In today’s net-enabled knowledge economy, simply being a data dispenser or an information source for clients is no longer enough. Because the internet is so readily available and easy to use, people can get data and information instantly. As a result, any employee, no matter how high or low they are in the organization, who dispenses data and information is of little value to customers, and they will perceive both the employee and the organization as a time-wasting commodity. To truly stand out and be a valued resource for customers and clients, you need to go beyond dispensing data and information and bring knowledge and wisdom to the interaction.
Think of it as a triangle. At the base of the triangle is data. Going up, next is information, then knowledge, and then at the triangle’s peak is wisdom. Using this illustration, the higher you go up the triangle with people, the more value you add to the relationship.
Before the Internet became widely used in the early to mid 1990s, few people had access to data and information, so that’s where companies created value (think of the travel agents, stock brokers, and the order-taking salespeople of yesteryear). Today, however, virtually everyone has access to data and information, so the value in providing it is gone. And in fact, the more you dispense data and information to people, the more you’re wasting their time…and they know it. But the more knowledge and wisdom you give them, the more time (and money) you will save them and they’ll want to spend more time with you.
To truly understand how valuable knowledge and wisdom are, consider this scenario: Suppose a colleague is introducing you to someone who can help you solve a challenge you’re facing. Which of the following descriptions of the person hold the most merit to you and would make you feel comfortable talking with him or her:
Obviously, the real value is in the knowledge and wisdom someone can offer. So the question then becomes: How do you make sure you’re delivering knowledge and wisdom rather than data and information? The following points will help you focus your conversation for the most value.
• Take a consultative approach during every customer/client encounter.
When you’re talking with prospects, customers and clients, make sure you’re providing actionable knowledge and wisdom rather than simply giving them data and information. Ask yourself, “Am I providing something the person can easily find online, or I am giving the person consultative value and insight they can’t find anyplace else?” In fact, you may even want to keep track of how much data, information, knowledge, and wisdom you typically dispense so you have an idea of how much value you are providing.
Of course, this approach doesn’t mean you won’t dispense a little data and information. However, when you’re talking with someone, you want to make sure you’re not wasting anyone’s time, including your own. After all, why talk for 30 minutes about data and information when you can send a link to the same material? When you save time you create value, which ultimately leads to more business.
• De-commoditize yourself.
Since data and information are commodities, you need to de-commoditize yourself—even if you’re in an industry that’s viewed as a commodity. For example, travel agents still exist today. However, the ones who are successful have gone beyond dispensing data and information and have found a way to add consultative value to their clients. If you call a travel agent and the person simply gives you prices and schedules, there’s no value there, you could have found that online. However, if the travel agent you work with asks questions and learns that you are allergic to feather pillows, that you need extra legroom on flights, and that you prefer certain amenities and are willing to pay for them, now the agent is able to weed out your options and only suggest things that are important to you.
In this example, the travel agent is saving you time. Sure, you could find this information on your own, but it would take a lot of searching and phone calls. So even though the agent is technically giving you information, he or she is framing it in a way that adds value. The agent is adding personal knowledge and wisdom to the information and tailoring it for your specific needs.
Unfortunately, too many professionals are stuck at the basic data and information level. Those who make the shift to dispensing knowledge and wisdom are of higher value in the marketplace—they bring in the most business and earn the most money. That’s the position you want to be in for long-term success.
• Ask better questions to uncover the customer’s real need.
Many times a customer will call and ask, “Do you stock Product A, and if so how much is it?” The customer is pushing you into a data and information mindset. But if you answer the question directly, you’re giving little value. That’s when you need to take control of the conversation by saying something like: “To give you the best possible answer, tell me what you’re trying to accomplish. I may be able to save you some money and time.” At this point, the customer will tell you why they are interested in the product, and you can potentially offer a better solution.
Most people buy something and then find that what they bought is not exactly what they wanted or needed. Or, it is what they wanted or needed, but only for a short time because something else would have given them better long-term results. For example, an adult may decide to get back into bicycle riding so they can get in shape. The person walks into a bicycle store and asks, “What’s the cheapest bicycle you have?” Rather than show the customer the cheapest bicycle, a salesperson who delivers value would ask such questions as, “What’s your goal for biking? How long has it been since you last rode a bicycle? Do you plan to ride on flat surfaces, or on hills and mountains? What’s you skill level?” Now the salesperson can give the customer a consultative answer versus a data or information answer.
The key is to begin a dialog with people. Sometimes the thing that’s the cheapest is the most expensive, because it’s the wrong thing and needs to be replaced quickly. However, when you prompt people to tell you what they really want, you can offer them a better long-term solution. Even more important, by asking questions, you’re beginning a relationship. You’re indirectly telling the other person, “I care about you.” In contrast, if you simply spurt out the data and information, you’re indirectly telling the person that they’re just another number to you. Questions always open the door to more business.
The future is all about relationships and adding value to people’s lives. Therefore, your goal is to create growing relationships that are thriving rather than shrinking relationships where you’re becoming less relevant or obsolete. Focusing on a consultative approach by sharing knowledge and wisdom is the key. Remember, data and information can be printed on a handout; knowledge and wisdom are based on experience and best delivered through dialog. The more you focus on the latter, the more satisfied your customers will be…and the more success you’ll attain.
DANIEL BURRUS is considered one of the world’s leading technology forecasters and innovation experts, and is the founder and CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients understand how technological, social and business forces are converging to create enormous untapped opportunities. He is the author of six books including The New York Times best seller Flash Foresight.