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Part I: What the FBI Can Teach Us About Customer Engagement

Today's salespeople are caught within a tightening circle of frustration and scrutiny. Increasing pressure to be more productive. The ever-growing demands of savvy, well-informed customers. Aggressive competition. A break-neck pace. The necessity to continually evolve and adapt to the tune of rapidly changing technology. They all conspire to make the job of selling—never an easy one—more challenging than ever.

Paul Greenberg, CRM authority, defines customer engagement as "the ongoing interactions between company and customer, offered by the company, chosen by the customer." So how do sales people sweeten those interactions so they are perceived by the customer to actually add a value that is totally separate from the product or service they're offering?

Meaningful communications that are more than predictable and periodic "touches," of course. Think of the process as forging, link by link, a chain of useful, practical and valuable interactions that build credibility, trust, recognition and, who knows, perhaps dependence. This is exactly what can happen in content marketing when it's well executed.

If we could see inside the hearts and minds of customers and know what they value, the job of engagement (and eventually selling) would be a lot easier. While we can't do that, Robin Dreeke says we can take the fast track for building rapport with people.

Dreeke heads the Behavioral Analysis program for the FBI, and he has summarized his suggestions in a book, It's Not All About Me. His insights grow from an understanding of social psychology and years of practical application in the field.

While engagement goes by many names, it's pretty clear that all the various techniques rest on building rapport. That's why the following suggestions, rooted in psychology, may have strong implications for sales and marketing.

1. Defuse the time bomb in advance. Let them know at the outset that you won't take too much time. Busy people are protective of their schedules and anyone who doesn't recognize this represents a risk to be avoided. Let them know at the beginning how long a meeting will last. Have an agenda and stick to it. Communicate key points right out of the gate. When creating content, less is definitely more. Give them information that is easy to consume and apply.

2. Understand that you speak even before you use words. "Show how accommodating you are via non-verbal cues. . . . An accommodating handshake is one that matches the strength of the other, and also takes more of a palm up angle. . . . More advanced non-verbal cues involve tilting your chin down slightly to look less threatening and angling your body slightly away from the customer."

3. Pace yourself. "Slow down the rate at which you present information. . . . Whenever I have a conversation that I believe is important for me to be credible in my content, I purposely slow down the delivery and take pauses for people to absorb the content." Don't expect your audience to remember more than three things from any exchange so slow down that emphasize the three points you want remembered.

4. Be true to your word. ". . . . As human beings, we are biologically conditioned to accommodate requests for assistance. The compulsion is based upon the fact that our ancient ancestors knew that if they did not provide assistance when asked, the assistance would not be granted to them if requested at a later date." Be sincere in your desire to be always ready to help.

5. Check your ego at the door: Choose to come in second. "Put the customers' wants, needs and perceptions ahead of your own. . . . Suspending your ego is nothing more complex than putting other individuals' wants, needs and perceptions of reality ahead of your own. Most times, when two individuals engage in a conversation, each patiently waits for the other person to be done with whatever story he or she is telling. Then, the other person tells his or her own story, usually on a related topic and often times in an attempt to have a better and more interesting story."

Next time: In part two of this two-part series, we'll look at more customer engagement suggestions from Robin Dreeke, author of It's Not All About Me.

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