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We live in a culture of consumption. On the one hand, the creation of commodities has always been ‘s raison d’?tre, and concern around commodification is about as old as the market itself. But under advanced capitalism, we’ve seen commodification take on a new form. Today, almost anything can become a commodity — from knowledge and experiences to culture and (if you’re Paris Hilton) even the self. This shift also means “market talk” is being applied to some of the most fundamental facets of business, including .
Looking for proof? Consider that companies have increasingly relegated and to a discrete team of representatives. According to a 2021 LinkedIn analysis of more than 15,000 job titles, and roles (e.g. sales consultant, sales operations specialist and strategic advisor) experienced one of the highest year-over-year hiring growth rates at 45%. By flattening the customer-business relationship in this way, companies are sending a message: Customer education is a box to check.
This is a very short-sighted approach to driving business growth. Instead, I recommend a model of relationship-building. By nature, coaching is collaborative. It’s about working with customers to become trusted advisors. And if you’re interested in establishing and maintaining a coaching-oriented customer education model, implement these practices today.
1. Play the long game
I’ve kind of made a career out of giving away the farm, so to speak. What I mean is that I’m not stingy with free advice because I know that sharing my expertise will pay off, even if it doesn’t turn a profit right away.
For instance, I recently grabbed lunch with a business owner who was interested in our app consulting services but couldn’t afford to partner with us just yet. Some business owners would have you believe that meeting with people who aren’t paying you is a waste of time, but I knew it was an opportunity to showcase my value and build trust, which could lead to future business. After all, PwC found that nearly 50% of consumers point to trust as the reason they started patronizing a business.
So I sat down with this person and talked about their business as if I had an equity stake. We covered everything from current industry forces to the unique ways we work with our clients. And at the end of the meeting, this individual thanked me profusely. I left feeling confident I’d forged a new relationship rooted in trust and respect.
The takeaway? Be gracious with your time and talents. For one thing, it creates a sense of reciprocity: Most people will remember your generosity and look for ways to work with you in the future. But even if they don’t, a positive experience grounded in trust will help increase your brand exposure, strengthen customer confidence and even boost loyalty.
2. Curate an educational library
In sales, there exists an inherent power imbalance: Sellers have expertise that customers don’t. This is what’s called information asymmetry, and customers have to trust that the salesperson will wield that power responsibly. But when companies value deals won over relationships built, they incentivize sellers to abuse this information asymmetry — inadvertently or not. That manifests as salespeople withholding essential information or misrepresenting the company’s capabilities in order to close the sale.
This kind of practice flies in the face of a coaching mindset. Instead, pave the way for valuable, long-term relationships by empowering employees to guide customer education, give feedback and provide ongoing strategic guidance. To aid them in this endeavor, build out training materials and customer-facing content to explain not only your product or service, but also your business philosophy. For example, we create and publish on-site content geared explicitly toward client education. Salespeople and account managers can leverage this collateral to reset client expectations.
Don’t overlook the value of general education, either. We’ve found that prospective clients use our blog to learn about broader topics such as software development. Similarly, Progressive’s commercial division publishes blogs meant to help business leaders navigate challenges ranging from data loss to HR gaffes. Building out this library is time-consuming, but it’s well worth the effort when you consider Demand Metric found that a whopping 80% of people prefer to learn about a company via custom content.
Related: 3 Ways to Educate Buyers Online
3. Integrate coaching into everything you do
We bake a coaching mindset into everything we do: our ceremonies, demos, processes, deliverables, etc. Doing so reinforces the idea that customer education isn’t relegated to the beginning of the relationship. Rather, it’s a throughline. Ideally, you should be teaching customers something new every few months. That’s the difference between a vendor and a partner: Partners continuously add value; vendors provide a one-time service.
Continuous education also helps you manage customer expectations and course-correct when things go awry. This is especially pertinent in my industry because our clients rarely understand the ins and outs of working with software: Why do I have to pay to fix bugs? Isn’t that your job? Why did this thing break even though we tested it? These are all-too-common questions in my line of work, so education is vital for maintaining trust — which, according to PwC, 73% of business leaders agree promotes better customer loyalty.
At this point, it’s almost easier to name what hasn’t been commodified than what has. But just because we can commoditize something doesn’t mean we should. Transactional customer relationships beget short-term, transactional engagements. Instead, business leaders can set themselves up for sustained success by designing and maintaining a culture of coaching.