Saturday, May 18, 2013

Customer For Life? Maybe!

Your goal for every customer should be to turn them into a customer for life, a popular concept that’s made the rounds in the last few years. Bowl them over with your service. Become such an integral part of their company that you have your own desk in their office. Know their needs so intimately that you develop solutions before the customers even discover the needs themselves.

Out of all your customers, you won’t have very many with that kind of relationship, but when you do, you’ll profit from it. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a handful of such customers with whom I’ve done business both when I worked for other companies and after I started my own. A few of them have represented millions of dollars in income over the years. You can enjoy the same kind of long-term relationship with your best customers if you practice just one thing: never stop selling them.

They may become your friends; in fact, I hope they do. They may come to rely on your service or products to the exclusion of all others. They may tell you that they’ll always be your customers and sign long-term contracts to prove it. But if you take them and their business for granted, you’ll regret it someday.

You’ll also be sorry if you rely on them as your sole or main source of income. Having one dominant customer is a dangerous situation because there are too many variables outside your control—and theirs. “For life” is a long, long, time.

Situations and people change. What was the foundation for a wonderful relationship two years ago may not mean anything today. Your relationship with your customer for life has to develop and change the same way your relationship with your spouse or significant other evolves over time. That’s the only way the relationship will stay vibrant, alive, and satisfying to both of you.

So never stop selling them. Every time your company comes out with a new product or service, pitch it to your current customers first. If it’s really a “new and improved” model, don’t you owe it to them? If there’s a limited supply, shouldn’t your best customers get first shot at it? That should be one of their rewards for being a loyal customer.

And always look for ways to add value to their current purchases from you. If your company sees fit to offer an inducement to new customers, shouldn’t your best current customers get the same deal? It’s a real slap in the face if they don’t. And if the new business incentive is a small price to pay for a new account, it’s an even smaller price to pay to keep a current one. That’s one of the management dilemmas behind sales promotions.

Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides and Handbooks, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, and management strategy.

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