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Here's an interesting title: Consumer Engagement Specialist. What does someone with that title do? I had a chance to interview Lou Gallagher, who holds that title at Mitel, a business communications and collaboration company focused on creating powerful connections.

A simple definition of a consumer engagement specialist is someone who engages and interacts with a customer—or potential customer—as a partner, not as a salesperson. Gallagher, whose resume makes him look like a technology guru, doesn't sell Mitel products. Instead, he focuses on knowing everything he can about his customer—the consumers of Mitel's products—and how he can best support their needs, regardless of what technology they think they need. In other words, he is more focused on his customer than the sale. And guess what? In many cases, that sale follows!

First, let's talk about the word consumer. As Gallagher used that word, I kept thinking about a consumer of retail products. I rarely hear about consumers in the B2B world. I found that interesting and refreshing. After all, they are consumers of whatever we sell, be it technology or equipment or anything else.

"We need to understand what the business needs are without talking about product," says Gallagher. "Lose the religion on the product. Gain the religion on the company's success." Gallagher's is a more consultative approach. It's more about understanding his consumers' needs and partnering with them to come up with the right solutions. Of course, it won't surprise you that his company's products provide those solutions to meet the customers' needs.

It's not just the frontline salespeople who should deliver on this way of thinking. It takes a total team effort that includes all areas of the company. Gallagher suggests working across teams and business units within the entire organization. "Consumer interaction doesn't just happen in the call center. Everybody, in every organization, has a positive and/or negative impact on consumer or customer interaction. Consumer interaction is part of the culture.

Another way to look at Gallagher's philosophy is that an organization should move away from being referred to as a vendor and instead become a partner. He shared three specific ways to do so:

1. Look at your consumer—or customer—engagement strategy.

Is it holistic? Is it based on what you sell, or is it more about the customers' needs? Common sense dictates you wouldn't sell a product if it doesn't meet your customers' needs. After all, you wouldn't design a product and then try to see if the customer wanted it. That's not what most companies do. The late Steve Jobs of Apple said, "A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them." But most companies can't take the risk of designing the product and then hoping to convince the customer or consumer that they need it. So, Gallagher is saying to work that in reverse—determine what the customer needs and provide it.

2. Customers need to ask: What are you doing to understand my business and why I need your product?

There are two parts to this question: first, what the customer's business does, and second, why they need your product. Unfortunately, many people focus on the "why they need" part and not the "what they do" part. You must understand your customer—what they do, who they are and why they are in business—before you can deliver the perfect solution.

3. Focus on the customer's journey with you.

You must understand every interaction point your customers will have with you in the course of doing business. Look for points of differentiation. Look for opportunities to make life easier for your customers. Look for ways you can support your customers' success with your products and services. Tell the story that helps them understand why you're the right partner and why your products and services are the solutions they need.

How can you take these ideas and apply them to your own business? The goal is to identify your customers' needs and help solve them—regardless of making the sale. Demonstrate value and show you care about your customers, and they will perceive you as a partner instead of a vendor. If you move forward with that mindset, you may just find that it creates deeper and more lasting relationships with your customers—both old and new. And that's just better business.

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