How To Build Lasting Customer Relationships

Nov 14, 2019 | Relationship Building

Relationships with customers are like my relationship with Riley, my Golden Retriever…

Like any good golden retriever, my buddy Riley is serenely uncomplicated and ecumenical with his affections. He loves anybody who plies him with kibble twice a day, patiently tosses him his ball, consents to be dragged along on the high-speed outings we still call walks, and tells him what a good boy he is.

The truth of the matter is that Riley doesn’t really care who feeds and walks him. Anyone that makes him happy by taking care of his basic requirements earns his affection. That is all your customers want as well.

Relationships are about “needs and deeds”

Customers have needs. And their relationship with you is determined by how well you meet and exceed those needs with your deeds.

Like our canine companions, customers have developed a simple Hierarchy of Needs: Give me timely, complete, and accurate information to make an informed purchase decision; live up to your promises and deliver on your commitments; and, at the top, support me without condition.

Just like Riley, customers really don’t care who meets their needs. It could be you. Or it could be the sales rep from your primary competitor. Customers may “like” you, but they don’t care about you. Customers only care about what you have done, and can do, for them.

Do you remember when you left your beloved dog to go off to college or moved away from home?

You knew your dog loved you, absolutely loved you, loved you completely, until the car taking you to the airport disappeared around the corner. At which point Fido largely forgot about you and bonded with the new person supplying the kibble and the walks.

Your customers are the same way. If you aren’t there to meet their needs, customers will quickly forget that you exist.

3 Tips for Building “Needs and Deeds” Relationships with Your Customers

1. Treat your prospects and customers as you would wish to be treated.

Ask yourself these questions: If you were a customer of your own company, what would you expect the customer experience to be? How would you wish to be treated by your own sales and support people?

Your answers should reflect the minimum standard of care that you provide to your own prospects and customers. Meeting this standard is easy at first but demanding to continue. It starts with a CEO and senior management committing to making the customer their top priority.

One of my CEO clients was a very demanding consumer. That was his right. But it was often stressful to dine out with him because he demanded perfection in the food and service and was not bashful about sending dishes back to the kitchen. Yet when it came to his own customers, he was defensive about his products and adopted a minimalist approach to customer service, making it a challenge for customers to get the support they needed.

It took a long time to help him recognize and acknowledge the inconsistency between the service he expected when he purchased a product and the way he treated his own customers. Only then did he start earning the repeat business he needed to build his business.

2. Delight your customers with your commitment to customer service.

Commit to being completely responsive to your customers’ requirements for support, both in the pre-sale period and post-sale.

The first step to take internally is to eliminate the distinction in your company between pre-sale and post-sale support. All support interactions influence a customer’s decision to purchase from you again. Therefore, all post-sale activities should be considered to be pre-sale activities on your next order with that customer.

As soon as a customer gives you an order, all of your support should be directed toward:

  • having a satisfied customer who will order from you again
  • receiving a great referral to another potential customer.

Those outcomes mean that you’ve built a solid relationship with your customer. And isn’t that the best motivation for providing great support?

Another of my clients had a simple escalation procedure in place for all calls into sales and support. All calls were to be answered by a live person. If the front-line sales or service tech was not available, the call was bumped to a manager. If the manager was busy, the call was routed to a VP and then up to the CEO. The CEO routinely answered calls from customers. He never identified himself by anything but his first name to customers when he helped them. Imagine how powerful it was for customers to learn later that the CEO had so humbly helped them without drawing attention to himself.

3. Demonstrate your appreciation for the opportunity to serve your customers.

With Riley this is as easy as scratching his back and telling him “Good boy.” Customers may not welcome the physical contact, but they always like to hear that you appreciate the opportunity to win their business.

You’ll notice I didn’t say that customers like to hear that you appreciate their business. I’m sure they do. But I learned a lesson a long time ago from a customer that what they really want to hear is that you are going to work hard every day to continue to earn the right to win their business. Demonstrate by your words and deeds that there is no danger of you becoming complacent and taking the customer for granted.

The Calculus of Trust: Proactively Manage Expectations to Start a Customer Relationship

After they close an order with a customer, salespeople routinely dig a hole and throw themselves into it. Here’s how it plays out. You receive an order from a new customer, ACME Technologies, and your instinct is to quickly move on to the next prospect before Larry, your new customer at ACME, calls and asks a question that you are afraid of answering out of fear that it will cause him to change his mind.

The problem here is that even though you have an order, you haven’t finished the job of selling the customer. Your selling process doesn’t stop when you receive an order. There is one more very important step to take. One that can make the difference between having a “one-and-done” customer and a long-term relationship with a loyal, profitable customer.

The most important sales call you should make during the course of a sale is the first call you make to Larry after your receive ACME’s order.


Zero-Time Sales Calculus

Let’s first examine a couple immutable rules of what I call Zero-Time Sales Calculus.

Sales Calculus Rule #1:

Your customer’s expectations for your product or service grow exponentially in proportion to the number of sellers that they talked to.

This rule is pretty easy to understand. In competitive sales situations, the customer has been promised so many features, advantages, and benefits by so many different sellers that within 24 hours of making their decision, they have a hard time remembering which seller promised what. Instead, they have combined the best of what they heard from you and your competitors and inflated it into a big fragile balloon of unreasonable expectations that is just waiting to pop.

Sales Calculus Rule #2:

For every one degree of positive expectation on the part of the customer there are two degrees of letdown when the realities of the features and functions you deliver don’t precisely align with their overinflated expectations.

Having an unhappy customer who believes that you over-promised and under-delivered, even though you supplied just what they ordered, is not the ideal way to embark on a long-term relationship.

I see this happen with salespeople and customers all the time. Fortunately, it is easily, and completely, avoidable.

Your Task: align the customer’s expectations with your commitments

Here is what you should do immediately after you receive and accept an order from ACME Tech, your new customer:

  1. Call or visit Larry, the decision-maker and/or the functional decision-maker who is responsible for implementing, managing, or otherwise using your product or service.
  1. Using the customer record from your CRM system (call notes, email correspondence, quotes, and proposals) take Larry step-by-step back through the buying process.
  1. Highlight the key requirements ACME specified for the product they were buying and review the commitments you made regarding how your product or service would meet or exceed those requirements.
  1. Review your final proposal with Larry to make sure he precisely understands the products and features you contracted to deliver.

The primary objectives of this important sales call are to:

  • reinforce in Larry’s mind his stated requirements and how you promised to meet them;
  • refresh his memory about the specifics of what ACME ordered and why;
  • clarify exactly what you are going to deliver and when.

Don’t Give In to Your Fears

The prevailing philosophy in many sales organizations is that the absolute last thing you should do, as a salesperson, is call the customer immediately after you receive their order. Many sales managers and salespeople remain hostage to the irrational notion that you risk triggering a cancellation if you talk to the customer too soon after they have given you an order. I have seen both sales managers and salespeople who believe that even though the customer has just given them the order, they only did so reluctantly. Thus they are afraid that if they speak with the customer before the order is shipped the customer will give in to some monstrous case of buyer’s remorse and ask to cancel the order. I guess that could happen. But in more than 30 years of selling, I have never seen that happen even once.

Make the call today

The most important sales call you make will be the first call you make to your new customer after they give you an order. It is also the first sales call you will make for the next order you earn from this customer.

Download the first Chapter of Sell Without Selling Out