Ways to Protect (and Grow!) Your Customer Base

By Colleen Francis

Increase the Relationship Value with Your ClientsKeeping customer loyalty is one of the greatest challenges in sales. This can be especially challenging if your product or service is one that is offered elsewhere on the market for the same quality or price. Some time ago, if a customer liked or trusted you as an individual, it would be enough to win their business, but in today’s more competitive and educated marketplace, that’s often insufficient.

Now, customers must not only like and trust you, they must also see you as an expert in their industry—and that’s just to make the initial sale. In order to protect your customer’s loyalty, you must also develop relationships across the customer’s organizations—broadly and deeply—to ensure that you maintain your reputation even if your primary contact leaves the customer’s company.

There are three aspects to a customer relationship that lends itself to strong customer loyalty.

Build Personal Rapport
In sales, the personal relationship is perhaps one of the most well-known and traditional sales techniques. Before a customer moves forward to do business with you, he or she must like and trust you as the face of your company. This means balancing your personal relationship with the customer with your transactional relationship.

When you call on a client, is it always about reordering, upgrading, or some other conversation that requires the client writing a check? If so, you’re heavy on the transactional relationship and constantly asking for money, which is going to wear on the customer eventually.

Instead of focusing on the sale first, make the client feel like you care about them. I’m not talking about conversations about your kids, though that small talk is a great way to personalize the relationship. What’s more important, however, is to make the client feel as though you care about his success. By cultivating a personal relationship with your client, you add intangible value to your products and services.

Build Business Rapport
Your personal relationship with the client is the first layer in developing loyalty, but today’s customer is much more savvy than the customer of 3-5 years ago. You need to not only make them like you, but also make them see you as a resource that will help them move their business forward and meet their goals. We call this building business rapport.

Establish yourself as a resource for your clients. Introduce them to potential customers or employees when you see a fit. Put them on a customer advisory panel, asking their opinion and input, which will give them an intrinsic sense of ownership and investment in your company and product. Ensure that your company and you as an individual are participating in thought leadership, conferences, professional development and other reputation-building activities.

Many studies have shown that around two-thirds of the customers that leave do so because they feel their vendor has become indifferent to their needs. Ensure that your customers never fall under that misconception by fostering a relationship outside the sales process.

Build Corporate Rapport
Don’t underestimate the power of not only having a good relationship with your main point of contact at an organization, but also having excellent rapport with other people within the client. With the amount of turnover that most companies have, it’s a mistake to assume that a great and loyal contact within the organization will necessarily lend itself to a secure relationship with the client itself.

At Engage Selling, we recently had a client with a multi-million dollar shipping services contract. The customer was a great one for our client, but problems cropped up with their main contact, the vice president of operations, left the company. When the new vice president came in, he did a complete review of services, including shipping, and because the client hadn’t developed multiple relationships within the organization, there was no advocate for their particular shipping services. No one stood up and said to the new VP that our client’s shipping services were necessary to do their jobs; no executives considered them integral to the company. As a result, they were seen as “just a vendor,” ultimately losing $1 million of their contract to a competitor.

It’s wonderful to have a quality relationship with each of your clients, but don’t underestimate the value of quantity. People move on; give yourself the insurance of having established a reputation in multiple areas of your client’s organization.

By providing a superior customer experience with relationships that span your client’s entire organization and a sales process that shows you care about the customer and its business success, you can begin building your customer loyalty and stop worrying about whether a competitor might be chipping away at your customer base. In fact, you just might be able to start chipping away at theirs.

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Nonstop Sales Boom by Colleen Francis Make sure you check out Colleen's latest book, Nonstop Sales Boom for powerful strategies to drive consistent sales growth quarter after quarter, year after year.

Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions (www.EngageSelling.com). Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.

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