Over the past three years, business growth has been hard to come by as clients are looking at their expenditure trying to work miracles with the budgets that they have.

This may be in the past. There is some extreme optimism floating around the global markets and it looks like South Africa is opening its doors to foreign direct investment and economic growth.

So, how do companies grow their businesses. Are the rules still the same or has the game changed so dramatically that the playing field is unrecognisable?

I recently read two important articles on the topic. The first involves understanding your client and the second involves anticipating the needs of your client before they verbalise them.

An issue of understanding

Understanding clients is the Shangri-La (or Nirvana) that every company seeks. Just as a happy wife makes a happy life, a happy client makes good business sense.

How do companies achieve this? A recent article on smallbiztrends.com discussed this in detail.

  • Active listening. How much of the problem of understanding clients is rooted in the fact that you may not be retaining the information your client is already giving you? In many cases, the problem lies not with our failure to get the prospect to talk, it’s with our failure to actively listen to what the prospect is saying. Active listening is not easy. It takes effective persuaders a long time to master this skill. However, once you become a good listener, you will get the information you need much easier;
  • Build a rapport. Clients do not want product pushers. They are looking for companies who are genuinely concerned about their needs. They are also looking for companies who they can talk to and engage with; and
  • Use Humor. Humor is one of the most effective tools when it comes to getting your prospect to let his guard down. Not only does it allow you to set the tone for the rest of the interaction, the positive emotions it brings out will instantly endear you to your prospect.

Develop it further

While there are a lot of companies in the world who do not see their clients as just another pay-cheque, there are those who vehemently hold onto this maxim. The article adds that if companies want to be successful, they need to change their point of view.

  • What is your clients vision? One of the best ways to understand your clients is to find out what their vision is. Try to find out where they want to be and what they are hoping to accomplish. If it is a business to business client, where are they trying to take their business? What goals have they set for its growth? If it is a business to consumer client, find out what they might hope to achieve with your product or service. What are their goals? It is easy to focus only on what the client might need in the present; this is a mistake. You need to find out where they want to be, and what’s keeping them from getting there. This is what will enable you to help them; and
  • Find Out Their why. As entrepreneurs, we always want to focus on our purpose. After all, building a successful brand means figuring what your company’s purpose is. If you’re trying to better understand your customer, why not find out what their purpose is? What do they stand for beyond consuming your product or service? This may seem like something that’s only applicable for business customers, but it can also apply to consumers as well.

Anticipation…anticipation…anticipation

One of the other ways to grow your business beyond its current capacity is to anticipate the needs of your clients.

Yes, this can potentially be a tricky and arduous task because you cannot get into the heads of clients to find out what they want. Alternatively, you not have to have a post graduate degree in understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs either. I recently read an article on inc.com that explains how to anticipate the needs of clients.

To get close to this more demanding client, you really need to get inside his or her head. Here are five ways to do that:

  • Stand in your customer’s shoes. Look beyond your core business and understand your customer’s full range of choices, as well as his or her ecosystem of suppliers, partners. This exercise will also deepen your understanding of competitors and help you better anticipate their moves;
  • Staple yourself to a customer’s order. Track key customers’ experiences as they traverse your company’s pathways and note where the experience breaks down. Some hospitals ask interns to experience the check-in process as fake patients. One client asked managers to listen in on its call centre. If you can’t exactly put yourself through a customer experience, try role-playing exercises at all points of the customer’s experience with your company;
  • Field diverse customer teams. One bank added members of the back-office support group to its customer team, supplementing the usual customer-facing roles. IBM sends senior teams from different disciplines into the field to meet customers and develop a deep understanding of how to serve them better;
  • Learn together with customers. General Electric (GE) invited its top customers in China, along with local executives and account managers, to a seminar on leadership and innovation. Doing so not only helped GE executives better understand the mindset of Chinese counterparts; it also helped them to influence that mindset; and
  • Lean forward and anticipate. Focus on what customers will want tomorrow, as Steve Jobs and Richard Branson did so exquisitely. Try to envision different futures through tools like scenario planning and then explore how underlying market shifts may affect your customers.

Walking the business/consumption journey with clients is not a new age coping mechanism that companies have just dreamt up. It is something that has been focused on in the past but has possibly not received the attention that it should have.

It all makes sense when we think about it. However, sometimes companies need to have these issues pointed out to them as they are too involved with other matters to put two and two together to make four. We sometimes over complicate our lives.