We often talk about “bringing value to clients” and helping them “address their needs” rather than just selling them a product or service. But what does that really mean?

“They need the product I’m selling, so isn’t that filling the need?”

Well, sort of. That’s part of the need. But why do they really need the product in the first place? In the case of employee benefits, it’s because they have employees, and they want to attract and retain top-quality employees to help them run a successful business. When looking at it from that perspective, you can begin to ask the questions that will take you beyond the product sale. “What else do they need in order to attract & retain those employees?”

I’ve included a real-life example of how this approach might work. It’s not about employee benefits, but I’m hoping it helps paint a picture of how a product vendor can become a valuable partner in helping shape and improve business operations.

My former business partner & I owned and ran a local off-site creative meeting facility, and providing lunch was one of our services. Our goal was to make meetings easy and productive for the client. Which meant taking a bulk of the work away from the client – like having to worry about menus (because we all know that food is a critical part of a meeting!). We handled most of the food details and wowed attendees with great snacks & meals.

When we first opened, we worked with a handful of different restaurants and caterers, and logistically it was complicated and took a lot of time.

As we started holding more meetings, it became apparent what our food strategy really needed to be, and none of our current providers were preparing and delivering food in the way we wanted. So we started asking for special preparations. There was one restaurant in town that was able to do everything we wanted, and they did it well, so we began relying on them more and more.

One day they called and invited us to a meeting with their owners and the catering managers. They outlined what they perceived our needs to be and told us they wanted to make the food logistics as easy as possible for us. They offered some suggestions on how we might do that, which opened the door to a great discussion-turned-planning session.

From that meeting, we modified and streamlined the ways we ordered food, and they modified and streamlined the ways they prepared, packed, and delivered the food.

The result?

We ordered almost exclusively from them for all of our meetings. We also started calling them before booking special events to ask them for suggestions, rather than calling them afterward to let them know we needed to place an order.

There were other restaurants that would call us and ask if there were any upcoming meetings for which we might need catering. These calls were really about more sales for themselves, thinly disguised as an interest in helping us.

Yes, our primary restaurant was also interested in increasing their business with us, but the critical difference was in how they approached us:

They didn’t ask if we had more meetings they could cater, they asked, “How can we make your life easier and your events better?”

They genuinely discussed ideas and options and then went to work to make it happen. Instead of telling us what their procedures were and how we would need to modify our business model to fit theirs, they actually adapted their own internal processes to accommodate our needs!

They earned our trust and gained our business. And all clients that came through our facility and raved about the food also knew whom to credit for the delicious meals - we were raving fans and were sure to let everyone know!

When you take the time to think about a client or prospect, spend the time wondering “How can I help make their jobs easier? Improve their processes? Make their business better? Help them achieve their vision?” If you understand their business model and you’ve got some ideas that might help them improve productivity, profitability, or company vision and goals, then you’ve got a great reason to ask for a meeting.


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Photo by fizkes