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The reality of our professional, business, (perhaps our personal lives), is that we are time poor. Everyone is over-committed, overworked, and overwhelmed. Time becomes their most precious and unrecoverable commodity.

With this as the glaring reality of our own time utilization and that of our customers, I’m astounded at how cavalier we are about how we use time.

From a customer point of view, research report after research report comes back with one of the top issues customers have about salespeople: “They waste my time!”

Every sales person I talk to, the number one problem is, “I can’t get customers to take the time to talk/see me!”

If you reflect on it, Return On Their Invested Time becomes a key indicator of our ability to create value with our customers.

Too often, we focus on the Return On Our Invested Time, forgetting that we are getting things backwards. If we are to get great Return On Our Time, it’s only through producing great Return On Their Invested Time.

Peeling that back a little, every choice customers make, perhaps unconsciously, is about how and where they invest their time to get maximum return out of that investment. In deciding to meet with us, they are trading off the return they expect to get from the meeting with you, versus working on their day to day tasks, meeting with people in their company, meeting with their customers, doing email, surfing the web, or taking a break to go to the bathroom and pee.

They are going to invest their time in probably the most urgent thing, secondarily the most important thing.

And too often, because of their past history with sales, perhaps not you, as they look at their choices, spending time with salespeople falls to the bottom of the list–according to the data, probably rightfully so. If we are ill-prepared, if we talk about what we want to talk about, if we don’t understand the customer and their business, what are they going to get out of the time they invest in us.

Pundits, including me, talk about creating value with the customer. Often, these discussions get pretty esoteric. For example, “What disruptive insights can we bring?”

In reality, the greatest value we can create with the customer is that at the conclusion of every interaction–whether it’s a phone call, a meeting, or an email we’ve sent–they can say, “That’s the very best use of my time that I could have made.”

If all we do is focus on the concept, “How do we maximize the Return On Invested Time in every interaction,” we will have answered the question of value creation with the customer.

What does this mean?

As we think about a call or a meeting we are designing, before we execute the call, do a test–being viciously honest with yourself–“At the conclusion of this meeting, will the customer have considered this a great use of their time?” If we can’t, honestly, answer that with a resounding “Yes!”, then we need to go back to the drawing board.

After each call or meeting, do a quick self-assessment, ask yourself, “Would the customer say this was a great use of their time?” Be honest with yourself. Sometimes, if you have the courage, ask your customer for feedback, “Was this meeting the best use of the time you invested?” Listen to their response, probe and understand.

Doing these two things will dramatically improve your ability to engage your customers, creating value, and moving forward in the relationship.

In various past roles, I always made myself available to sales to call on customers. As we planned to call and they discuss what we hoped to accomplish, the final question I’d ask was, “What value are we creating for the customer and is the best use of her time?” If the salesperson couldn’t answer that in a compelling way based not on what the salesperson wanted to do, but on an honest customer perspective, I’d tell the sales person we weren’t ready for the call.

If you want to create value with your customers; if you want to differentiate yourself from everyone else, if you want to become that trusted advisor; if you want to have the customer welcome your calls and meetings, make sure you are making their choice to invest their time with you the very best choice possible.