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“If you really want to know about business, you should refer to Scott Steinberg.” -Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group

How to Boost Sales and Build Better Customer Relationships

“Customer experience is the new marketing,” says Mercedes Benz USA President and CEO Steve Cannon, and few quotes capture how vital that the process of building strong customer relationships now is to the health of your business. What’s more, Cannon’s quote cuts two ways: Word of mouth drives customer sales’ twice as much as advertising and current customers are about four times as likely to stop purchasing from you due to a bad experience as an actual bad product as well. The bottom line: Cultivating healthy customer relationships is key to maintaining and boosting both new and repeat sales.

To build better customer relationships, you have to broaden the definition of the very term “customer relationships” across all facets of your business. The Disney Institute in particular offers helpful insights into the idea of customer service versus customer experience. Whereas customer service tends to focus on one particular department, e.g. a help desk or call center operation, customer experience speaks to a unified vision of the type of interaction you wish to have with clients overall – a vision that is shared across the entire company. Having the most helpful and informed customer service representatives in the world won’t matter if other departments clients interact with don’t share similar enthusiasm, productivity, or values. An experience with a customer needs to be an ongoing conversation – even after the point of purchase.

Consider that current customers are easier to promote solutions to than new audiences, and more eager than prospective or new clients to invest in you again – up to 70 percent as much so, according to one study. What’s more, the best way to enjoy their repeat business is by offering superior service rather than bargains. A Gallup study found that customers focus on price when it is the only differentiating factor between purchase options, or when there is no emotional connection that leaves a customer feeling engaged. Put simply, even if your products, services, or solutions cost more than those offered by competitors, you can still generate more business more routinely… but only if you’ve taken time to build and invest in client relationships.

While businesses tend to look at the bottom line most often when making decisions, the customer is most concerned with what happens after they’ve given you their money. Smart companies put as much, if not more, effort into building and maintaining customer loyalty, and the relationship with buyers that they share after a purchase is made than they do in into initial sales outreach. For example: Early on, email management software ConvertKit offered prospective clients a simple, but powerful value proposition – it offered to transfer over their existing (and often massive) email lists from competing services for free. Not only did the company choose to offer potential clients a compelling service – it also offered to save them the considerable time, cost, and administrative headaches associated with migrating to a new software platform away. Not only did ConvertKit quickly differentiate itself from rivals, but the company also made it clear to customers that it was willing to invest in the relationship straight from the beginning, a strategy that met with considerable market success.

Similarly, Citibank opted to customize its user experience in two simple, but ultimately significant ways, according to Harvard Business Review. First, it chose to provide its bankers and advisors with as many educational opportunities as possible, offering finance training opportunities with some of the leading business school professors in the country, so that they could pass this invaluable knowledge and insight along to customers. Citibank also segmented its customer base into granular detail, separating its clients out based on data points such as unique interests or personal backgrounds and incomes, and then assigning entire sales groups to focus on each individual part of its customer base. In short, rather than take a typical one-size-fits-all service approach, the financial leader opted to provide more customized experiences and informed advisors who could speak to the unique needs of each customer. Citibank’s investment in its advisors – who are now capable of offering shoppers some of the most informed financial advice in the business – has also demonstrated to customers the company’s willingness to invest in its clients, and their ability to prosper, as well.

To serve your customer more successfully, you have to focus on how to most-effectively address their needs and nurture productive long-term relationships – not on what you’ve got to sell, and how much of it you’re selling. Even if shoppers are asking for a specific product, focus on their end-goal instead, and ask questions so that you can deliver better solutions (which may take the form of customized offerings, or packages and bundles) accordingly. In all cases, put their needs first – the best salespeople function more like trusted advisors. For instance, if you offer a more affordable product that’ll do the job, you’ll build trust with your customer, leading to more productive (and often longer-term, more lucrative relationships). If you offer a more comprehensive package that allows them to meet several goals more effectively, then you’re helping them solve problems they may not even have realized they had while also making a bigger sale. In all cases, the only agenda it’s best to approach customers with is the one that makes everyone most satisfied and creates maximum benefit for all. Do so, and you’ll foster an environment of mutual trust and respect – one which can drive future sales and increase profits by several orders of magnitude.

Focusing as much on building a relationship as promoting a product may feel counterintuitive, but few choices in business are more detrimental than allowing rivals to build a better relationship with your customer. In just one classic example of how to use this approach more effectively, a major bookstore chain realized that it didn’t have a book in stock for a customer and decided to call a nearby competitor. The competing chain had it, so the cashier had the book held and preceded to print off directions to the rival outlet. True – the competitor got the immediate sale, but who do you think got the customer talking to friends and family, and ultimately earned that customer’s loyalty? They key to winning customers, and driving repeat business, is far simpler than it seems: Just put customer satisfaction over a quick buck every time.

Additional reporting by TT Rendetti

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