The most successful businesses know that to grow sales means to be imbedded into their customer accounts. Of course, a number of companies view their sales approaches as a series of simple and straightforward transactions. This view of sales is an outdated and antiquated approach that limits the ability to secure long term and repeatable growth. Successful business growth comes when customers come to view your company as their single most important supplier, and the first to be called when new business is to be awarded.
Obviously, to become this vendor of choice requires much more than simple sales transactions. It requires an understanding of what it means to truly manage your customer relationships, and to be embedded not only in terms of the buyer who awards you the business, but in every aspect of the customer’s business process. When you’ve achieved this level of penetration, you’ve started down the road to maximizing your customer relationships.
What most companies do simply doesn’t work any more:
As previously mentioned, most companies see sales as single transactions where the gross profit needs to be maximized. They concentrate on only the immediate sale in front of them. Maximizing gross profit on the immediate sale, and not a series of repeat sales, can lead your customers to view your approach as shortsighted. In fact, most will become guarded when dealing with you and your company. They may come to see you as trying to swindle them. If your approach is to concentrate on only the sale you are working on now, and not future sales or growing the size of your customer accounts, your customers will never consider you a long term partner. Your company will fall into the “convenient supplier” zone, where customers only call or award business when their primary vendor is unable to accommodate them. No company is ever interested in always being an afterthought. Most companies want to be the primary source, the first point of contact, and that valued partner every customer looks for. When deciding to improve your customer relationships, and maximize your potential for growth, it is important to understand that sales is not just a singular transaction. This basic approach is what your competitors use. Your approach will be refreshing, and will ultimately seem effortless. It will lead to your company being that primary supplier, and the one who is always offered the right of last refusal. In deciding to maximize your customer relationships, what are the four criteria you must be aware of?
One of the most important aspects of growing your customer relationships is to identify and get to know the primary decision makers, and to remember that these decision makers vary by customer. Don’t make assumptions that all decision makers are the same at every customer. It varies, and it is imperative for you to know who these key decision makers are. Knowing them, and working with them, is the first and most important step in embedding yourself into your customer accounts. You must come to know how, why, and who made the decision. It is never acceptable to be unaware of why you lost the business. At one account, the main decision marker may be the owner of the business, while at another, it could be the purchasing agent, project manager or engineer in charge of product development. Never be afraid to ask the questions that need to be asked in order to make sure you are dealing with the right person. It’s all about making sure you are servicing their account. Spending time with someone who either can’t help you, or doesn’t want to, is never the right approach.
It’s imperative to know how your customers operate. Do you understand their order patterns and are able to anticipate their orders before they do? Do they have specific requirements on how their products are packaged? Are you working closely with them to maximize their savings on freight, volumes and discounts? When you can provide your customer with a heads up on their own requirements, they’ll know you’re ahead of the game. Take the time to understand how your customers operate, what they like and don’t like, and take it a step further by asking how your company is performing. Once you do this, you’ll find an open door to not only improving your relationship, but to maximizing your sales.
Customers need to feel important, and rightly so. If they are made to feel like their business is simply not important, or worth fighting for, they won’t hesitate to move their requirements elsewhere. Showing that you have a sincere interest in improving your sales and service, will go a long way to establishing that position of importance in your customer’s eyes. However, be careful. Don’t overplay your appreciation too much, but temper it with statements from time to time that you value and appreciate their business. There is a happy medium here that you have to find. If customers feel they are so important you simply can’t live without them, they may try to take advantage. Make sure to find that middle ground, but never be concerned with telling your customer just how much you appreciate their business. Show your customer how much you appreciate their business by providing them with preferential pricing and discount offers.
Mistakes happen every day in business for all kinds of reasons. Pretending they don’t exist, or aren’t serious, will only insult your customers and make them feel as though you are not taking their business seriously. Don’t waste your customer’s time by trying to explain away serious issues. Your customer needs your expertise and ability in tough times. If you fail to show up in these times of need, your customer will remember how you weren’t there when they needed you. Unfortunately, you could do everything right for months at a time, but if something happens, and you fail to help your customer, that’s what they’ll remember. It’s that simple. How you perform in difficult and urgent times will go a long way to position yourself as a valuable and trusted partner. Understand that not all problems can be solved immediately. You may not have the solution your customer needs, but you must call or visit them regardless. Most of your competition will fail to help in these circumstances, as they view sales as one transaction. Welcome these problems as opportunities to showcase what you, and your company, can do.
Moving your sales and customer management approach past the single transaction sale, and onto a partnership, will result in more growth. Customers need to feel wanted and appreciated. As long as you don’t overplay your appreciation, but fight for their business and work with them, they should remain loyal. Maximizing the gross profit on one sale is fine if you sell used cars, but if your business wants to grow your customer accounts, you need to adopt a forward looking approach that views sales, and customers service, as a never ending pursuit.
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