Working Backward From the Client Experience

Joe Mechlinski
August 27, 2012 — 1,117 views  

Whether facing an environment of economic decline or recovery, Partner companies must constantly reinvent. As the leader of your organization, you must continually find new ways to differentiate your company from the competition.

After all, when you get right down to it, what separates you from the next Microsoft Partner? You all sell services. You all sell software. You all have a “customer-centric” approach to growing your business. What’s the difference?

According to the most successful sales organizations, it all comes down to your approach to the client. Having a customer-centric approach is one thing. Having a “client-experience” approach is quite another. Know the difference, and you will be in a position to lead your team to greater levels of sales achievement.

Client-Experience Versus Customer-Centric

The difference between client-experience and customer-centric is simple. The client-experience approach requires that you design the engagement with the ultimate outcome in mind, and then work backward to achieve it.

By contrast, the customer-centric approach is about working forward toward a goal of surrounding your customer with attention. Ironically, the customer-centric approach is not actually about the customer. It’s about the salesperson and what the salesperson needs to do to surround the customer.

To reach growth goals, Partners must adopt the client-experience approach.

A New Way of Thinking

To understand this key point, let me tell you a story of a mountain climb.

A few years back, I had the opportunity to join an expedition to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

Now, Kilimanjaro is not the tallest peak in the world. It’s the seventh tallest. Nor is it what is termed a “technical” climb. However, it is an extremely challenging climb for a city kid who had never even camped before. For me, the expedition pushed my physical, mental, and emotional limits like nothing I’d ever known before.

Working Backward

To keep me and the other climbers mentally focused, our guide encouraged us to use our imagination to picture the ultimate experience as though we’d already accomplished it. With that picture in our mind, we were encouraged to “work backward” from the goal.

“Imagine you’ve climbed and reached the summit,” he told us during the climb.  “Imagine what that experience will look like and feel like. Can you picture the view, the exhilaration you will feel? Can you feel the wind in your face and the sun in your eyes? Can you taste the sweetness of the thin mountain air?”I was there, in my mind. I could picture it. I could feel it. I could taste it.

The instructor went on, “You’re feeling the experience of success. Now, work back from it. What do you need to do at this moment that will lead you to the experience you are imagining?

Peak Sales Performance

Delivering a remarkable experience for your clients can be a lot like climbing a mountain.

As with sales, climbing a mountain requires a plan. It takes hard work. It takes strength of personality and courage and teamwork. But it also takes something unusual, even extraordinary. It takes a special kind of mental attitude about the experience.

We call this the experience mindset. Rather than allowing us to focus on our exhaustion, fear, and doubt, our guide put us in the state of having already reached the summit

mentally, well before we ever got there physically. He had us looking back, so to speak, on our current actions from the perspective of already having achieved our goals – before we ever actually did.

It worked. During the climb, I kept thinking, “Since I can imagine that I’ve already made it to the top, I can imagine what it looks like, feels like, smells like, and sounds like.  Everything I am doing now will help me enjoy the experience that I know is waiting for me.” And I did it. I reached the top. I achieved my goal.

Be Different: Be a Peak Performer

The same holds true when taking your company’s sales performance to the peak. Effective selling can be thought of as an activity – or series of activities – that leads to the best possible experience for your client, one that is exhilarating for both of you.

This means thinking from the client’s point of view, not the seller’s. It means envisioning the successful outcome – the peak – and working backward from there.

Creating a Client-Experience Sales Organization

To develop a client-experience approach, start by asking yourself:

- How do we design a sales process that centers upon the client’s buying experience?
- How can we move our prospects and clients through the sales process without making them feel like they are being “sold”?
- How can we stay connected to our prospects and clients in a meaningful way?

As with any new adventure, the answers bring up more questions. Many Partners, for example, are very comfortable with the traditional “solution selling” method of sales.  How does the client-experience approach mesh with the solution selling method?

The Problem with Solution Selling

Solution selling is a highly effective methodology, in most cases, because it focuses on the buyer’s pain. The problem is that it is centered on the seller who tries to move the buyer through a series of steps that are seller-centric.

What about a client’s experience? How do you want the client to feel about the experience? What view do you want him/her to have? How will the air taste to him/her? 

For some Partners, this point of view requires a radical shift. If we stop thinking about the

surrounding the client, they ask, how do we sell to him/her?

Working Backward From the Sale

There are specifi c steps to creating the client experience during the sales process. As with the mountain climb, envision the end game, the experience you want the client to have, and work backward to understand what you need to do to reach that outcome, based on where the client is on the mountain.

We have reduced the solution selling process to its core components and converted it into

a client-experience process. h ese steps will help your sales team to maintain a client-experience perspective to the point where, ideally, the client has no awareness of the process.

The simplified client-experience sales process looks like this:

Stages Of The Client-Experience

SUSPECT. Every Partner suspects there is more business out there that we are not capturing. Start with the end in mind and work backward. There are companies with pain that you can solve. Looking at it from the client experience, envision what it will look like and how they will feel when their pain is resolved. Holding this image, conduct an analysis of your current accounts to determine who your ideal SUSPECT audience is.  Then design a thoughtful lead generation program to attract the clients to the experience you are picturing.

RAW PROSPECT. The experience begins when we have a RAW prospect. A RAW prospect is defined as a decision-maker who is interested and has a timeframe. Define them as “RAW” prospects because – from their perspective – they are new to the experience and are highly sensitive. They don’t know where they are in the experience with you. But you know. You’re holding the vision. Soon, they will, too.

SMART PROSPECT. A buyer is SMART when they feel we understand their ultimate or “end” goals. So many times, salespeople can comprehend the “means” needs – as in the means to the end – but not the big picture. Once your salespeople have a decision-maker who is interested, they can start to connect with that person’s ultimate mission or vision. Does it line up with our ultimate vision for the client experience? It’s okay if the answer is no. Not every prospect will become a client. To fi nd those who will convert, have your salespeople ask questions that uncover the buyer’s goal in terms that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Recorded (meaning, you write them down), and within a Timeframe. When the buyer can “hold a vision of the solution” (in the words of Mike Bosworth’s Solution Selling process), and that vision is a match to your vision for the client experience, there is a much higher likelihood that the vision will come true.

PROPOSAL PROSPECT. The buyer feels he/she is ready for a proposal when the salesperson has listened and can describe back to the buyer the experience that the buyer wants. Working backward, the salesperson designs the steps that lead to that experience, in the form of a proposal or statement of work.

CLIENT. The client becomes a client when the next logical step for achieving the experience they want is to give you a signature and a payment. Now, it’s up to you to deliver on the promist.

REPEAT CLIENT. When a client gives us repeat business, this is proof that our clients and our company have a shared vision of the ideal client experience. Anything less and they would not repeat the experience. So celebrate your repeat clients. Focus your team on how they can continue to overservice the client from his/her point of view, and always remember who the experience is designed to please: the client.

Onward, to the Summit

Similar to climbing a mountain or tackling any significant challenge, the key to having a client-experience approach is doing it. You have to be willing to devote the resources, time, and energy it takes to serve the client. If you are committed to the client experience, it is inevitable that you will lead your team – and the client – to the zenith of their success. 

Joe Mechlinski

entreQuest, Inc.

Joe is the award-winning co-founder and CEO of entreQuest, Inc., a Baltimore consulting firm that has helped hundreds of companies prosper through some of the worst economic times in American history.