Being curious about customers without having a “sales” agenda

October 9th, 2013
Written by: Dana Papke

When I started at TPO in 2012, as any good CEO would do, I began quickly immersing myself in the company’s operations and in understanding the market–basically bottom and top lines respectively. For the latter, we decided to interview some of our customers and other contacts. We wanted to find out, of course, how TPO is doing, but as importantly, we wanted to talk about their business priorities and drivers and understand current perceptions of HR firms in general and even HR as a discipline overall.

We learned some very important and useful things that have helped us crystallize our positioning in the market. We also found some interesting dynamics in these meetings. 

  • When a vendor asks for a meeting, there can be an almost automatic assumption that we are there to sell something–or that we have some agenda like asking for referrals or a case study. Yes, we would always gladly accept referrals and love to have a case study for every one of our clients. But we were really there to listen.
  • People assume we are there to talk about the nuts and bolts of HR–they’re ready to answer questions like “How are we doing on processes, paperwork and benefits?” It would sometimes actually take several minutes of dialogue before we could clarify that we are asking about their business priorities, not HR activities.

The point of these two observations is that you may be in a “box” (or two) without realizing it. If you ask for a meeting, are you perceived as focused on “selling” only “what you offer”? Or as being curious about their business priorities above and beyond the service you provide?

By focusing on the latter, we gained tremendous insights that will shape the future of our business for years to come. More on that in a future blog post.

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