collaborate with customers

The ideal sales process for both buyer and seller is a team effort. Both you and the customer have information and ideas that the other needs, leading to the best outcomes.


Think about any project you’ve ever worked on. Which do you remember most: the finished product someone else worked on and presented to you or the work you did and results you were a part of?

Naturally, we remember what we personally experienced. We recall specific feelings, conversations, trials and tribulations that had an impact on us. We are more invested in the work we were more involved in – that made us more committed to it and caused us to remember it.

That’s the aim of collaborating with your customers. You want them to be involved in meaningful ways. You want them to work with you, side by side, getting more and more invested as the work progresses.

This will make you and the work you do together more memorable than anything the competition has to offer.

What Can I Do to Collaborate With Customers in Meaningful Ways?

Don’t make the mistake of doing too many things for your buyer. Instead, do more of the work with your buyer. We’ve moved out of the service economy and into the experience economy, so you can’t rely on outdated servant selling techniques. What can you do with your buyer? Tons! Including:

  • Dialogic instead of diagnostic needs assessment
  • Brainstorming for new and innovative ideas
  • Selecting options for the product or service you sell
  • Creating a compact for your working relationship
  • Solving problems and tackling obstacles

Let’s take each of those in turn.

Dialogic instead of diagnostic needs assessment

Customers want two-way dialogue. They want their questions to be answered in a timely manner. They want sellers to ask them about their needs. And they want to be heard and engaged in conversation.

Sounds exactly like what we’d all prefer in conversations! And it is.

Sellers seem to forget basic conversational skills when it’s time to talk about the buyer’s needs. They ask qualifying and canned questions that are boring and one-sided. They race through those questions like it’s some sort of survey, often missing out on subtle cues about when they should drill down to get the rest of the story.

The diagnostic needs assessment is no longer effective. It’s time for sellers to conduct dialogic needs assessments.

Brainstorming for new and innovative ideas

I’ve seen it happen dozens, even hundreds of times. The seller gathers information from the buyer and promises to return with a proposal. Before writing the proposal, the seller brainstorms will colleagues and/or agonizes over options. After settling on the “best” solution, the proposal gets written and taken back to the buyer. Then, despite all that thought and all that work, the buyer’s reaction is lackluster.

Sellers are stunned. How could the buyer not love the solution?

They don’t love it because they weren’t involved in generating the ideas for it. They didn’t participate in creating what they wanted. Their own imprint isn’t on it, so it’s easy to dismiss it.

You’ve got to get buy-in before you ask for the buy. The best way to do that is by working with the buyer to co-create insights and ideas.

Selecting options for the product or service you sell

The collaboration for generating ideas needs to carry through to co-creating a solution.

Even if what you sell is not customizable, there are options available that your buyer can be involved in choosing: delivery time or schedule, communication protocols for ongoing service, payment plan, etc. Give them options and a voice in selecting options in any way possible.

Creating a compact for your working relationship

Another important area for collaboration, one that is often overlooked, is determining how you will work together. Don’t make assumptions here.

Get confirmation about:

  • Which phone number they prefer you to use
  • How they like to receive written communications
  • What time of day is best to meet
  • How often you should check in

You don’t have to make this seem like a formal process. You’re just showing respect for your buyer’s busy schedule when you ask questions about their preferences. They will appreciate it.

Solving problems and tackling obstacles

When problems crop up, and they will in any long-term relationship, don’t try to hide them and do all the work yourself.

Collaboration includes transparency. Tell the buyer what’s going on. Even if you already have a standard way of handling the problem, let them know you’re on it.

Collaboration also includes getting input. Sometimes customers have great ideas for fixes. Sometimes, the thing we’re trying to fix isn’t important to them or isn’t a top priority.

Finally, collaborating goes both ways. When buyers have problems, you’ll want to be involved in working on solutions. Customers may encounter internal challenges to buying, using, renewing, or upgrading your products/services. Partner with them to overcome these obstacles.