I remember one of my earliest business conversations involved the kitchen table, my father, and a company called International Business Machines. I was about eleven. Dad was telling us that his company had gotten a contract to make a part for IBM, but his team didn’t know anything about the product the parts were going to be used in. Even at eleven that didn’t make much sense. "How," I asked, "can you tell if what you’re making is right?" "We can’t," my Dad replied. "We just wait for them to tell us how close we are to getting it right and then we do it over again."
This is the partnership question. Leaders who want to deepen their relationships with their customers ask this question often. In fact, it quickly becomes one of their favorite questions to ask. Understanding your customer’s view of their future helps you get a glimpse of your future. Asking this question will get you lots of data. First, there’s the basic information. Information that will give you insights into how you’ll have to innovate or modify your processes and products to meet your customer’s need in the future. Customers who can’t articulate their view of the future may not be a long-term asset for you.
Next, you can judge the excitement level. The future is a funny thing. People and organizations that are excited about the future generally have a promising future. People who are pessimistic about the future often face bleaker times. Who would you rather have on your client list?
When you combine the quality of the information you get from the customer with the enthusiasm level generated by giving the answer, you’ve got impressive insight into your own crystal ball. Targeting those customers who think and plan for the future and are excited about the possibilities the future hold for them seems like a great way to plan your future success. These are the customers you’d like to partner with. But you’ll never know who they are unless you ask the question.