Here are eight ways to start building long-term relationships with your customers right now.
In Part I of this article series, we covered some of the main challenges facing electrical distributors that want to do a better job of building long-term relationships with their customers. As the focal points for these engagements, sales reps can be both enablers and roadblocks on this journey. Other culprits include the reality that buyers can click or tap their way to your competitors in seconds, and the desire to close “big deals” instead of focusing on incremental sales “wins” from your best customers.
Combined with other challenges of today’s marketplace, these obstacles can stand in the way of healthy revenue growth for today’s B2B sellers, who are up against the likes of Amazon Business and other online sellers that are focused less on long-term customer relationships and more on the single sale.
“Electrical distributors are well positioned to cultivate the long-term customers that their online counterparts may not be able to hone and service,” says Paul Donehue, president at sales management consultancy Paul Charles & Associates, “but doing so takes time, effort, and the willingness to put in a consistent effort.” Here are eight ways that distributors can start doing this right now:
- Adopt a consistent, unwavering approach. Long-term customer-distributor relationships have to involve consistent effort and effective planning. That means every customer interaction—whether by email, telephone, or face-to-face—must be executed in a logical, straightforward manner that creates value for the buyer. “If sellers don’t add value beyond the features of their product/service,” says Donehue, “then it’s easy for buyers to ‘commoditize’ the relationship.” And that’s when buyers start tapping their screens or clicking their mice to find an alternative source of supply, versus putting time and effort into creating a long-term partnership with your company
- Get the right people involved. Exactly who is involved with the cultivation of lifelong customers depends on the size of the distributorship and how many people “touch” those customers on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. “If you’re running a larger distributorship that’s doing business with a similarly-sized buying organization, then it’s best for each party to develop multiple contacts with one another,” Donehue says. Beyond the sales team, for example, this can include sales managers, customer experience or support staff, accounting workers, product support experts, and so forth. “These multiple different ‘bonds’ promote a better overall business relationship,” says Donehue, “and also greater levels of customer loyalty.”
- Think beyond just “sealing the deal.” “No relationship lasts long if either party stops putting in effort once they ‘seal the deal,” Forrester’s Laura Ramos writes in Modern (B2B) Love: Deepen Customer Relationships With Post-Sale Engagement Marketing. “B2B marketers risk hurting or losing customers if they only care about attracting and acquiring them. Customer-obsessed marketers build relationships through post-sale marketing and by creating engaging experiences that turn loyal customers into advocates.”
- Keep the positive momentum going with training and reinforcement. The best reinforcement comes in the form of coaching by sales managers, says Donehue, and it should be ongoing. “The ‘training’ can’t end when the training class is over,” he says, “but rather when salespeople have applied their newfound knowledge and expertise on a day-to-day basis in the field.” During these sessions, train sales reps on how to sell themselves as value-added experts, and how to think and communicate in terms of benefits and value. “Then, coach them on how to do it,” he adds, “both at an initial training session and on an ongoing basis.”
- Get as much face time with your customers as possible. We live in an era where pretty much any type of communication can take place electronically or via a mobile device, but that doesn’t mean it should. In fact, Donehue tells electrical distributors that want more lifelong customers to strive for as much face time with buyers as possible. “There’s the impression that everything can be done electronically,” says Donehue, “but it’s extremely difficult to build real relationships without some form of individualized communication.”
- Develop a new (or updated) mission statement. “Too many sales reps and business owners are consumed with the everyday realities of how to get the next sale, how to get through this quarter, and how to do this or that,’” says Steve James, a freelance marketing consultant in Vancouver, B.C., “all without giving much thought to the long-term.” One way to avoid this trap is by knowing—and living by—your distributorship’s mission statement. If you already have one, dust it off and make sure it still represents your brand, who you are, and where you’re headed. If you don’t have a mission statement (a lot of companies don’t, according to James), then it’s time to develop one. “In order to start putting the right message out there for customers, you have to start at square one,” says James. “Think about what your company does, what it does better than anyone else, and why customers should work with you for the long-term. That’s your mission statement.”
- Turn your customers into your biggest fans. An empathetic mindset is the hallmark of a customer-obsessed marketing team, and B2B companies develop empathy by understanding customers and by using post-sale engagement to coach them toward a successful deployment and to build best practices that deliver measurable value. Even better, someone interested in your company’s success will also be willing to advocate on your behalf. “Turning customers into advocates should be every B2B marketer’s goal,” Ramos writes. “When business buyers distrust branded content and prospects want to hear from peers, customer advocates can become your most important marketing tool.”
- Get super personalized with your customers. Get back to good old-fashioned account management by discussing points like: What are our goals with this specific customer account? What do we have to do to reach these goals? And, what do we have to do differently (versus what we’re doing now)? Go beyond just dollars and cents with these answers, says James, and look at key points like how many “touches” you’ll have to do per quarter or per year; how many face-to-face visits need to happen (and how many you can afford); and how you can learn more about your customers and their needs. Then, come up with a personalized way to meet (or exceed) those needs. “The business community has become desensitized to anything that can be perceived as mass marketing,” says James, “so make sure your approach is individualized, and that it specifically addresses your customer’s wants, needs, and pain points.”
To learn more about how to form stronger relationships with your customers, turn to page 43 in the June issue of tED magazine to read Create Customers For Life in the Sales Spotlight this month.
Tagged with best practices, customer, sales