Why You Need To Focus On Serving Your Customer, Not Trapping Them


Sunday, 8.58pm

Sheffield, U.K.

If you’ve been following the last few posts, you’ll know that I’m pulling together some thoughts about consultative selling.

Except it’s sometimes not really about selling. And it’s sometimes not really about consulting.

It’s more about you. What you stand for. What I stand for.

Sometimes when you look at the world it’s like facing a featureless wall. A wall that you can’t scale. A wall that stops you where you stand.

Some of us don’t see things that way. They see a wall as something to be torn down. Most of us, however, keep our heads down and say nothing.

We get on with the important stuff. The really important stuff. Like raising our families and staying alive and getting ahead in the world.

We’re not activists. We’re realists. We deal with the world as it is.

Let others do all the protesting… that’s not for us.

To be fair, there does seem to be a lot of that going on.

In Copenhagen, there is a place called Christianhavn – which hosts Freetown Christiania – a little enclave of rebellion in an otherwise ordered and stylish city.

Walking around there, you see signs of entrepreneurship all around you – ranging from a blacksmith to jewellery and pottery.

And then there is the weed.

On stands made from a stack of three packing crates are plastic bags, full of weed. And people stood behind the stands. Selling.

Just like any other business…

Of course, it’s illegal and the police are in to do a raid shortly after.

The point is not really about what they’re selling – it’s about the fact that people there are making a stand for what they believe in.

And that’s the thing that’s missing from most business cases. Belief.

I’ve been reading some of Richard Stallman’s essays again. I wouldn’t be able to write these words in the way I’m doing right now without what he created.

Stallman believes that software should serve you – it should respect your freedom and community. It should be free – free as in freedom and not free as in beer.

Why does this matter?

It matters because there is always an uneasy truce between control and service. Businesses exist to serve their customers. They’d much rather control them, given a choice.

The best kind of customer is one that doesn’t have a choice. A customer that is addicted to what you provide.

Unsurprisingly, the central strategy of most companies now is to figure out how to get you addicted.

Addicted to your phone, to social media, to the software you use. To make it sticky, to make it hard for you to change or get away or do something else.

And this is where, as a consultant, you may need to decide where your loyalties lie.

Is your intention to have a captive customer base. Or is your intent to serve your customers.

If it’s the latter, then you must respect their freedom.

But how? For what?

First, just read the definition here to get started to understand what free means in the context of free software.

Then let’s think about the world of consulting for a minute.

Where do most of the ideas and concepts that are used by organisations come from?

They usually stem from the scribblings of an academic. They are created through publically funded research.

Then they’re made more lay person friendly. Sometimes they’re given names – A/B testing, Lean, Business Models.

People try and make what they have special – usually by trying to create a brand and product and set of ideas around a concept to set it apart from other concepts.

For example, I came across Edamame beans recently – exposed to the marketing push about how great it was.

I didn’t know anything about Edamame beans – I assumed they were a little known kind of vegetable, harvested at great cost and effort from the depths of some strange rainforest.

Of course, you know that they are baby soybeans. But Edamame is still a brilliant piece of marketing packaging. Still beans though, whatever you call it.

Okay.. now what if you came up with an approach, a way to solve a problem – and then made it free as in freedom.

You’d simply be following that old proverb give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

So, is my argument that your job as a consultant is not to do a job for a client but to teach him how to do it?

No. Not really.

I’m just saying that if you want to serve your customer, you’ll choose the best way to help them, whether that’s doing the work for them or teaching them how to do it.

Any way other than that – any way that doesn’t put your customer’s well-being first – is one that tries to trap them rather than serving them. The way app companies try and increase the amount of time you spend on their platforms.

And if you do that, in what way are you different from those drug dealers in the Freetown?


Karthik Suresh

ps. As a reminder, this is the eleventh post in a series that I’m planning on eventually collecting into a book on Consultative Selling. Although, after this post, it might go in a different direction and just be about consulting. If you are reading this and are interested in this topic, please let me have any feedback, good or bad, so I can make this as useful and easy to read for you as possible.

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