>I recently asked the question to a number of small business owners, “What are the top challenges you are facing right now?” Not surprisingly the economy ranked right up there at number one, but two others closely followed: Staying top of mind and visible with clients, and staying connected and engaged with clients.

That to me, was a very telling response. Really shows just how much our economy has changed, and that the economists were right. We no longer have the luxury of waiting for the client to come to us – we need to go to them. We are moving into what is known as a pull economy, meaning that the consumer is in control. With increased competition, technology and globalization the consumer really determines what they want to buy, when they want to  buy it, how they want to buy it and from whom they want to buy it.That makes what we sell or offer a commodity, but how we sell or offer it our competitive advantage. it is not the what we do in this economy, but how we do it that will determine our level of success.

Having a superior product or offering a high quality service is merely a consumer expectation these days, a minimum requirement. Consumers have so many choices, so much opportunity  they don’t even give you the time of day if they do not believe you offer or sell a product that is at the level at which they are looking.  So if you cannot differentiate yourself with quality of product, then what can you do to make the consumer notice and choose you?

Build trust and add value!  Trust and value have become the new return on investment. They are what consumers are looking for, and they are what is driving the decision making process. Consumers will spend money, they will buy multiple services, and they will remain long term , loyal clients if they understand the value you offer. They will refer their friends, their peers and they will become your unpaid sales force if and when they trust you.

So if trust and value have become so important, if trust and value have become the point at which you can gain competitive advantage, what do you do to ensure you are really developing it with your clients?

Trust is built through consistent positive interaction with you and your company over a period of time. The longer the time invested, the more positive the consistent interaction, the deeper the level of trust. Meaning there is more opportunity for depth of relationship and greater sales. Adding value is simply determined through listening, and by understanding that value is unique to the individual. You need to ask great questions, and you need to listen so you can find ways to solve your clients challenges. You need to help them take advantage of their opportunities; not the opportunities or challenges you predetermined they had. There will be plenty of time for that later, once you have met their immediate needs and they feel that emotional connection that adding value brings. With that, you gain permission to expand the relationship and offer new opportunities and solutions they never knew existed.

So if you want to succeed in this economy, if you want to solve your top challenges and turn them into opportunities, understand it is not what you sell in this economy that matters, but how you sell it!