The Psychology of Making Your Customers Want You

How to get your customers and clients to come to you

The Psychology of Making Your Customers Want You

Customers can make or break a business. In fact, they do all the time.

As business owners and marketers, the assumptions we make about our target customers and the purchasing motivations we think they have, will have a powerful effect on the health of our business. I've made bad customer assumptions in the past, and one of those mistakes cost me thousands of dollars.

Now I invest a great deal of time and resources into making my customers want me more than I need them.

There's a lot of selling psychology at play here, so follow along carefully.

Make a mental list of some of the world's most powerful brands and you'll find that customer satisfaction lies at the core of their phenomenal success. Companies like Apple, Starbucks, Disney, IKEA, and BMW attract a throng of loyal, nearly fanatical followers whose zeal often infects people around them, creating a virtuous cycle that sustains these brands' market successes.

On the other hand, one study found that almost 90% of consumers immediately start doing business with a brand's competitors following a painful customer experience, taking with them millions of dollars worth of lost revenue and opportunity cost. As a business owner, this is exactly what you don't want to happen.

The same goes true in the junior leagues when it comes to running your own home-based business or freelance practice, but in an even less-forgiving context.

As a small business owner, your reputation means everything and you can't afford to deride the value of your personal brand.

While big brands possess the scale to weather significant customer backlash (here's a recent example of the VW backlash everybody's talking about), small businesses and professional freelancers simply cannot afford to screw up the way they engage with clients and customers.

For service providers in particular, the mere act of finding customers and successfully landing a profitable contract can become a recurring pain point in the business cycle.

So what does it really take to make your brand more appealing to clients? What does it take for clients to notice your product, service or proposal and decide to give you a try?

Why Being Selfish in Business Will Result in Failure

Let's start by examining the complete opposite scenario: What does it take for your clients to totally ignore your credentials as a business owner and expert within your industry?

Well, very little, it turns out.    

The Chinese general Sun Tzu, a source of inspiration to countless military commanders and business executives, reportedly said that knowing yourself is a key to winning battles. Certainly, it is common sense that you need to be an expert at what you do, to thoroughly know your strengths and weaknesses, and to aggressively advertise your value proposition to your potential clients.

So, it makes sense that you need to dedicate some time updating your portfolio website, have a compelling stable of past projects to refer back to and create visually appealing marketing assets.

But that's just one side of the equation.

What's even more important than how you position yourself as a business owner, is how well you formulate your value propositions for the exact type of client you want to attract. This is something a lot of business owners and freelancers often miss, to their regret.

Sun Tzu also said it will take knowing your enemy to win battles consistently. Enemy isn't exactly the right word for the clients you're trying to interact with and provide value for, but you get the picture. However, Tzu brings up this point in the very same paragraph where he said self-knowledge will help you win battles only half of the time. In order to always win your battles (and new clients for your business), your knowledge should extend to the entity you are engaging with.

You need to know your clients, and know them very well.

Maybe even more than you know yourself. And there lies the ironic secret to making clients want you: You have to genuinely want to know them first, and take concrete, decisive steps for that purpose of learning more about what motivates them to buy your products or services.

Here's a lesson you shouldn't need to learn the hard way (like I did): talking about yourself without showing empathy to your client's needs will likely cause your prospect to ditch your proposal and go for a more customer-centric competitor, even when you're better at doing the actual job. In the end, we as humans choose to work with others who show us that they care. If someone doesn't care about genuinely helping us achieve our goals, we'll move on — we'll get a new group of friends.

Using Psychology to Pick Your Client's Brain and Nudge Them Your Way

I came across an interesting article by Leo Widrich, co-founder and COO of Buffer, which talks about "10 simple ways to get more customers using psychology." The article also has a pretty useful infographic you can check out. I'll use some of the insights Leo shared together with my personal experience to make my points more clear.

Sun Tzu himself might be surprised, but customer engagement has at times turned into a form of war game with many American companies. Not in the sense that you and your customer attempt to browbeat or trick each other into ceding territories (i.e. making concessions in terms of rates, schedules, milestones, project specs, etc.), but more like a psychological-based war wherein you imagine what it feels like wearing your customer's shoes when making important decisions.

Unlike a real battle, the relationship between service providers and their customers are grounded in the assumption that transactions between them are mutually beneficial. While things don't always turn out this way, the ideal is clearly different from the purpose of a real battle, which is to basically annihilate everything.

So here are seven steps to make customer engagement a win-win for both you and your clients:

1. Do Your Research. Spend extra time researching about your client, probing their culture, deciphering their needs and managing their expectations.

2. Sound the Bugle. Show your client that you know their business and care about their goals by drawing up a roadmap that will help them succeed at the particular aspect of their business you want to be involved in.

3. Discuss Tactics. Help the client understand how your strategy (i.e. process, work parameters, etc.) will help them achieve their goals. Use action language in your correspondences and documents, exuding an aura of confidence that will assure your clients that you know your craft well.

4. Determine Your Rules of Engagement. Put in place rules for how high and low you're willing to go when it comes to closing contracts with your clients. Don't over-sell yourself, but don't under-value what you're doing for each client.

5. Know Your Buyer Types. Understand that there are three kinds of buyers, each requiring a different approach that taps into their respective priorities. Leo classifies clients into:

  • Spendthrifts (15% of customers): Understandably, these are the most preferred clients by every business owner and freelancer. Keep them engaged and regularly updated on the progress of the project you are handling as well as the value you help generate. Offer them all the appropriate premium services you can deliver.
  • Tightwads (25%): Because this group prioritizes budget, be sure to offer clever service bundles and to reframe your prizes to make rates more acceptable to them.
  • Average Spenders (61%): These customers occupy the middle ground and will likely comprise a large part of your portfolio. Keep them motivated by using language that emphasizes results and success.  

6. Move at Double Time. Establish a sense of urgency when setting milestones, deadlines and other time-frames. This includes the period of time (usually one to two weeks) you're giving clients within which to respond to a proposal. On my website for example, I clearly say that I only take on a select, limited number of contracts with the world's top experts and growing startups.

7. Fight for Something Good. Differentiate your brand by showing that you care for something greater than yourself. Maybe an idea, an advocacy or an organization you truly care about. You can even narrow your range of subject matter expertise that will allow you to claim that you are a specialist bent on delivering only the finest output in your field. This works like magic when you and your client share the same values or advocacies. In addition to work, you can also cite charities and non-professional causes such as the environment or cancer research. Note that this will be more believable if you actually donate part of your service income to these causes.    

To recap, your customers serve as the final arbiter of business success. Treating them right by understanding where they are coming from and having an accurate appreciation of their goals and priorities will go a long way.

Which brings us to our surprising twist. Sorry Sun Tzu, but whenever I apply "The Art of War" in customer engagement, I arrive at just one conclusion every single time: to win, you have to genuinely love your clients.