My eldest son is in the process of buying a car, his first car. He knows his budget (£6,0000. He knows the make and model of the car (Ford Fiesta). Given this he knows that he will buy a used car – couple of years old. His goal is to have this car in place by the end of this month. His challenge is that he has never bought a car before.
What comes with this goal and challenge? Concern. What is he concerned about? He is concerned that he will get it wrong: that he will buy the wrong car – it is not sound; and or that he will pay too much for the car. What does he want? He wants help: he wants someone he can count on, who has his best interests at heart, to take the problem off his hands. So he turned to me.
I have no experience in buying cars. My youngest brother is into cars, has bought-sold many cars, and so I have used his services. So when my son asked me for help, I found myself telling him that I was not in a position to help him. This was his reply:
“You’re not any help, are you!”
It is the way that he said this that got my attention. It was a voice of mild anger and strong disappointment. Why? Is relationship missing? No, we have a strong relationship and this has been the case since his birth. Is engagement missing? No, we are engaged in each others lives – sometimes more than I’d like it to be and other times less than I’d like it to be.
Reflecting on that which occurred it hit me that we value those who show up as useful to us given our circumstances and the ‘projects’ we are grappling with. Put differently, if you show up as useful to me then I am open to entering into a conversation with you. And through a series of conversations-interactions a relationship emerges.
Looked at this way, it hits me that all the talk of, and focus, on generating customer engagement and building customer relationships through a variety of tips, tricks and technology is misplaced. It is misplaced. It is foolish. It is a red herring – distracting from that which matters.
So where should our focus be? On usefulness! It is when we show up as useful that the gate towards conversation and thus engagement opens. It is only when mutual usefulness is present, does trading occur. And it is on the basis of the repeated conversations-interactions-trading that a relationship emerges. Consider that when someone no longer ‘shows up as useful’ and they want to engage with you, have a relationship with you, they show up as clingy-needy. What is it that almost all of us do when this occurs? We distance ourselves from these people. Why? The simply do not show up as useful to us given our circumstances and our ‘projects’.
Please note that it is not enough to be useful as in have a useful product, service or solution. It is necessary that one ‘shows up as useful’ to those whom we wish to trade with. That means that an essential task is to cultivate awareness of our usefulness – to all who matter. This was brought home to me in a recent conversation when the lady at the table said something to the effect “Where were you three months ago? Why haven’t I heard of you? You should make sure you are on the Gartner report.”
In 25+ years of business life, I can only remember a handful of conversations where the people who matter in organisational life (Tops, Middles) grappled seriously with the question of usefulness: how can we be useful and show up as useful in the lives of our customers?