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Building Distinctive Relationships for Competitive Advantage
Harvy Simkovits, CMC — Published in Boston Business Journal 1/26/02

Every small business needs to think about the tangible or intangible products it offers, the services it provides (before, during and after delivery of its product), and the relationships it builds with its customers. Usually, a company’s products and services get the most attention as sources of competitive advantage, with your business working to make them unique or distinctive in the marketplace. However, the "relationship" component is most often underutilized as a method by which a small business can gain and hold onto its clientele in a competitive marketplace, and win over its larger competitors.

Recently a wealthy business-owner interviewed seven well-recommended financial planners and managers (from large companies to smaller "boutique" businesses) for the purpose of placing his money in sound hands. All their firms were well established and successful, and offered proven methodologies in managing this businessman’s financial assets.

Unfortunately, the business owner was dismayed at how ineffective most of the seven firms were at focusing attention on his needs, and facilitating what was truly important to him. Nearly all missed opportunities to "peel away the onion" and get to the core of what was truly valuable to this prospect. And, without knowing that information, how could they possibly position their products and services in ways that provided high-value to that business owner?

Here are some of the ways that the successful financial planner/manager (who was a smaller provider) managed the relationship with this business owner, which led to them winning his business over their much larger competitors:

  1. Focusing Attention on the Prospective Client from the Get Go — The winning representative came to the initial sales meeting with a pen and pad of paper, and after some rapport-building and sharing some information about their firm, asked many good questions about the prospect’s money-management needs. Most of the other representatives spent most of the time talking about themselves, selling their financial products and services and approach, hardly asking any questions about what the business owner really desired.
  2. Matching Their Style of Conversation to the Client’s Personal Style — The business owner’s pace of conversation tends to be slow and methodical. Realizing that, the winning planner/manager accordingly matched his conversational style. Even under time pressure at the end of the meeting, the representative stayed slow and steady in his approach. All the other candidates raced to push out as much information as they could in the short time that they had available (seemingly wanting to impress the businessman with all they knew and all that their firm had available). The winning representative did not try to get everything said, but continued to focus on what their prospect needed to hear.
  3. Asking Powerful Questions about the Client’s Needs — The successful representative asked simple and profound questions (like "What’s important to you in the ways your money gets managed and used?" "What has been your past experience with financial planners and managers?" and "How do you plan or expect to use your assets in the future?). These questions got the prospective client to reveal much important information about his financial needs and objectives. This also resulted in much dialogue throughout the initial meeting, in contrast to the monologues with the other representatives. In addition, this representative’s focus was not on the business owner’s financial assets per se, but on their own relationship with their assets, which is a more profound way of looking at things.
  4. Using a Second Meeting to Align with The Client’s Objectives — After a successful initial meeting, the winning financial planner/manager suggested a second meeting to be able to fully respond to the prospect’s revealed wants and needs. Having felt well heard and understood, he immediately granted that request. The winning candidate then spent the whole second meeting addressing the businessman’s specific needs and objectives, gaining acknowledgement on every point before moving onto the next point. The representative did not present everything he and his firm could do as planners/managers, as the unsuccessful firms did, but narrowed in on the specific wants and desires of the prospect.
  5. Making a Request to Continue the Process and Conversation without the Need for a Full Commitment — The chosen firm proposed that the prospect start the asset analysis and planning process with them without transferring any monies for the time being. Only when the business owner was satisfied with the analysis and approach would he need to put his assets in the planner/manager’s hands. This willingness to take a risk for the prospect’s business, spending time sharing know-how before asking for a full commitment, demonstrated the planner/manager’s self-confidence in their own abilities, as well as their analysis and planning process.

It was particularly interesting to hear each money-manager candidate speak about his or her customized, client-centered approach, while only the winning representative truly demonstrated it with his consultative behavior from the onset.

Many businesses can learn from the winning approach for building distinctive, high-value customer relationships — a way to gain more business with little additional selling costs to their firm.

Harvy Simkovits, CMC, President of Business Wisdom, works with owner managed companies to help them grow, prosper and continue on by offering innovative approaches to business development, company management, organization leadership and learning, and management education. He can be reached at 781-862-3983 or .

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