The most important thing in sales and marketing is to attract and retain your most profitable business customers. To accomplish this feat, you must devise and implement a strategy that builds, fosters, nurtures and extends relationships with your customers. From customer relationship management (CRM) tools to loyalty programs, there’s no shortage of techniques to grow and sustain your client base.
How to grow customer relationships
Money can’t buy you love, but you need to feel (and keep) the love of your clients in order to make money. Below is a list of recommendations to help your small business flourish and maintain the client relationships you’ve worked so hard to build.
Continually evaluate your market and network.
Research your customers’ markets, needs and goals. Big data analysis tools should be part of your sales team planning. Market trends shift often, and you need to know what strategies to employ to increase shares or enter new markets. Engage customers in product development and enhancement via beta tests, focus groups and pilot programs. Learn their business habits, purchasing patterns and requirements for effective proactive solutions.
Reconsider who makes up your network. Does it reach across many different industries? Have you artfully incorporated relatives and friends in your network? Does it include community leaders? Making changes can increase your client base.
Use a CRM system.
While some businesses handle client relationship matters organically, others require a framework for success. Luckily, there are some helpful options available, particularly CRM systems. Typically cloud-based, these programs help businesses organize customer relationships and facilitate interactions.
A CRM system stores client and potential client data in a format digestible by your team. It also monitors things such as customer satisfaction and may provide overviews of sales and other metrics. See our picks for the best CRM software and learn all the ways CRM software can benefit your business.
Stay in communication.
After meeting a contact, bolster their memory. Never assume you made such an impression on someone that they will recall you a month, a week or even a day later. Send an email to keep the conversation going; the content should be friendly, open and encouraging, but not overbearing. Building any meaningful relationship takes time, so trying to rush it likely will only push away a viable client.
Learning when to back off is a fine art. If possible, incorporate a unique detail from your initial discussion in the email. One of the greatest strengths of small businesses is the ability to connect on a smaller, one-to-one basis with clients. Emphasize that with all your communication.
Keep in touch with existing clients with targeted emails and newsletters. Update customers on industry trends potentially affecting them, and give your take on upcoming issues. Let them in on your visions for their (and your) success, and then explain your take on achieving it.
Social media is a great connector, so use it wisely to keep communication channels open. However, making a person-to-person connection means much more. Be a person, not a talking head on a website. Humanity trumps digital every time.
Talk and listen to customers to maintain a dialogue and build a trust-based relationship. Make it easy for customers to reach you. When they contact you, make it a point to return calls and emails promptly. Implement a customer satisfaction policy that provides a way to resolve and remedy problems and issues. Provide support, service, advice and information. Train team members on how to manage calls efficiently and effectively so customers have their concerns addressed no matter whom they reach at your business. [Do you know the difference between customer delight and customer satisfaction?]
Become the go-to person.
Develop skills and knowledge that make you an authority for your customers. A reputation for expertise means the ability to provide valuable resources to clients unobtainable elsewhere, especially your knowledge. Look for ways to add value, be a real partner and help your customers achieve results. Provide guidance even when there is little chance it will mean any immediate business gain for you. Doing so almost always pays off down the road.
Redefine your concept of “client.”
Clients are much more than a roster of potential purchasers of products and services. Retaining customers requires fostering long-term relationships over pursuing short-term money-making possibilities. Recast the relationship as more of an extended partnership. Then be prepared to meet client needs by adjusting your business services as necessary.
Take care of customers at all levels.
Successfully retaining your clientele requires including all members of your team in the effort. Make sure employees have the same commitment to clients’ care as you do. All it takes is one bad experience with someone in your office to send a client looking for services elsewhere. Take the time to train employees in how to not only provide superior services to clients, but also properly greet them, treat them and deal with them.
Customers of all levels should feel appreciated by every person they interact with at your business. Never let your clients think you take them for granted. Underpromise and overdeliver, especially with deadlines. Imagine how thrilled your clients will be when you consistently have things done a day earlier than expected. It shows dedication and attentiveness.
Treat clients well, and reward the most loyal ones with something of value, even if it’s just a handwritten thank-you note. Make sure every customer is one of your most important ones – because they all are.
Pay attention to feedback.
Bad feedback hurts the ego. However, constructive criticism is a powerful tool for assuaging the anger of a dissatisfied client as well as providing a clear channel of responsiveness. Great customer feedback is the most effective and cheapest form of “advertising,” and it’s an easy way to learn what’s working.
Ask for, capture and act on your customers’ input. Customer surveys are a vital part of improving relationships with clients. Create surveys with an incentive to gather feedback on what your brand is doing right and wrong. [Find out more about the importance of survey data in marketing.]
Establish a customer loyalty program.
Implement loyalty, affinity and rewards programs. Build brand loyalty with programs that give discounts and freebies to those who use your company repeatedly. Some highly rated POS systems even come with features to help you execute such programs. For example, our review of Lightspeed POS software notes that it has loyalty tools as well as CRM capabilities. Check out these ideas to boost your loyalty program’s success.
Did you know? Customer loyalty is driven by, among other things, a social media presence. You can use social media to fuel customer retention by building relationships with followers, offering special deals and soliciting feedback.
Don’t forget the power of a personal touch,
In building customer relationships, remember to value the “personal touch.” Make an effort to get to know your customer as a person. You will be surprised at how much you may have in common. Establishing personal bonds goes a long way toward building lasting relationships.
Examples of showing a personal touch include sending personalized birthday cards to customers, gifting a framed photo from an event you hosted with a client and following up with a customer to see how satisfied they are with their purchase and recommending similar products. Your efforts will be rewarded with repeat business, referrals and satisfied, loyal customers.
The importance of maintaining customer relationships
There is a strong correlation between long-term business success and long-term customer relationships. Successful businesses capitalize on every stage of the customer life cycle (not to be confused with the customer journey), from customer selection to customer acquisition to customer retention to customer growth.
In the retention stage of the customer life cycle, a company retains its customers by delivering on its value proposition. This saves the client from having to look elsewhere, as you’ve fulfilled their need. Once a certain level of trust and comfort has been established, most customers prefer to remain loyal to companies and their products. They’re also more willing to listen to your new ideas, try your added services and consider you a long-term, trusted partner.
A savvy business owner understands that it pays to nurture existing customer relationships. If a good working relationship has been established, then it’s easier to upsell and cross-sell your products and services to the client. You’ll also be more likely to get that customer to leave a positive review online and refer your business to others.
FYI: While larger companies may opt to outsource customer service to a call center, doing so will make it harder to form personal relationships with your clients.
In the growth stage of the customer life cycle, increasing the value of each existing customer is the ultimate objective. Think in terms of the “lifetime value” of a customer. You want to focus on increasing the share of each client’s purchases with your business. Client relationships are critical here too. A customer has no incentive to return to your company if you haven’t given them a personal reason to.
It is crucial, however, not to lose sight of the importance of continually acquiring new customers. If your company becomes too dependent on any one client or only a few existing customers, then the sustainability of your company could be in jeopardy. Be cautious that the growth in purchases by one or a few customers doesn’t represent too large of a proportion of your company’s total sales. Striking this balance between servicing existing customers and acquiring new customers is imperative.
Fortunately, many of the strategies above – like doing market research and posting on social media – are also useful for attracting new customers. Spending money on leads, marketing campaigns or even CRM systems can be valuable tools for success. But unless you make the effort to nourish these relationships, your monetary outlay will provide minuscule results. Developing a valuable relationship with each client ensures a small business survives during various economic climates. Ultimately, when you stick by your customers, they will stick by you.
Justin Brown contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.