In business, just as in real life, good relationships matter. It’s a simple truth that a lot of businesspeople tend to forget. Many place a high premium on networking and fail to give proper care to the relationships that they have already created. While networking can certainly help build awareness and make new sales, the success of your business should not be measured by the number of names in your contact list. No matter whether your business is customer-driven or client-driven, its success or failure is ultimately defined by the quality of the relationships that you have with your “consumers”.
When the question comes to customer acquisition vs. retention, the winner is obvious. Customer profitability tends to increase over the life of a retained customer, and acquiring new customers can cost as much as five times more than satisfying and retaining current customers, as pointed out by Emmet C. Murphy, Ph.D., and Mark Murphy in their book ‘Leading on the Edge of Chaos: Positive Leadership in a Volatile Economy’. The cost of acquisition is high, so once a relationship is established, it is much more profitable to nurture it, than to just move on to the next one.
Relationship maintenance is crucial in business because like our social relationships, business relationships can weaken over time if neglected. Think about it; if a friend whom you haven’t seen in years calls on you asking for a big favor, how likely will you be to agree to donate your time or money to this person? The same holds true in business: You cannot leave a business relationship unattended for a time and expect your customers to come running to you next time you need to make a sale.
Customers who don’t feel valued and cared for are not likely to remain loyal. According to 1st Financial Training Services, 96% of unhappy customers don’t complain; however, 91% of those simply leave and never come back. It’s very easy to lose a customer, and there are multiple ways in which both business owners and sales people can sabotage themselves – showing no customer appreciation, pushing a sale on a prospect regardless of whether they need it or not, and betraying customers’ trust are just a few of them.
Although salespeople get a bad reputation for exactly those things, a good salesman would never do anything of the sort. In fact, successful salespeople would tell you that sustainable or “good” sales practice is all about client retention and relationshipbuilding; getting to know your prospects and working with them as colleagues and collaborators is far more important than just making the sale and moving on. A number of business benefits can be achieved through “good” selling and proper customer relationship management:
- Customer loyalty
- Positive word of mouth (WOM)
- New clientele
- Desirable image
- Long-lasting success
So what do savvy businesspeople do in order to forge strong and lasting relationships with their prospects and clients? The answer is really simple, although it might come as a surprise to some – they treat their customers as they would treat their friends, or themselves for that matter. “Good” selling is all about:
- Prioritizing quality over quantity, because not every new relationship is going to be equally promising. No, you don’t need everyone to be your customer; you need your relationships to reflect your values and beliefs, and to reinforce the image that you have created for yourself and your business. Relationships that you choose to maintain will require much of your time and attention, so make sure that you are able to devote yourself 100% to them even after the sale.
- Establishing a dialog, because relationships are a two-way street. People don’t like to feel that they are being forced into doing things, so pushing a sale on a customer will do no good to your relationship. Instead of making an impression on your prospects with a strong sales pitch, opt for a softer approach that is less likely to make them feel pressured to buy something from you. Talk to them, make them feel welcomed and relaxed, and find out what they need: what problem they are trying to solve, and what is the best way to help them. If you are able to have an open dialog with your prospects, there is a greater chance of their becoming your customers in the future, as well as more room for the relationship to grow.
- Maintaining patience, because trusting relationships don’t happen overnight. By rushing your prospects or putting pressure on them, you will not achieve the quality relationship that you desire. In order to win people’s trust, you need to prove your loyalty to them first – and this may take time.
- Building trust, because without it relationships fail quickly and customer loyalty is impossible to achieve. The more personalized you make your relationships, the more likely you are to win your customers’ trust. Honesty and openness are key, as even a suspicion of deception or manipulation can ruin the relationship. If you are not sincere with your customers, they will find out eventually – and with the proliferation of social medial these days it is easier than ever – and then you will never make another sale to them again. Definitely not worth it.
- Practicing empathy to gain insight into the customers’ perspective and serve them better. Empathy is about relating to the other person’s situation and feelings, as if they were your own. Once you have that understanding, it is easier to build deeper and stronger relationships with people. Customers who can see that you understand their needs and genuinely want to help them solve their problems will invest more into the relationship, and they are going to be less likely to abandon it if a problem occurs.
- Managing expectations to avoid disappointing customers. This happens when you over-promise and then under-deliver. Be realistic with your prospects and clients; although it might yield less than desirable results in the beginning, it will pay off in a long run.
- Adding value, because relationships carry on even after the sale is made. Staying in touch and continuing to show interest in your customers is absolutely necessary to ensure repeat business and referrals. This means that you need to always keep their interests in the back of your head; be available and generous with your time; be prepared to aid your customers as needed; and be proactive and help them take advantage of opportunities, create other beneficial relationships, etc.