“We can’t compete on price with the big box stores”…
Nothing drives me nuts more then to hear that statement from small business owners and entrepreneurs. First off, competing only on price (unless you happen to be the rarest of exceptions) is not a recipe for long term success.
Do you doubt what I’m saying? …
Consider that even Wal-Mart, starting out, had competitors that were larger then they were. The truth is that while delivering low prices was an essential component of Mr. Sam Walton’s vision — I would venture to say that customer service was actually their greatest differentiator, at least early on in the company’s history.
Yes, believe it or not at one time there were bigger companies then Wal-Mart. And because they were just getting started and hadn’t yet acquired the massive buying power they would later gain with their vendors, they had to look for additional ways to stand out in the marketplace.
One of the key things they did, and I’ll concede the point that to some who have shopped there in recent years this may come as a surprise, but Wal-Mart early on, and for many years, delivered an absolutely incredible customer service experience — in fact it was one of the things at the forefront of what was most important to the companies founder, Sam Walton.
Please don’t read that last statement and mistakenly assume I’m picking on the company. The point of this article is not to judge their customer service now, rather I’m just pointing out that initially when they were growing they put a big focus on relationship marketing by delivering exemplary customer service.
My reason for sharing the above example is to drive home the point that you, dear friend need to look for ways that you can create amazing customer relationships if you want to stand out and excel in the marketplace you operate in. It is as simple as that really.
Fortunately, for you, because so few people and organizations put the focus on the importance of developing a strong bond with their customers — those who do find themselves in a pretty enviable place.
Throughout the rest of this article I’ll share some ideas you can implement to join the ranks of those who benefit from effective relationship marketing.
First, understand this…
For our purposes here I want you to see that relationship marketing is looking at a customer not as a one time transaction, but rather, viewing each interaction you have whether they actually purchase anything the first time around or not as though they have a life time value. Which, by the way they do!
In its simplest form, think of it this way. A happy customer, will purchase from you many, many times over — until the point where they no longer feel you value them, or the point at which another person or company gains the positive mindshare that you once held.
In other words, your main objective is to cultivate a win, win relationship with your customers and prospective clients. In fact, you need to strive to do this ongoing. As you enhance the relationships you have with your clients the bond forms stronger, which only ends up making it that much more difficult for your competitors to come in and take your customers away from you.
This isn’t really a new concept I admit. In fact, this is the way most everyone in business used to operate. It is very hard to create the same positive mindshare with prospective customers when you happen to look at each sale as a one time transaction. In other words, if you have a business, or are in sales and are waiting for someone to come in to buy what you have you could be waiting a long time. Plus, you haven’t really differentiated yourself in any way from any of the other countless places which might offer the same thing you do.
Contrast the approach above with one that has at the heart of it a strong relationship marketing component.
Because you understand that it is essential to reach out and make connections you aren’t waiting for people to find you by happenstance.
For example, if you owned a computer store (or pretty much any other type of business for that matter) you could reach out to the businesses in your area, introducing yourself as a local computer retailer, not overtly selling what you have, but rather simply introducing yourself and what you offer, and then making a point to let the people you meet know that as you are out speaking to other businesses you’d be willing to keep an eye out and introduce them and their services to business owners whom you meet that have a need for what they offer.
Needless to say no one is going to mind hearing from or meeting someone who clearly puts the needs of those they meet ahead of their own — and that’s exactly how you will appear by trying the approach mentioned. Then as you go about your daily routine of meeting new people, introducing yourself and what you have to offer, you follow through on your promise to also keep an eye out for those in need of what the other businesses you met with have to offer as well.
Here’s where the magic comes in…
Every time you connect one of the people you meet, with another and a need is filled, your positive mindshare expands exponentially. Instead of being viewed as someone who has only their own self-interests in mind, others see you for what you are, as the rare individual who understands that helping them succeed is in every one’s best interest. People will gravitate to you and you will be the envy of your marketplace.
The beauty of this approach is that it works no matter what business you’re in. You’re not re-inventing the wheel, rather you are getting back to and embracing a way of doing business which people used to do all the time.
Creating powerful customer relationships begins with your willingness to remain open to the vast opportunities that exist, in every day situations to stand out and lead the field, often by doing nice things for your clients and prospective customers.
Here are a few more examples you can use to apply in your own business…
* In a retail setting – make sure that you make it easy for your customers to get in and out of your store in a timely fashion. Make sure there are plenty of people running the cash registers. Encourage the people who deal with your customers to smile and make eye contact (not the creepy blank stare kind, but rather genuine eye contact that helps to make the other person feel as though you’re actually paying attention to them). This sounds silly perhaps, but it really does make a difference. Your people will be happier if that’s an attitude that comes down from the top. It is difficult to expect something of others in your organization that you don’t embody as well.
Encourage those in your organization to look for ways to help your customers. Both of the items mentioned above can be encouraged by keeping an eye out for those who do those things — and rewarding them positively in some way for having taking the initiative to put the customers best interest at the forefront. One of the key things here is that it can’t be lip service. Simply meaning well isn’t enough. You have to commit to living it out and giving your absolute best to do so with each and every customer interaction. It’s a tall order for sure, but one that assuming you are able to deliver on can yield incredible results.
* Develop the habit of looking for ways to enhance the relationships you have with your clients. We touched on this above, but it is worth exploring further here. If you’re in sales (and we all are to some degree regardless of our particular position) there are countless opportunities to match the needs of others with those who can fill that need.
Most people make the mistake of thinking that it is all about filling a need with what they offer, otherwise they simply move on to someone else. The reason this line of thinking is flawed, is because it is short sighted. Remember, if we were thinking of each customer interaction as a one time transaction this approach would be fine, but we’re looking at things long-term — we realize that every time we build a strong customer relationship we also gain the opportunity to deliver what they need to them, again, and again, and again.
Therefore, by taking a little extra time to keep tabs on what others are in need of, the resources and people they need to connect with in order to be truly successful, we put ourselves, and our businesses in the unique position to help deliver those things to them. Of course on the front end we may not participate in the actual transaction — at least not in terms of any monetary gain, but we do benefit in a very important way just the same — we’re paid in positive mindshare.
Positive mindshare is eventually cashed in and makes its way back to us either directly — the person has a need for what we offer and we’re the first natural person they think of to buy from, or it comes back to us in the form of referrals, because the particular person knows someone who needs our product or service and we’re the natural person who comes to mind when they’re looking for a supplier to recommend.
The examples above are meant to be used as basic guidelines — by all means get creative and look for ways you can expand on the ideas shared.
The sooner you make relationship marketing a priority in your business and or career the better off you will be. Seeing each and every customer through the lens of a lifetime, versus a one off transaction is a much more effective, and lasting way to build a profitable business.
It’s your life, LIVE BIG!