Believe it or not, it’s getting out from behind your desk, leaving email behind, and meeting with your customers at an executive level to listen instead of sell.  It sounds counter-intuitive, because this takes more time out of what is likely already a jam-packed day, but it’s one of the most important lessons I ever learned for how to increase my productivity.

Here’s why it’s one of the best strategies to improve productivity.  With an unending To Do list, you need less, not more.   Letting your customers set your priorities based on what’s important to them is one of the best ways to spot what’s really important and what is completely irrelevant.

Here’s a great example that created a huge productivity increase for a CEO I worked with: 

He had two major initiatives that were keeping him up at night – one was developing a full training program for his sales reps, the other was implementing and streamlining his manufacturing systems and processes.  Sales were down – way down – and he hadn’t made a profit in 5 years.  When I met him, training the sales team was a costly venture that was earmarked as his highest priority.

I taught him the art of holding Value Creation Conversations with the top decision makers, his customers.  It only took about half a dozen conversations to show him he was barking up the wrong tree.  He didn’t hear a single complaint about his sales team – quite the opposite.  And the reason that sales were down came down to one single factor “You’re too hard to do business with!!!”  Without going into details, there were some serious glitches on the manufacturing and service sides of his business that had his customers pulling their hair out.  They were unproductive as a result, and they were voting with their wallets by going to the competition.

Overnight, this CEO’s priorities changed.  He eliminated everything to do with sales training, and focused all of his energies and the team’s on efforts to management techniques to improve productivity in the manufacturing and service sector. All that reclaimed time and focus, and delivered results.  He dealt with the issues for good, his customers (who loved the product) came back, and he returned to profitability for the first time in 5 long years.  All because he listened to his customers and let them drive his agenda.

But you can’t short-cut this one in the interests of improving productivity in the office – the “out of the office” element is the game-changer.  Most of us have used surveys, customer feedback forms and market research to gain customer insight. Like many business practices, these methods have become less useful as time goes on. They give us a false sense of security today and tell us virtually nothing about what our customers will need tomorrow, and no real sense of what our priorities should be.  That’s because often the information is outdated when we get it, and often the information is too generic to spark real insights.

Instead, focus on increasing productivity for your customers by removing all the major and minor annoyances they experience when they do business with you, and you’ll increase your productivity every time.  Here’s a little-known fact: Customer Satisfaction surveys DON’T correlate with either retention or repurchase behaviour. In fact, research shows that 67% of customers rate themselves as “satisfied” with you… right before they buy from your competitor.

Now, you may have tried meet-and-greets or sales rep ride-alongs, but that’s not the level of relationship building I’m talking about here. Instead, you need to get good at having executive-level, strategic conversations that pinpoints very specific factors that create value for your customers. The solution is to have what I call a Value Creation Conversation.

4 reasons executives should start communicating directly with their top customers:

  • Gain true insight into customer needs – not just today, but in the future… which increases productivity at your end with fewer false innovation starts and failed products.
  • Establish a deeper level of trust and credibility… which streamlines their decision-making process, increasing their productivity, and yours, by shortening the sales cycle.
  • Understand willingness-to-pay, so that you can price for all the value you create… which is one of several management techniques to improve productivity by getting more bang for the buck for every product sold, but the fastest way to improve profitability.
  • Find the dissatisfiers that put unnecessary aggravation into your customers’ lives and put and unnecessary costs-to-serve into your business, so that you can eliminate them and increase productivity for everyone, just like the CEO in the example above.

The most important part of the art of the Value Creation Conversation is listening. Make it all about them. Forget sales, forget PR, this conversation isn’t directly about you or your business. It’s about the customer and what they need and how they feel. Their feedback is going to shape your business and improve your bottom line. It’s going to give you an enormous advantage over competitors that are still sending out those surveys, because you’re moving forward with the blinders off. Having Value Creation Conversations with your best customers will help you determine customer loyalty, take advantage of their dissatisfaction with other vendors, find out what they need (even if they’re not sure themselves), and how you can add value to your relationship.  It’s a catalyst for increasing productivity in the workplace – theirs and yours.

Is it time for you to learn the art of Value Creation Conversations?  Don’t reinvent the wheel.  Apply for a complimentary 1-1 Accelerator Call with me. We’ll uncover where you’re at, where you want to be, what the roadblocks and gaps are, and help you create clarity on what your Best Next Move is to get out from behind your desk and get back to where all the fun and productivity is in your business – with your customers, who are the only ones who create cash flow.

#1 Bestselling Author, International Speaker, and Accelerator Anne C. Graham is on a mission to help 5 million business leaders and their teams double their profit per employee – or more – in less than one year, in less time per week than they’re spending on email per day. Her new book Profit in Plain Sight includes the 5-step proactive P.R.O.F.I+T Plan to do it.  Connect with Anne on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.