Salespeople and sales organizations work very hard to differentiate themselves and their offerings as a way to create a competitive advantage. Many believe their company is the differentiation. Others think their solutions provide differentiation. Few would dare to describe their people as their competitive advantage, even when it is true. Even fewer would recognize caring as their competitive advantage and the superpower that it is in an age of commoditization and the conflation of everything to the transaction itself. Caring is the one competitive advantage that is not being commoditized, and by its very nature, cannot be reduced to a transaction.
Caring is Expensive
From an organizational perspective, caring is expensive. You must invest more time than you would in a transactional approach to a commercial relationship. You have to invest in people, the opposite approach of the many people infected with the idea they should reduce the number of people they need by automating as many processes as possible. The idea to enable humans with technology has morphed into a drive to replace humans with it.
When your competition zags, you should zig. When care is removed, the competitive advantage shifts to those who are willing to provide what is missing. While others invest in technology, investing in human beings, the only resource capable of caring is to build a competitive advantage.
Caring Takes Time and Effort
There was a time when customer service centers tried to reduce the time their agents spent on the phone when their customers called for help. The thinking was that the more time the agent spent with the customer, the more expensive the call. Over time, the pendulum has swung back the other direction, as companies discovered that as expensive as it was to pay the agent for their time, losing the customer was even more costly. Caring requires you to give people your time.
There is no commodity more expensive or more precious than time. There are ways to acquire more of any other resource, but time is finite. When you invest time in one thing, you eliminate the option of investing it somewhere else. This is no truer than when it comes to the time it takes to care.
Caring also requires considerable effort. You have to put forth the energy necessary to communicate frequently and effectively, trading your physical presence for what might have been an email. It requires the friction that comes with asking for and obtaining someone else’s time and attention. It also requires that you have the sometimes difficult conversations to solve problems.
Caring Requires Intimacy
Charlie Green of Trusted Advisor would tell you that trust is built on credibility, reliability, and intimacy, as well as a lack of self-orientation. He would also inform you that, of the four factors, the one that weighs most heavily is intimacy.
Intimacy means that you know the other person. You know what’s important to them and why. You understand their preferences, you keep these things are front of mind and consider them in the decisions you take together. You can think of this as tailoring or customizing what and how you do things.
I love that Amazon.com’s algorithm knows and understands some of my preferences, a transactional approach designed to fake intimacy. No one at Amazon.com knows me, and I don’t know anyone there. A savvy, independent bookstore could beat Amazon’s by taking a bibliophile’s past purchase data and calling to ask them if they’d like the bookstore to hold a new release for them. Even more, a human that knows the individuals that frequent their store could get to know them well enough to make recommendations.
Only humans are capable of intimacy, and that means only humans are capable of caring. Intimacy is also the key to understanding how to create value for your clients.
Caring Requires Initiative
Waiting until your client recognizes they need something and asks for your help is a transactional approach to the relationship. Even worse, allowing your clients to make mistakes or avoid changing before they are harmed is a form of negligence or complacency, both of which prove a lack of caring. If you want to make retention difficult and expose yourself to being displaced, given a long enough timeline, a lack of caring is all but guaranteed.
Caring isn’t passive or reactive. It requires one to take the initiative. For caring to be a competitive advantage, you must act before it is necessary. You must maintain your intimacy and proactively propose and create new value.
Caring and the Creation of Preference
There is a concept that we don’t pay enough attention to in sales. The idea is “creating a preference,” the very heart of sales.
We seek technological solutions over human competencies, even when the technology that promises efficiencies reduces effectiveness. We look for a way to increase the speed at which we win deals, often using strategies that cause clients to select a competitor. We avoid the very things that might create intimacy.
All the effort we put into selling is to create a preference to buy from—and work with—us instead of a competitor. Imagine two competitors, both vying for a client’s business. Both of these competitors have the business acumen and the solutions necessary to serve the client well. One of them spends more time with the client, working to understand their needs better and creates a sense of intimacy. That same salesperson is proactive and communicates in a way that ensures the client know they listened and heard them as they shared their wants and needs. The salesperson also showed up and made their presence felt by really working to understand the client’s business. The other salesperson did none of these things. Which of these two salespeople would you prefer as your strategic partner?
When all things are equal, you must make something unequal. If there is a superpower in business, it is caring. If you want a sustainable competitive advantage that isn’t going to be commoditized now or in the future, look no further.