clients are looking for advisors, and the following can help you in helping them make better decisions:
Related: 3 Simple Ways to Use Trust and Transparency to Boost Your Business’ Long-Term Success
1. Choose to believe you are an expert
Most people have more experience than they give themselves credit for, regardless of their role. Let’s say you are a project manager. This role has exposed you to different projects for different departments and stakeholders of different companies or industries. This experience provides a unique perspective to clients.
If you need reassurance, write down what you’ve worked on over the years (tasks, projects, clients, etc.). Think about the hours you spent working on proposals, speaking with clients, planning implementations, and managing projects. Seeing what you know will increase your confidence in giving advice and faith in what you have to offer. This confidence will improve your overall business performance. In fact, 98% of workers surveyed by Indeed said they performed better when they felt confident. While clients may have the final say, this does not detract from your expertise. Start to recognize — and cherish — what you bring to the table.
2. Be a real and active listener
If you want to take on a more advisory role, you need to understand the client’s situation before making recommendations. It requires active listening. Consider an example when you started running and went to the store to get a pair of running shoes. The options seemed endless. The sales person could read the uncertainty on my face, so he approached me with one question: “Are you new to running?” I nodded, and he asked a series of additional questions—some of which had never crossed my mind. He even asked me to run to see how my feet hit the ground. All of this information helped him narrow down my selections to three running shoes.
What he did applies to the interactions you might have with a client. Not only do you listen to the customer’s answers, but you also observe how they respond to what you ask. Research has shown that communication is 55% non-verbal, 38% vocal, and only 7% words. So, ask questions, look at the customer’s reactions, listen to their answers and follow up with more questions. Then, when you make a recommendation, the client knows it’s based on a true understanding of their situation.
Related: The art of active listening requires leaving your ego behind
3. Don’t be afraid to make recommendations
Making recommendations to clients is one thing. Telling them what to do is another matter, as it may force them to make a decision. This is not to say that your background does not bring an understanding of what fits their needs best. But, as a consultant, you want to keep clients in the driving seat. So, give multiple options to choose from. You can do this in the form of a question, such as “What about x?” or an affirmation, such as “Maybe we can try Y.”
If they ask for your opinion, feel free to give your opinion. This shows how well you have established yourself as a consultant. Tell them what you would do if you were in their situation. If necessary, point them in the best direction, suggest it as a suggestion and give your input on the value of this option. Just make sure that the final decision is in their hands.
Relevant: Use these 5 hacks to instantly build rapport with your customers
4. Outline the plan
While signing the contract may be the last step in the process for you, it is the first step for your client. I’m a big fan of high-level timelines, because they put some form and objectivity around critical steps. But don’t make the mistake of putting a signed contract at the end of the schedule. Share some of the key steps that will happen after the project is approved, so that the client understands that these steps cannot happen until an agreement or proposal is approved.
A timeline like this takes the pressure off you to “close the deal” and puts more of the burden on the customer to get approval, so you can move forward with the initiative, and the customer can start to see the value.
Taking on an advisory role puts the client front of mind, where they should be. It is about remembering your role in the relationship. Use your background to provide options, and let your recommendations guide the direction to make better–and faster–decisions.