Good service is key to retaining your customers. But good service alone won’t stop them from going to the competition. Your customers want someone who understands their goals and challenges. Someone who can help them with the problems they're facing.

For example, I was asked to speak to a sales team about getting access to key decision makers at various companies. So, I asked for one of these problem accounts and researched the owner. I discovered he was passionate about keeping his business environmentally friendly. Using that information as my purpose for calling, I finally got him on the phone. As he explained the unique environmental programs they were facing, I introduced him to the sales rep that could offer solutions in line with his goals. That introduction resulted in over $50,000 worth of business for the rep by simply identifying how their service helps customers grow their business.

People don't care how much you know until they see how much you care...about their business.  Forget about what you're selling and focus on what the customer is selling. 

Here are three ways to identify customer problems, and turn them into opportunities for you to showcase your problem-solving skills:

1.  Questions are the answer. I'm always asking my customers, "What are the biggest challenges in growing your business?" or  "What are your top three goals for this year?" It helps me target their key activities and concerns and better understand their priorities. By identifying these goals I can tailor my services to support their long-term success and keep our relationship strong.

For example, one of my customers has a product that is more expensive than their competitors. They feel the value they provide in quality, service response time, and the relationships they have built with sales representatives offset the difference in price. But sometimes that’s just not enough. So I started interviewing a variety of their customers asking them why they paid more and what they received in value that made the difference. Their enthusiasm and examples of how the product made their life easier not only fired up the sales team, but was used in presentations as an audio testimonial to close deals. 

A customer’s problem is an opportunity for you to retain a relationship. Customers will leave because they feel you don’t care—that you're indifferent to their business. Here's a question to ask: "Is there anything I'm not doing that I could be doing to serve you better?"

2.  Go deep. The more you learn about your customer, their customers, and their business, the more you will understand how you can impact their bottom line. I read industry newsletters and go online to read articles about the company and what their competition is doing. When you can speak their language and understand their situation better than some of their own employees, your relationship goes to a higher level.  

Anytime you find valuable information, articles, links...send them to your customer and let them know you read up on their industry and look for ways to provide ongoing support and new ideas.  Just a simple note ("Thought you would like to see this.") shows you do your homework and go a step further than your competition.

3.  Take a tour. Last week, I was working with one of my clients and we decided to take a tour of one of their prospect’s locations before presenting our ideas and solutions to corporate.

By speaking with the store manager, we found they had more problems than we anticipated. This helped us create a much more powerful, customized presentation and present solutions to relevant problems. It also helps to see the environment where your product will end up and really understand the layout of their office space.  Remember the map is not the territory until you put your feet on the street.