5 Effortless Ways to Build Customer Relationships that Last
The success of your sales team is directly linked to their ability to build customer relationships that remain relevant beyond the first iteration of the sales cycle. On average, 61% of SMBs state that over half their yearly revenue is generated from their existing, loyal customer base. Happy? You should be! Nurturing your existing customer base is far easier than hunting for net new business and on average, loyal customers are worth 10x more to you than fresh meat! These are the relationships that will serve you in the long term, generating the recurring revenue and referrals that propel your business forward.
As easy as it might be, maintaining strong customer relationships demands commitment and consistency from your sales team. Customer loyalty requires two things; trust and an emotional connection. The key to both of these is time (consider your business relationships to be like a plant: time, attention and nurture will yield more fruit). Consequently, as a sales leader, you need to be encouraging your reps to focus on long-term strategic partnerships rather than pushing them towards quick-win sales tactics:
1. Encourage Segmentation
Building relationships and taking the time to maintain them requires time and energy. It’s not possible to effectively maintain all customer relationships at the same level. Teach your salespeople to identify which connections are the most valuable to them- as well as identify where they are able to provide the most valuable. Then, show them how they can go the extra mile for these clients, without jeopardising other customers.
Your salespeople should spend time reviewing their accounts and organizing them into segments that they can then prioritize. This type of exercise will help your reps understand where they’re currently spending their time, and what shifts they should make in order to be as efficient and effective as possible. The following segments are a good place to start:
- Self-Generated Leads: Potential customers who have been identified through lead generation but are not yet qualified.
- Target Accounts: Large accounts that have been qualified and have potential but haven’t done any business with you (accounts belonging to a competitor, for example).
- Growth Accounts: Qualified accounts that are doing some business with you and have a high potential to grow.
- Key Accounts: Accounts that already do a considerable amount of business with you and come to you with opportunities.
2. Advocate for Active Listening
Listening isn’t merely hearing. On average we remember between 25% to 50% of what we hear- that means your sales reps could be missing up to 75% of the information their customer shares with them. Your customers are likely to be sharing some pretty important insights in that forgotten segment that you’ll want to take note of. Active listening is a technique that trains you to retain more information from your conversations. It quietens distractions and keeps you in the moment- meaning it’s not only a great skill for your sales reps in their professional relationships but also for their personal relationships outside the office.
When customers feel listened too, they also feel valued, understood and respected. As a result, they are more likely to believe you understand their needs and they will trust you with their challenges. You can improve your active listening skills in 4 simple steps:
- Listen with the intent to understand: Do NOT head into a conversation with the intention of making a pitch and landing a sale then and there. Genuinely try to understand customer experiences.
- Focus: No multi-tasking! Be present and in the moment, make eye contact and focus on making your client feel valued.
- Ask Questions: Demonstrate that you are listening by asking relevant, leading questions.
- Summarize: At the end of your conversation summarize the key points to demonstrate what you’re taking away from the conversation. Start by saying: “What I’m hearing is…” or “from my understanding, you are experiencing…”
Active listening is a great topic for your next team away day or meeting. Here are some exercises you can run with your team to take your listening skills to the next level!
3. Establish a Communication Cadence
Relationships that are structured and responsive will ensure growth over time. When working with long-standing clients, it helps for your reps to develop a communications cadence to ensure that your most important clients feel supported and know what to expect from the rep managing their account. You also want to avoid account transitions for your key accounts, so consider potential ‘flight risks’ and assign accounts accordingly. After all, your repeat customers aren’t going to feel valued if they’re passed from rep to rep!
An effective communications cadence should include scheduled touchpoints for reviews and renewals, as well as responsive communications triggered by events such as customer complaints, engagement with marketing materials, customer questions, and customer celebrations such as company awards and milestones.
4. Focus on
s̶a̶l̶e̶s̶ Value Creation
Your accounts have challenges that need to be resolved and aspirations that need to be realized. They don’t wake up one morning with a sudden urge to open a contact center if there is no prior need to improve customer service or meet ambitious growth targets, for example. In light of this, coach your sales team to focus on creating value, rather than merely selling your product. The latter is reminiscent of a wheeler-dealing car room salesman, whilst the former asserts authority, confidence and care into your customer relations.
Your salespeople should provide value to their clients in every interaction they have with them. That might mean fewer interactions but it also means more meaningful ones. And guess what? Those meaningful transactions are the ones that convert to sales, meaning your reps will see their success rate (and commission) shoot up, whilst simultaneously have more time to nurture their growth accounts. Ensure they understand what their genuine value is to the customer, as differentiated from your competitors in the customer’s mind.
With the right skills and understanding of your value proposition, your salespeople will be able to continue adding that value throughout the customer lifecycle. To improve how you articulate that value to your clients, check out our recent blog post on storytelling for sales reps.
5. Build Customer Relationships with Multiple Stakeholders
Of course, one-to-one connections are essential to building long-lasting customer relationships. However, if those relationships only exist with an individual stakeholder, you’re going to face into issues further down the line, particularly if that stakeholder leaves the organization. Teach your sales team to conduct stakeholder mapping exercises for their key accounts. Ideally, they should be able to identify the budget holders, product champions, decision-makers and key influencers by mapping out where authority lies for each of their largest clients. By doing this, they’ll insulate the account from the risk of one person leaving and also strengthen their own standing within the organization. Having multiple relationships also means your reps are likely to uncover more opportunities and target their services to the specific departmental needs, which can, in turn, increase your accounts spend.
By nurturing your existing clients and being consistent in your customer service approach, you’ll build long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with your most valuable accounts. Encourage your sales team to incorporate the above techniques into their sales methodology and offer training to upskill them where required. You’ll reap the rewards when you’ve built up a base of loyal customers, who actively bring opportunities to your doorstep!