Last week I talked about how maddening the snakes in Snakes & Ladders are. Snakes in your business are even worse. They pull you right down into the transaction box.

But what about the ladders? Hey, climb a couple of those and your entire game (or business) gets way better!

Imagine that your business had a magic ladder. Something that raises you above your competition. Gets you out of the transaction box. Makes it easier for your customers to find you. And respect you. And buy from you.

Wouldn’t THAT be a treat!

I’m pleased to report that you DO have a magic ladder. It all starts by looking at your customer a little differently.

Rather than thinking about WHAT your customer is asking for, think about WHY your customer wants it. How will it affect her in the medium- and long-term? Speaking of “long-term”, do you know what your customer aspires to achieve with her business? Do you know how you can help her get there?

Start climbing your magic, 10-rung ladder by shifting your thinking. You’ll slowly and surely escape the transaction box and revitalize your relationships with your customers. Here’s what happens, step-by-step:

  1. Win-Win Discussions.
    First rung. By sharing the same perspective as your customer, you eliminate the zero-sum conflict that is built into the transaction box. You now sit beside your customer rather than across the negotiating table from her.These discussions focus on her aspiration, her concerns, her customer, and her business landscape. Use this time to re-imagine her future and only then discuss how you will work together to achieve it.
  2. Long-term thinking.
    Rung two. Something’s already happening! By engaging in longer-term, aspiration-oriented discussions with your customer, you move away from short-term, deal-oriented thinking.
  3. Reduced price pressure.
    Next rung. As you reshape your offerings to support your customer’s longer-term objectives, you become more unique and less commoditized in her eyes. This reduces downward price pressure from competitors because your offerings and your story have started to go beyond theirs.
  4. Expanded offering.
    The cherry rung! With less price pressure, you become more expansive and creative in your thinking. You become willing to invest more time, effort and money in activities that support your customer.The cherry comes back into your thinking! Your focus shifts to adding value; your pricing moves from cost-based to value-based.
  5.  Customer trust and loyalty.
    Half-way up the ladder! In exactly the same way that the transaction box creates a negative spiral, breaking out of the transaction box develops upward momentum.You align your interests with those of your customer. When she wins, you win. This creates a palpable sense that is felt by your customer and encourages her to trust you and select you and work with you.

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  6.  Greater differentiation.
    You now spend less time thinking about your competitors and comparing yourself to them. Yes, you continue to keep an eye on them, but you no longer look laterally quite so obsessively.Focusing away from your competitors helps you become less like them in form, function and price. So long as you stay true to your customer’s aspiration this increasing differentiation serves you well.
  7. Increased innovation.
    You become more innovative. You no longer benchmark yourself against your competition to seek incremental improvements; you immerse yourself in your customer’s future and bring more of your creativity to bear on her challenges and opportunities.Innovation, coupled with value-based pricing and longer time-frames, encourages investment-type behaviour in both you and your customer.
  8. Customer regains focus.
    You help your customer regain her focus on her aspirations and her future. A trusted supplier leaves her free to look forward at her customers – and her customers’ aspirations – because she knows that you’ve got her back.
  9. Refreshed cultural norm.
    With repetition, out-of-the-transaction-box thinking gets reinforced. Discovering your customer’s aspiration becomes a habit as does the creative energy you unleash.Further, this thinking can become the tide that lifts the supply chain’s boats. Imagine your customer treating her customer with out-of-the-transaction-box thinking. Imagine your suppliers treating you this way. The entire supply chain can now tap into ever deepening wells of creativity and value.From a wider perspective, higher gross margins, longer-term thinking and increased innovation may well have broader benefits for an industry, a community, and a society.
  10. Decreased vulnerability.
    You’re at the top of the ladder. Way to go!Finally, this kind of thinking decreases your vulnerability. With more gross margin, you become less vulnerable to financial fluctuations; with greater differentiation, you become less vulnerable to creative alternatives; and, with increased innovation, you pave the road to your future.

So. Climbing your magic ladder promotes long-term, aspirational thinking. It encourages creativity and innovation. It builds loyal customers, promotes value-based – rather than cost-based – pricing, and makes you stronger.

In other words, it helps you develop the freedom to be of service to your customers and your community in the best possible way.

Isn’t that why you became an entrepreneur in the first place?

Are your customer relationships as strong as you want them to be? You can leave a comment below.