At a customer roundtable recently, an experienced seller and company owner said to me “You cannot build lasting relationships with individuals during a sales cycle”. Sellers who only focus on selling can miss great opportunities to build customer advocates; advocates who will do a better job of selling for you in the future than anyone else could.
So in this blog I want to focus on the importance of engagement, looking at the times to sell and the times to build an advocate – and making sure not to confuse the two. When you can’t distinguish between when you’re selling and when you’re engaging in a meaningful way, then you risk relying on someone who you might think has got your back, but who doesn’t actually.
The truth is customer loyalty shouldn’t be taken for granted. Research suggests that in general around 50% of B2B clients are indifferent towards their existing suppliers and would go elsewhere without hesitation. Ouch.
But before panic descends, here’s a great quote from Burg and Mahn’s The Go Giver which summarises how to effectively build advocates according to their Law of Influence.
“Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other people’s interests first”.
So here are seven ways to place your customer’s interests first and to build advocates by doing so:
1. Aim for best practice engagement
As suggested in the introduction, engagements are key to the sales profession. In my opinion this is a skill that can be taught and practised and comes in three levels.
At the basic level, there is the unsolicited cold call/catch up call, which can get the icy reaction it deserves. People are busier than ever and simply don’t appreciate being interrupted by someone who doesn’t know them or their business.
Secondly there are sales professionals that will naturally scour information looking for sales engagements that will result in a sales conversation. Obviously important to the role you fulfil but using this approach is never going to build an advocate for you.
Finally, and this can take practice, the sales professionals that looks for creative engagement points whether it’s taking time to congratulate on an award or demonstrating industry knowledge with insight which could impact your customer. I always look to demonstrate business acumen and understanding – giving clients real reasons to speak to me.
Engagement is at the core of building advocacy so be sure to work at it.
2. Perfectly and quickly prepared
If you don’t know your stuff, how can you be credible to your clients? And if you don’t know the impact a product can have to a customer’s business, you’re simply not prepared. Make sure that you know what’s happening in the sectors your clients operate in so that you can tailor your offering accordingly.
But don’t worry about investing hours for a five minute call. Tools such as Artesian provide you with real time updates about what’s going on in any sector you choose, so you’ll always have the information you need to make intelligent business calls before your competition is in the know.
3. Never say ‘you owe me one’
Good working relationships are built on trust – if a client trusts you to deliver then they’re more likely to maintain a relationship going forward. But just because you’re investing in their success, doesn’t mean you can demand payback.
Great working relationships are built on joint value and once I get past a certain stage of a relationship with a customer, I’m always looking to provide value without expectation. Nothing ruins a trip to the pub more than someone shouting at you ‘Next round’s on you’.
4. It’s an on-going process
There’s no point delivering great customer service during the sales process if you don’t maintain good relationships with your client at other times.
To really engage your customers, look for an opportunity to engage when there is no buying cycle present. The business guard will be dropped and you will get to know someone’s real values and interests. Finding a joint interest can springboard relationships to the next level and which are easier to maintain. I am in football fantasy leagues with some of my customers and even take part on cycling events on the weekend with them. These common interests don’t happen when the pressure is on during a sales cycle but become invaluable when building advocates.
5. Understanding counts for a lot
The more you know your client, the better you’ll understand them. And the better you understand them, the easier it is to create effective solutions for them.
Whether it’s knowing when’s a bad time to make a sales call (they pick up their kids at 3pm on a Thursday) or knowing enough about them to be able to tailor a solution to a specific problem (struggling with CRM adoption, this could help…?), understanding your client and what they need can make a real difference to how your relationship develops.
6. Engage online
So you are keen to engage with a prospect and share some insight or maybe just congratulate them in some way. You don’t always have to pick up the phone. Blogs and social media are a great way to connect with clients without the pressure – or intrusion. Insightful comments on relevant forums or sharing useful information not only helps you showcase your expertise and understanding, but can help keep you front of mind with existing (and potential) customers. I often tweet people to say congratulations, it’s pretty informal and not a medium for the hard sell.
7. Finally – Happy clients are helpful clients
If you’ve got a happy client, make the most of it. Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals or endorsements. According to Dale Carnegie, 91% of customers say that they’d be happy to give a referral, but only 11% of sales people ask for them; don’t be one of the 80% that fail to make the most of happy clients.
If you have been playing to the law of influence mentioned at the start of the blog, you should be in a position where your customers are advocating for you in the same way you have been doing your best for them. The power of advocates cannot be overstated – as they’re the force that carries you, your product and your company’s reputation to the next level. Keep them on side and you’ll reap the reward.
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