We all know that marketing and selling is really about relationships. It’s about knowing what your customers’ needs are, knowing the best way to talk to them, knowing what you have in your repertoire that can address their needs and doing it all in a way that conveys to them, their value and importance to your organization.
Something else we all know is that relationships – of any kind – are never static and are not always a walk in the park. They take nurturing, communication, and constant attention to the dynamics of the current situation. Quality customer relationships take work.
You’ve got lots of competitors out there. And they’re all waiting for just the right moment to pounce on your customers. Competition is tough. Many folks believe establishing and maintaining customer relationships will be the single greatest source of competitive advantage in business. So, you’ve got to be on your toes. They’re always looming, waiting for the right opportunity.
Having a customer whose loyalty is solid is one of the best defenses you can have against your competitors. And gaining that loyalty is all about building a relationship with that customer.
Common wisdom tells us that keeping an existing customer is a heck of a lot cheaper than getting a new customer. You still have expenses associated with marketing to that “old” customer and giving them support, but those expenses are virtually nothing compared to the prospecting, communication, sales call, proposal generating, etc. expenses that it costs you to pursue a new customer. Again, anything you can do to keep that customer happy and solid in your professional relationship is a money-saver for you in the long run.
Now, with the infiltration of web-based selling, easier online shopping and comparisons, self-service ordering and nonexistent human contact through your website, your customers might not have as much face time with your company as they used to. And your competitors are simply a click away. Imagine Suzy Customer out there on the web, surfing through your site and all your competitors’ sites. Yikes. You need some protection. And, along with good business practices, products and pricing, again your best protective barrier may indeed be the relationship you’ve created with her.
Sales are ultimately based on expectations — expectations of the customer and whether or not you meet them. All people have expectations, whether they explicitly state them or not. It is the job of the marketing people and salespeople to know from the outset what the customers’ expectations are. We know those will likely change throughout the scope of the buying cycle, but it’s important to try to really understand those expectations.
Once you’ve worked to establish what the expectations are, you must make sure you can fulfill them. Be careful not to over-promise (and your R&D team will thank you too), but don’t cut yourself or your product short either. When you deliver as you say you will, you add another solid block in the foundation of your relationship with your customer. And you solidify it even more when you deliver better than promised.
So know your customers. Show some interest. Find ways to get their feedback. You need to do these little things to show that you are aware and interested in what’s going on with your customers. Make sure you have regular contact even just to say hello. Do you know their birthdays, their likes and dislikes? You should be enthusiastic about your products, about their companies, and about the relationship between them. And show your appreciation.
So, you may be thinking that all that sounds great. You’ve heard it before, but how in the world are you supposed to remember all of that stuff about your customers when you have hundreds or even thousands of customers? How can you possibly know from visit to visit what all has gone on with that customer?
[Insert trumpeting horn sound here — da da da da!]
Have you heard of these little products called contact managers and customer relationship management (CRM) solutions? (Come on ... did you expect me to say anything different than that? Really? You did?)
Seriously though, in addition to including the history of the customer, every time they’ve been contacted by someone in your organization, every time they’ve contacted you, what was said, what was done, personal information,and so on, you can also use it to know all about your own company too. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with everything that changes in business every day — pricing changes, new product updates, promotions, what the latest buzz words are, this month’s promotions and so on. With all that at hand, your staff (and all your selling channels) can look like stars, like they’re on the cutting edge and in the mix at your company at all times. Knowledgeable staff make for more trusting customers and a more positive buying experience. This trust and satisfaction translate into heightened awareness and loyalty for the next-time purchase.
Technology continues to meet old (and new) challenges associated with old school business and e-business. Though, to be honest, technology creates some challenges of its own. But, giving your marketing folks, salespeople, your support staff, and everyone who has contact with your customers as much information as they can possibly have about your customers will help them do what they’re in business to do and what makes a business successful — build strong relationships.