So what is the best way to make yourself valuable and build customer relationships? In this article, I will provide some insight into how strong customer relationships are formed.
Getting Started: Developing a Foundation
It is important to realize that a solid customer relationship is not developed overnight; it takes time and effort. When establishing a new relationship with a customer, it is important to pay attention to the little details that make a big difference.
As a rule of thumb, everything you do should make it easy for the customer to do business with you. Here are some examples; although some are basic, they are all important:
- Respect the customer’s time, show up on time, and stay within the time allotted for your meeting/discussion.
- Learn as much as you can about your customers, and start thinking of ways you can help make their jobs easier. When working with a customer, in the back of your mind, think of ways to make the customer a “hero” within his or her organization.
- Look for opportunities, outside of selling your product or service, to assist your customer. Salespeople have the tendency to only think of how their products or services can help their customers. What if you haven’t sold them anything yet? Perhaps you can arrange a meeting with a strategic alliance for them or send them articles that they could benefit from. If you have market information that could impact their business (positive or negative), let them know. This will build trust, as well as credibility.
- Stay in contact with your customer; you never know when an opportunity is going to open up. Situations change daily within an organization, and if you are “out of sight, out of mind,” the business will go to someone who has stayed in contact.
- Manage expectations, and be honest. Never promise something you cannot deliver on.
Strengthening the Customer Relationship
The strengthening of a customer relationship occurs during and after a sale has been made, as well as when leading up to future purchase decisions. In fact, the strength of a customer relationship can be measured by how many times you have cycled through the sales process with the customer.
The key to making this an ongoing process is, again, being able to continually add value to the customer. Be aware that a common pitfall here is that you may think you are adding value, but if your customer doesn’t perceive value, then you have not provided value. Here are some examples of what you can do to provide value and strengthen your relationship with the customer.
Understand the customer’s needs. Explore his or her situation to uncover the problems that are causing him or her great difficulty (related to the problems your product or service solves), and help him or her solve the problem(s).
Admit mistakes. Mistakes will occur from time to time, and when they do, they create rare opportunities for you to really shine. Find a way to resolve the problem that is agreeable to the customer and makes it easy (from the customer’s perspective) to resolve. For example, have you ever had a company tell you, “That is not our fault/problem”? It is aggravating and insulting and tends to make people look at other vendors. The problem may not be your fault, but at least try to help the customer resolve it.
Follow-up counts. After the sale is complete, follow up to make sure everything is going well, and make sure the customer is receiving the value he or she expected. When the customer verbalizes the value he or she has received, reinforce it. For example, if a customer states your service did solve a problem, ask how that impacted his or her organization. He or she will state additional value and mentally acknowledge that you helped. This point is overlooked by more than 90% of salespeople; they either don’t follow up or don’t ask the right questions.
Stay in contact. Once a sale is made, in addition to the initial follow-up, stay in contact with the customer. There is no magic number of times or magic point at which to contact the customer. If you truly have no idea of how often you should contact the customer, ask the customer what his or her expectations (overall expectations, not just for following up) are and deliver.
Don’t ignore purchasing agents. Sometimes your customer may be a purchasing agent who doesn’t know how your product or service performed. In this scenario, create a report--investigate the results from the end user, and provide that information to the purchasing agent. This will speak volumes to the agent and will likely result in a follow-up sale.
Ethics are important. Be fair, and never take advantage of a relationship with a customer.
Pick up the phone. When disagreements arise, talk it out and develop a resolution. The biggest mistake salespeople make in this situation is trying to resolve problems via email. This is not the time or place to send an email; it just causes the problem to escalate. In every training event, there is always one person who says customers only care about price. If that has been your experience, then chances are you are not taking the time to prove alternate value. Your customers will look beyond price if you offer them the proper information. Price is part of the value equation, not the entire equation. Ask yourself why people would want to buy from you. Pretend that “price” is not a viable answer. You will come up with several correct answers, and these are the value statements that you should provide to your customers.
Some of the best sales professionals and business owners in the world never compete on price because they have strong relationships. When you continue to provide value to your customers, value that they realize and verbalize, they will consider you an asset to their organizations and will continue to do business with you. These customers will also lead you to great sources for referrals and testimonials.
About the Author
Henry Pellerin is the president and founder of VantaEDGE™ Inc. and co-author of The Strategic Selling Process. VantaEDGE™, Inc., provides customized sales training, consultation, and facilitation services. Henry personally has had more than 17 years of experience in sales, sales management, and business development, and he shares his expertise with clients to help them receive the same results he has attained year after year.
You may want to sign up for the VantaEDGE™ monthly sales tips newsletter, VantaEDGE Monthly, from which you’ll receive valuable selling tips each month along with the special report “Avoid the Top 10 Selling Mistakes That Lose Sales.” To do so, visit www.vantaedge.com. Henry can be reached at 864-254-9300 or via email at email@example.com.