No matter what business you’re into, you want more customers. It is people who first of all have to have a need for the type of product or service you’re selling and then you have to convince them that yours is better than your competitor’s. Customer buy results. Results are your product or services and customer’s goal.
As a vendor, your responsibility is to initiate and maintain relationship with a customer. How to create value for your customers?
Initiating a relationship
Ask the right questions that will tell you what customers need; you need to know what questions to ask.
- What are the customer’s biggest concerns? Not all customers fit your assumptions. Find out what your customer needs are before you begin.
- What has been the customer’s previous experience with these concerns? How have they tackled these and are they ongoing?
- What advantages can you offer to customer over other competitors. These will depend on what their concerns were in the past and what their previous experience with it has been.
One-size-fits-all products don’t fit anyone properly.
How can you directly address the individuality and customise your solution. There are three different ways to do it – three types of vendor solutions for customers.
- Customise. Use a menu style of smaller independent solutions. Example, Price it separately
- Tailor the core products and services (easier) to customer needs. Partner with customers, understand and bulid the product that fit customer’s needs.
- Solving customer problems – holistic approach. Vendors (you) solve customers problems.
Creating customer value
Adding value is the key. Offer training to your product or service. You want to be customers expert, not just their supplier. You want to help them run their business.
- Educate customer about other uses of your product or services
- Coach customers about other ways of using products – user guide or cheat sheets will not be enough. Use toll free numbers, email, observe and review how they use it.
- Show customers how to integrate your product or service to they day to day business practices.
Developing the relationship and cultivating your customers
What are the benefits of this?
Keep the existing customers, decreasing the costs of doing business (no marketing needed) and developing stronger market position. 4 Key points are in bold below.
- Key to attracting and keeping customers is understanding their NEEDS and selling them results.
- Providing a fair price doesn’t mean providing the lowest basement price.
- Third customer need is outstanding service. Example is providing quick answers, or help installing products. Customers need to know that they relay on your to help which will generate repeat business.
- Customers don’t want to keep shopping around, it cuts their costs. They are interested in a long term relationship as well.
Vendor (you) will better know the needs then the new vendor. Long-term business relationships reduce customer’s worries.
Building a Rapport
Three strategies can help you build rapport over all communications mediums.
- Complement customers – helps relationship. Notice what they’re doing right already.
- Find common ground with your customer, find areas of commonality – something you both do, sport, movie, current affair. Two types – business commonality and personal commonality.
- Focus on areas of agreements and not the disagreements. Agreement creates a bond and puts you on the same team.
And always – be sincere and not dishonest.
- Paying attention – active component, active listening and ask targeted questions; stop talking, take notes, listen actively.
- Soliciting customer feedback – ask customers about product satisfaction and find out how. Be specific.
- Conveying respect – basis for the trust and confidence that is needed for long term relationship.
Further steps toward creating a good business relationship with your customers:
Focus groups – have more customers together and have prepared questions to guide the group. They can be expensive.
Surveys – easy way to get feedback
Interviews – ask survey type questions. What can we do to .. What would you like changed .. How well did our product fulfill your needs..
Conversations – informal one on one conversation.
Always follow up on the feedback.
Maintaining Long-term relationship
Benefits of this are repeat business and referral. Retaining customers shows company’s excellence and improves company’s reputation. Many companies fail to realise the importance of customer retention and maintaining existing customers and not just getting new customers. It reduces the cost to turnover business – no large marketing budgets. You’ll be able to better anticipate customer’s needs.
Components of trust:
- Candor – don’t wait for customer to ask you before sharing information with customers. Be straight forward, tell them that you’re running late for example. Be forthright and don’t cover up. State the facts without excuses. It doesn’t normally mean being a bearer of bad news.
- Consistency – don’t change your stands.
- Authenticity – be genuine in your intent to help customers. Have a concerned interest in customers problem and genuine desire to efficiently solve it.
Avoid hypocrisy or false sincerity.
Committing to the Relationship
Before you commit, take time to evaluate if the long term relationship needs to be entered in. Thee elements that should be present before entering the relationship.
- It should meet the needs of both organisations – win/win, give and take.
- Each party should need responsibility for outcomes – responsibility should be shared.
- The relationship should be dedicated to the customer’s development – help him uncover potential needs that you can help to fulfil.
Never guess or assume. Ask for the estimate of what customer needs and if your capacity can meet their needs. Are customer’s development plans comparable to yours?
We’ve all heard the expression ‘customer is always right’ – well, this is not necessarily true and there are occasions where you need to stand your ground. Customer however should always come first – yes, demonstrate your active support and responsiveness.
And finally, once you’ve established a professional relationship with your customers here are the three key elements in maintaining a long-term relationship.
- Attend to customer before the problem – be proactive, concerned, helpful and thorough.
- Maintain dependable flexibility – avoid rigid procedures, customer’s needs change over time. Remain creative, flexible and place no limits to find solutions.
- Advocate on your customer’s behalf (customer advocacy) – always speak well of your customer. Sort any differences on 1 on 1.