During a 17-year career in sales and marketing for BMW, Jacqueline Jasionowski found her job increasingly focused on the customer experience. In a highly competitive market where brands were seeking customers willing to pay a premium for their products, customer experience was the ultimate battleground. BMW knew that if it could create an elevated experience, it would stand out from the crowd and ultimately sell more cars.
Working with dealerships across the United States, Jasionowski developed customer experience training to help dealers create special, memorable moments along the customer journey. While engaged in this process, she had access to a trove of survey data from the dealerships as well as customer ratings data from consumer intelligence powerhouse JD Power.
Analyzing the data and reviewing feedback from her trainings, Jasionowski was astounded to learn that one simple thing wasn’t happening with the regularity it should: Salespeople at car dealerships across all luxury car brands weren’t saying hello. Data showed that more than one out of every four prospective buyers who walked into a showroom wasn’t greeted by anyone.
Obviously, this was a problem. When a quarter of your potential customers are ignored, you’re enabling money to walk out the door. The issue, of course, was deeper than simply saying hello. It was about creating a foundation for a new relationship. And this is a problem that’s as relevant to small businesses like photography studios as it is to luxury car dealerships.
Jasionowski researched the issue extensively and developed a program to help salespeople establish productive relationships with prospective customers. She’s since left BMW to found her own business coaching enterprise, Shift Awake, where she helps all kinds of businesspeople, including creative pros like photographers, discover how to establish better, more productive business relationships. The process begins with determining what blocks us from opening the door to those relationships in the first place.
Much of the problem stems from bias. We all have biases. We make judgements about people based on their appearance, what they drive, how they talk, the way they carry themselves, their children’s behavior, and so many other factors. Overcoming this problem, says Jasionowski, begins with reframing our often unconscious biases and shifting our viewpoints about other people. It’s easy to say, “Be more open minded,” but it’s difficult to abruptly shift how you think about other people. To start, we need to look at our own belief systems.
Jasionowski bundles our self-sabotaging thought processes into an acronym she calls LIAR, which stands for:
Limiting beliefs are negative thoughts and opinions that limit our potential for success. For example, I’ll never be able to sell this client a high-end wall portrait because he doesn’t fit the profile.
Interpretations are the way you view a situation based on your biases or previous experiences. Maybe a person walks into your studio who isn’t well dressed, and you interpret their attire as an indication that they can’t afford a five-figure portrait commission.
Assumptions become a problem when you conclude things about a prospective client based on superficial criteria or past experiences. For instance, you assume someone isn’t interested in your highest level package because she drove to your studio in an older, less-expensive vehicle.
Rival beliefs are competing ideas that stop you from moving toward a sale, such as when a potential client tells you she’s interested in something, but her statement contradicts your personal belief about that individual or the type of person you believe her to be.
“It’s not just a greeting,” says Jasionowski. “It’s a potential relationship. It’s a potential sale. It’s a potential referral. There are so many possibilities. It’s important for people to see what’s on the other side of saying hello.”
To help people visualize the other side of hello, Jasionowski suggests exercises where they think about a time when saying hello led to something significant. Ask yourself, what has hello done for you in the past? Did you start a new, positive relationship? Did you begin a conversation that led to a sale? Did you meet your future spouse? There are so many potential outcomes.
Of course, some of those potential outcomes are negative. These are the experiences that tend to hold people back. Rather than letting those bad experiences stop us from forming new relationships, “Consider what you were trying to get out of those interactions in the first place,” suggests Jasionowski. “If saying hello caused a negative experience, think about what could you do differently next time.”
You’re more likely to respond to a positive thought and a positive emotion. For a negative emotion, you’re more likely to react impulsively and often negatively.
When you’re starting a new client relationship, all those LIAR beliefs and negative past experiences can bubble up quickly if things start to derail. To keep your budding relationship and your sale on track, consider whether you’re reacting negatively or responding positively. Jasionowski refers to this process as PER:
How we see the world is an important distinction. Jasionowski recommends that everyone take the time to assess how they feel about their world and their work.
“It takes some self-reflection to consider: Are the beliefs I’ve created about the world working for me?” says Jasionowski. They may not be, so it’s important to understand the origin of those beliefs and then determine honestly whether they can be changed.
For example, you may believe that clients in their 20s are difficult. Where did that belief come from? How is that belief cutting you off from potential business? Are you willing to change it?
If you are willing to change that belief, what would be a more empowering alternative? Would you be interested in working with a certain type of 20-something to give them a chance? If that goes well, would you consider expanding your criteria? If you’re able to ease into a new belief one step at a time, then you can slowly reframe your belief structure to be less limiting and more empowering.
Proceed through this process gradually. “You can’t expect to change overnight,” says Jasionowski. “However, if you’re telling your brain to think differently over many months, many years, then you can create new habits to change the neural pathways in your brain.”
Change is hard. How you respond to change says a lot about how you’ll adapt to future circumstances and how well you’ll set yourself up for success. Jasionowski breaks down people’s attitudes toward change into five approaches:
1. Be a victim of change. This is a negative mindset. Victims think everything is terrible, the world owes them, and they don’t want to change. Victims try to get other people to do things for them.
2. Embrace it. This is a positive, proactive mindset. Assess your belief inventory, be aware, and make a new belief.
3. Alter your perspective of it. If you can’t change your fundamental belief right away, can you change your perspective? Back to the example about working with people in their 20s: Maybe there’s something to how they see the world. Maybe it would be worth your time to understand them and learn from them.
4. Accept it. This is the mentality of “It is what it is.” It’s a resignation of sorts, but this way of thinking allows you to decide you can’t change something and then move forward.
5. Leave it. Leave the project, leave the job, make a shift, get out of it altogether. This is a surrender and a decision to remove yourself from something that seems too hard to change.
It’s a long process to change limiting beliefs and open ourselves up to new relationships, but it all starts with opening the door to possibility. It doesn’t need to be a complicated process. Start with a simple greeting. Listen to what your prospect has to say. Engage by pointing something out about them to get them talking about themselves. From there, the potential directions for your new relationship are endless.
“Everyone has a story to tell,” says Jasionowski, “but you won’t hear it unless you ask them.”
Jeff Kent is the editor-at-large.
Tags: bridging the gap