What do we mean by intimacy in business terms?

13-03-18
what is customer intimacy how important are client relationships customer intimacy defined how close should we get to customers when do customers become friends should customers be friends what level of customer relationship should we have do we need customer relationships how close should we get to customers what customer knowledge do I need how important is intimacy in word of mouth can you get word of mouth support without intimacy how intimate should we get with customers customer intimacy or customer knowledge do close customer relationships work

what is customer intimacy in business? I was using the term “customer intimacy” back in 1991. Yet I am still asked what do we mean by intimacy in business terms? Many people get really tied up trying to understand this and often implement it badly. Intimacy is a term most people apply to very personal relationships which can drive our understanding and confusion.

It’s easy to imagine some people being clumsy in trying to form a close personal relationship and effectively alienating clients by insincere, obvious ploys. I have seen this; it makes me cringe, especially when the person they are talking to is an emotive type with an inbuilt insincerity monitor!

When talking about customer management and sales the majority of people think the most critical thing is forming relationships. When we question this they usually feel they have got to somehow form a close bond with the customer at a personal level, a goal often being how to become “a friend” through chat, gifts, family or invitations to events.

In my experience this isn’t what any of us really want, certainly not as a key objective. However, over time, perhaps years, a genuine personal bond can be formed, which is a great bonus. Usually this starts as a professional relationship and evolves to personal. I once suffered from an MD that tried to drive this from an intellectual perspective and the “last book of management read”, yet any relationship is based at an emotional level, he didn’t see how a process couldn’t develop relationships. What a fun failure that was.

It’s rather like companies that have profit as the driving force; we know they are less successful than those that see profit as the outcome of doing the right things [purpose led]. You can’t go out and create a friend in a few meetings or simply through an on-line relationship, real life isn’t just a social media experience.

The key then is not building personal relationships as described above. I suggest it’s actually about managing relationships, understanding what our customers really want and meeting those needs. Being friends isn’t the key, if you read The Challenger Sale, by Mathew Dixon and Brent Adamson, you will get some great insights as to what really works. Sales people that work purely on relationships are usually the least successful!

However in marketing and sales it is critical to get a level of intimacy with our customer base. I would suggest we should think of this as the level and depth of knowledge we need about the customer in order to develop and deliver a product that they love, one they will talk about with their real friends and colleagues. If you listen to understand what they want and need, ask the right questions, involve them where you can, you will have a level of intimacy that delivers results for both of you. Without the pressure of taking them to a scintillating dinner; they might be really boring or think you are!

This knowledge may be made up from information they share that is quite personal, perhaps financial; perhaps it’s about their aspirations, perhaps its information you have researched that isn’t public domain. This is where intent is important, i.e. how you plan to use that, ideally for the benefit of the customer. In doing so, if your product delivers beyond the customer’s expectations, you will gain many things, particularly trust, which should never be underestimated. Once you have it, it can work wonders: lose it and its gone forever.

Trust is a big step for anyone in forming any kind of relationship. We know how important this is in spreading Word of Mouth recommendations. Research shows 90% of people trust a referral from a friend, whereas fewer than 10% trust an advert. Once you reach this level of trust you will find many customers become real advocates. They will start to care about your product and what it does. And given the chance, will give valuable feedback on the product, and tell their friends, contacts and even strangers about you.

A free non-biased sales team.

Not necessarily your friends, as they will probably tell you things you don’t always like. However, they will be honest and respect the intimacy of being involved: perhaps your inner circle?  Remember that your doctor can be intimate with you, which is critical to you both in getting the best health outcomes, yet he probably isn’t a friend.

So yes, customer intimacy is very important. But don’t make it a goal to be close friends with everyone. Do you really want to be friends with all the people you interact with on a daily basis? Do you think they want to know all the intimate details of your life? We can see plenty of examples of that on the various apps we all share, and those we wish we hadn’t! What we do need is the knowledge to form a business relationship based on mutual benefit, trust, fulfilment and ideally fun and shared values.

What customer knowledge do I need to know? Work out what you need to know, ask the right questions, develop the depth of knowledge you need. This forms the basis of learning to effectively use Word of Mouth marketing, which is a process, believe it or not. You should look at www.womtwo.com

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About the author

Graham Wilson

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My working life has always involved working closely with people and delivering results. For nearly 30 years I have run behaviour programmes and been involved with many other methods of working with and analysing personality, performance and behaviour. Having enjoyed significant business success I believe that if we first build the people the people will build the business. Which in no way reduces the focus on clear business strategy and purpose. As a result I've already helped 11 people become Millionaires. 

So what do I do?... I inspire transformation

 A brief history 

35 years in healthcare Services. Pharma, Med devices, Med Tech and the Care sector Key player in building the worlds biggest Pharma services business Innovex/Quintiles, driving consistent growth from 30- 60% per annum. From the UK to the USA and Europe

Chaired 6 businesses and been on 11 Boards from £300m to start up. Raised funds and driven successful exits. 

Qualified as a Coach with Shirlaws the leading Global Coaching business. Still running and developing behaviour programmes. A Qualified Clinical Hypnotherapist. 

I own and run a Care business and am also a Non Exec Director of 2 companies involved in leading edge marketing support, such as Word of Mouth marketing I Coach a wide range of clients in multiple sectors. Understand the numbers, believe its strategy and people that make it all work. Have a look at my profile for full details and links


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