Client Service Lessons That Can Help Move Any Deal Forward
In 2014, I joined AlphaSights right out of college as a client service associate, a demanding yet rewarding role. My job was to understand my clients’ unique needs and knowledge gaps, and then identify experts with highly specific knowledge to fill those gaps.
With close mentorship and early client-facing responsibility, I spent four years learning an arsenal of skills and best practices that made me effective in serving my clients and generating revenue for the business. After growing and training a new client service team, I decided to move into a sales role, bringing AlphaSights’ services to F1000 corporations. In my new role, I quickly discovered that the lessons learned in client service were highly valuable in sales.
There’s an initial temptation in a client service role to prematurely prescribe a preferred solution to your client. After all, you were likely solicited to solve their problem and you’re chock full of ideas based on similar situations in the past. Everybody likes to have the answers! However, each problem is unique and rich with context. Failing to understand these nuances can lead to less than optimal solutions.
The most valuable reading I’ve come across in my career is Stephen Covey’s, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He says, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.” My takeaway: for my clients to have the best outcomes, I needed to first listen and understand the why behind their requests and circumstances. Why are they coming to me today? What challenges are they currently facing? Why do they need this favor? It sounds easy, but a critical skill I learned in client service was listening.
It sounds easy, but a critical skill I learned in client service was listening.
There’s a misconception that selling is synonymous with talking (we can thank the infomercial industry for this!). However, the more conversations I had with potential clients, the more I realized that talking about AlphaSights as the perfect solution prevented me from understanding the potential client’s problem. Furthermore, it prevented the client from understanding if they had a problem in the first place! The solution in sales, much like the world of client service, is to listen. The ability to listen and truly understand your clients’ perspectives and problems will allow you to understand if you’re a good fit for them and if so, illuminate a solution that is as relevant and helpful as possible.
A client-first mindset is at the core of AlphaSights’ culture, training, business strategy — and its success. It was something I noticed on day one at AlphaSights, along with the positive outcomes it generates for clients. When I prioritized my clients’ problems, needs, and outcomes over my own or AlphaSights’, I was able to deliver the most valuable service and they became loyal customers.
In a competitive market where people are vying for your clients’ time, the desire and ability to truly act in your clients’ best interests can be your biggest differentiator.
In sales, treating prospects with a client-first mentality yields similar results. I approach any new conversation with a client-first mindset and a position of trying to help — not sell. Providing the most advantageous solution for your prospect, even if failing to maximize your benefit, will also help develop loyalty. Taking the extra time to speak with a potential customer, helping coach them through difficult procurement discussions, or being available as a resource at off-hours will allow them to see that you have their best interest in mind. Of course, there are limitations to what a sales executive can offer, and a client-first mentality does not translate to giving a prospect whatever they want. Rather, it means that prioritizing the prospect’s experience and personal benefits will help drive positive outcomes in your sales process.
Building trust and rapport
Client service has the potential to be highly transactional. However, to achieve the best outcomes for my clients, I needed to break down any natural barriers and develop a rapport with my clients to build trust — a prerequisite to any productive client service relationship. With that foundation built, my clients would easily open up about the details of their problems, and subsequently implement any recommendations. Over time, I began to prioritize this component of client service, and have since developed long-term, mutually beneficial professional relationships.
Similarly, the ability to develop rapport and trust with a buyer can help in the sales process. Buyers are naturally guarded and can be hesitant of sales professionals when they’re evaluating solutions. This is why we often shy away from the sales associate in a store, even when we’re looking to buy something. Buyers can be reluctant to share information with a stranger and are skeptical that you have their best interest in mind. Connecting with your buyer on a personal level will dissolve some of these natural barriers. A personal connection will inevitably put them at ease and allow them to open up about their goals and challenges. I try to find common ground at an early stage and have a personal conversation before diving into anything related to AlphaSights. Doing so creates a spark of trust that can fuel the rest of the relationship.
The lessons I learned in client service helped me avoid and overcome some of the most common hurdles in the sales process, and most importantly, progress deals forward. Since implementing these client service principles into my sales process, I’ve seen increased levels of trust, engagement, and productive dialogue from potential clients, and subsequently better outcomes for both parties. As long as you can embody these principles, you won’t need a background in client service to be successful in a commercially focused role.
Ethan Wolf joined AlphaSights in August of 2014 and served as a Client Development Executive on our corporate accounts.