Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Become Habit Forming to your Clients

By Dr. Neale Martin, author of Habit: The 95% of Behavior Marketers Ignore, and founder and CEO of Ntelec, Inc.

In my new book, Habit: the 95% of Behavior Marketers Ignore, I make the counterintuitive recommendation that instead of getting your customers to love you, the ultimate marketing goal is to get your customer to repurchase without even thinking about you. Habit updates marketing theory and practice based on recent finding from cognitive psychology and neuroscience. Much of our most basic marketing assumptions turn out to be wrong.

At the core, the problem with marketing is the mistaken assumption that customers think about their purchase decisions when most of the time they operate on autopilot. Not only do they automate most of what they buy, they also use products and services without thinking about them. Marketers spend most of their effort working to win the conscious mind when the unconscious mind is in control as much as 95% of the time.

To work with the unconscious mind, companies need to understand how their customers are actually interacting with the world. Most of us are overwhelmed by decisions and information. We are trying to make good decisions amidst uncertainty and lots of noise. Our brains evolved to help us survive in a harsh and dangerous environment, and we use the same mechanisms to survive in the modern world. Key to this is that we ignore unimportant information and strive to automate whatever decisions we can.

For those in professional services, the implications are profound. A client engagement represents a statement that a particular project, or type of project, is something the client does not want to deal with. By hiring a consultant, the client takes this project off her plate and puts it on yours. Your job is to make sure she doesn’t have to think about what is now on your plate.

To achieve this, the consultant must achieve a high level of trust. Trust has two primary components, competency and integrity. Establishing trust is a process whose importance cannot be overstated. If the client does not trust the consultant, she cannot take the project off her mental list. This cognitive cost negates the reason behind the engagement. If the client still has to think about the project, why is she paying you?

This does not mean that you don’t want the client to forget you entirely. Indeed, successful branding and positioning are essential for the consultant/client relationship. Clearly articulating your value proposition means creating a space in your customer’s mind for easy classification—one more way for you to help your client to be cognitively efficient.

To create and maintain a relationship with your clients, it is important to understand how the habitual mind operates. Relying on feedback mechanisms, this part of the mind learns through experience and repetition. Those things that make a behavior more likely to occur are called reinforcers. Think through all of the steps your clients and potential clients must go through, and then structure reinforcements at each step. This means constantly creating value for your customer at every contact point, not just when you are delivering final results.

A good way to think about this is to look at your daily emails and phone calls. Which emails do you open right away? Which names on your caller ID make you want to pick up the phone? Likely, you have two categories of people who you respond to quickly: 1. Clients (that represent revenue) and 2. People you like. The people you like got that way over time by being friendly, funny, helpful, or some combination of all of those things. You don’t consciously evaluate this process—but the interactions have been reinforcing so you are more likely to want to repeat them.
However, you probably also have emails and phone calls from people you would prefer not to receive. Why not? More than likely, at some point in the past this person has done something unpleasant making it less probable that you will want to interact with them again.

Professional services are by their vary nature insubstantial, yet relationships are the strongest materials to build upon. By thinking through every interaction, you can make sure that your clients begin to use your services more frequently and more consistently because doing so is habit forming.

Dr. Neale Martin is the author of the widely acclaimed new book, Habit: The 95% of Behavior Marketers Ignore. He is also founder and CEO of Ntelec, Inc., a marketing, consulting, and education company. He has helped companies adjust their strategic marketing in the face of rapid technological change since 1995. For the past several years, he has worked on updating the principles of marketing in light of research from cognitive psychology and neuroscience that suggests that most of human behavior is under the sway of unconscious habits. Neale developed early insights into the power of habits as a counselor and program director for alcohol and drug addiction programs. After spending a year as a hospital administrator in Texas, he returned to school to earn his Ph.D. in marketing from the College of Management, Georgia Institute of Technology. Neale’s insatiable curiosity across diverse subjects illuminates his work as he connects ideas and insights from science, technology, psychology, history, philosophy, and dog training. He lives in Marietta, Georgia, with his wife, Diana, his daughter, Miranda, and three border collies.

Order a copy of Neale’s book here:

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