By Durand Vadnais
We’ve all been hearing a lot about “strategic conversations” lately. It’s a nice sounding buzz phrase, but what does it actually mean when it comes to customer success?
Strategy vs. Tactics
A strategic conversation is about why, rather than the how of tactical conversations. Tactical conversations are about product or service features; strategic conversations are about how your product or service will impact your customer’s business in the medium and long term.
Executed correctly, strategic conversations are outstanding opportunities to gain customers’ trust. Talking about what’s going to happen down the road (and leveraging examples from your own experience) demonstrates to customers that you’re in it for the long haul and not just looking to fix today’s problem and move on.
What does a strategic conversation look like?
It’s essential for CSMs and their managers to be on the same page when it comes to understanding the nature of strategic conversations. If you’re not sure what the term means to your manager, I recommend discussing it thoroughly.
A good place to start is taking the time to define the characteristics of a strategic conversation. Typically, strategic conversations are all about the customer. They move toward the customer’s goals and incorporate the ways your company’s products and services can help achieve those goals. They build trust with customers by demonstrating your commitment to their long-term success.
At first, moving toward strategic conversations will feel different from the tactical conversations you’re probably used to. Tactical conversations focus on today’s problems and immediate needs rather than longer-term opportunities and goals.
The goal is to move beyond responding reactively to the customer’s immediate needs to help them plan proactively how they can achieve their intermediate and long-term goals more effectively. This can sometimes be a challenge if the immediate needs are urgent, or involve meeting the basic requirements of the relationship. A splendid mentor of mine, Kelly Grey @ Bazaarvoice, recommends having two parallel paths – time for tactical conversations, and time dedicated to strategy. That means an agenda that both addresses any short-term “fire-drills” and then clearly allows for exploring the customer’s longer-term needs to figure out how your product or service can add value.
In a nutshell, think about where the customer wants to go rather than how they plan to get there. It’s essential to understand the former if you want to be an essential part of the latter in the long term. Executed correctly, showing this level of interest in the customer’s business can generate significant rewards, creating loyalty and advocacy for years to come instead of just scoring this quarter’s big win.