Monday, February 21, 2011

Building Customer Fortresses

What types of customers make working with them both profitable and a pleasurable? Those that are easy to work with, pay on time, as well as understand and value your services. This doesn’t describe every customer, but it does describe your ideal customers. These are the customers you want to build secure fortresses around. You want to keep them focused on your relationship, not what your competition is doing.

How can you do that? Well, some of the most basic things are the same traits you value in them. Make yourself easy to work with, deliver what you promise and deliver it on time, understand your customer’s needs and let them know that you value their business. For every step you take to improve your relationship with those valued customers, you are building a protective wall around them that your competition can not permeate.

Though it can be years in the making, your ultimate goal with these prospects is to create a true partnership of trust and shared experiences. It’s a nurturing and security building process that begins in your first contact experiences and expands with each interaction. When you’ve done your job right, it will take a lot for your competition to steal that customer away from you.

Here’s what you’re building at each level of your customer fortress.

Beginning relationships are determined by your customer’s needs and the value you bring to the relationship. You become a legitimate provider of the products or service they need. Initially, you are not normally recognized as having any significant, sustainable, competitive edge over alternative companies.

As you continue working with a customer, learning to more fully understand their needs, customers come to see you as a favored source they can trust their business to. At this point you have successfully progressed from just being an approved vendor. Because you are known and have proven yourself in past business activities they will normally seek you out even in the face of competitor alternatives.

The next level is where your patterns of listening and diligently striving to put your customer’s need above your sales pitch begin to pay off. Based on the combination of the products and services you offer, and the value-added knowledge or services you offer, your customers view you not only as a vendor, but also as a consulting resource on how to best use the products or services you specialize in.

You are beginning the change over from asking, “What can I help you with,” to your customer coming to you and saying, “I have a problem and I want your input.” You have shown you care about meeting their business needs, so they continue coming to you with problems they know you can help solve. Even so, it becomes important to remember that listening always comes before selling. If you become over confident thinking the customer is an “easy sale”, you will diminish their trust in you.

Assuming that you have identified the economic value of your customers and have done all that you can to earn their trust and respect over the years; you still haven’t reached your ultimate goal. You are never done adding value to the relationship but now you and the customer need to look toward the future. Can your customer feel secure enough in your business relationship to begin looking beyond current needs to future business objectives? Above and beyond the products and services you offer, do they see you as a source of strategic planning assistance for dealing with broader-based challenges they face.

The customer’s belief base in the relationship creates ultimate trust. Years down the road you will continue to be seen as a long-term partner whose contributions-- products, insights, process, etc. are critical to the customer’s long-term success. As long as you stay true to the knowledge and service they have come to expect from you, they will turn to you as a source of help in developing and building their own business.

In this type of relationship you have effectively completed a fortress around your customer relationship. They may be aware of the competition, but they hold very little attraction for your customer. It is you, your value, and the trust that has built between you, that keeps them from straying not the product or price you offer.

It all goes back to the two questions. Why are you in sales and why is a prospect/customer buying? The best businesses know the answers to both and they’ve worked to form long-term trusted partnerships with those prospects whose needs and desires best compliment their own.

And the bottom line? As you move up, from step to step, through the customer relationships, building partnership fortresses, those customers will buy more stuff from you. In our experience it’s about a 20% increase. See, I told you money was part of it.

Sales, and generating sales leads, are about building relationships that make you money and keep making you money.

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