A “Meeting of the Minds” is probably the number one challenge in the SMB space, particularly with Business Solutions like Dynamics 365. Am I saying SMB customers are not smart enough to understand? Not at all, but I have learned that a nodding head, is not a good indication, that the words that came out of my mouth, were received as I intended.
What we have here, is a Failure to Communicate
It really is not an issue exclusive to SMB, and it is primarily the partner’s fault (as in mine). But both sides are guilty. I was on the phone the other day with an off-shore support technician. We were on a screen sharing session, and his accent was so thick I could barely understand him. But, I did not want to be rude and ask for someone else, and we all know that it is much better to simply ask someone to repeat themselves five times. We were also in my home turf, as it was Dynamics 365 that I was sharing on my screen. I guess my ego allowed me to continue to try and guess what he was saying. Needless to say, we did not resolve the issue, but instead managed to really frustrate each other. Obviously, a language barrier is a legitimate excuse for failing to understand each other, but what about my customers, they speak my language… or do they.
I misunderstood you perfectly
I don’t care what business you are in, if you have been at it for a while, you will unconsciously fall into jargon-speak. Even with Microsoft people, I sometimes find myself nodding at the mention of an acronym, that I have no idea what is. But I’m a freaking MVP, I can’t be seen to not know everything… in my own industry… so I nod, and hope that it will become clear, further in the conversation. I am now convinced that it is an inside joke among Microsoft employees, to just make up acronyms on the fly, so they can laugh at us later… for nodding. This is harmless enough, but what if it is a customer? Indeed, a miscommunication can have some significant consequences there, including time and money… theirs or mine.
A customer asks a simple question, “I would like my Sales Manager to be alerted, whenever a Lead is Qualified“. You say, “Sure, we’ll just create a workflow that triggers on Lead Qualification, that will send a message to the Sales Manager“. The customer nods, “Yes, that sounds perfect“.
Do we have a “Meeting of the Minds” on this simple task? It certainly seems like it. But even in this simple example, if we unpack it a little, was the customer clear enough? What exactly were they thinking by “Alerted” or “Qualified”. In our response, did they know what the term “Workflow” is? And what did we mean by “Message”? Did we mean an email, an alert box, an activity, someone running into the Sales Manager’s office and screaming “Hey, we have a new opportunity!”.
We could very easily have two completely different pictures in each other’s minds of how this simple request might be manifested. Now imagine this conversation about something that is actually complex.
“What the hell is that?”
If you have been in this business for any length of time, you will have heard this refrain before. You will have had a conversation with the customer about some “thing”, suggested a resolution, received complete agreement, executed the resolution, and had the customer review it and say, “That is not what I asked for“. You say, “I did exactly what we discussed“. And they say, “This is nothing like what we discussed“. At that very moment, you realize that Time and Money have been wasted, but whose. Whose fault is it that there was not a “Meeting of the Minds”.
In a rear-end collision, it is assumed to be the fault of the driver who ran into the back of someone else. Even if the driver in front slammed on their brakes for no apparent reason. The customer is always the driver in front. You will eat this time and money, or lose this customer.
How do you Mind Meld?
First, as a partner you should never accept a customer’s nodding head as an indication of understanding. “But why on earth would a customer nod their head if they don’t understand?” One reason is that they actually think they did understand, based on their interpretation of what you said. Another reason could be, that while they did not understand, they placed confidence in your understanding them, a recipe for problems later. Or, their ego got in the way, and they felt that asking you to further clarify, would make them look dumb. As humans, we don’t ever what to look dumb.
The only way to get past these is to say something like “This item is going to take some time and some money, that neither us us wants to waste, so if you are not completely clear on what I am proposing, speak up now, or it will be your time and money.” Well, that’s not a very “customer friendly” thing to say. But you have to protect the time and money, regardless of whose time and money it ends up being. You can speak really slowly, enunciating each word, or draw a simple cartoon, but that is going to probably piss them off, “What, do you think I am stupid or something?”
If I had a Nickel..
I cannot begin to imagine how many hours have been spent building resolutions to issues, that never got used. I know we have written-off a lot of time over the years, and I assume you have also. You may have even lost customers as a result, if you insisted on getting paid anyway. So the best advice I can give? Don’t assume anything. Don’t assume that you understood the customer, and don’t assume that they understood you. Strive, as diplomatically as possible, to know and for them to know. If it becomes necessary to become somewhat un-diplomatic to get there, that is still better than wasting anyone’s time and money.