For those who survived the recession battered and bruised, the new decade figures to be just as challenging as the last one. Those businesses that survive and hopefully thrive will do so based on the ability to provide ever more value to clients and customers and to nurture relationships.
As modern marketing has evolved from the production and sales eras into the marketing eras, the competitive environment has become ever more intense. The customer/client has increasingly more choices with whom and how they want to do business with companies marketing products and services. Getting business is not so challenging as keeping business. Meeting expectation is not enough – the successful marketers will be those that exceed expectation and delight the customer.
The relationship management continuum begins before the initial sale is made. The successful marketer will thoroughly research his/her business prospects and before sitting down for the initial sales call will have developed as complete as possible a potential customer profile. Included in this profile will be an understanding of the prospect’s business, industry challenges, competitive challenges and profiles of key management personnel. The marketer should have an idea of how the prospects buys and how the prospect pays.
If the sales effort results in an initial sale, here is where the relationship management forces really come into play. Remember, the goal is to meet expectations but to exceed them. Therefore, the first step in the new relationship is a thorough understanding of what the customer/client expects in the marketer/supplier relationship. Ties between the customer/client and marketer/supplier should be established at as many levels as practical. The CEOs should talk to each other; the day-to-day buyers and sellers should bond as well as those that purchase via telephone or computer. An intelligent way to enhance the product ordering system would be to have the IT professionals from the customer/client side and the marketer/supplier side work together to establish ordering systems that would facilitate flow of product and documentation.
Following are seven ways to nurture and strengthen customer/client relationships:
- Consistently scrutinize pricing and value issues. This should be done both internally and through meetings with the client. Make sure the client is satisfied with the value he is getting from the relationship. Don’t be afraid to raise or lower fees if warranted.
- Constantly and consistently monitor the competitive environment. Be aware of new products and services offered by your competitors and be aware of your competitors` vulnerabilities.
- Pay close attention to service and quality. Develop procedures for guaranteeing high-quality service. Create and implement a system of getting feedback from clients of service/quality levels and reward good service while pinpointing and correcting weak links.
- Elicit suggestions from employees on how service/quality can be improved and reward good suggestions.
- Immediately eliminate personality conflicts. If a client tells you he’s having a problem with his account person, get him another one. Often, trying to force a solution only worsens them.
- Keep communications lines open. Established systems for reporting, in writing, and following up on all meetings and telephone calls and distribute those conference or call reports to all members of the team. Don’t overly depend on e-mails, text messages, FAXs. Maintain personal communications.
- Continually flood customers with ideas. This is an essential ingredient in the value-added process.
The faster the relationship can be moved from a buyer/seller relationship to a partnership relationships, the stronger it will become, the longer it will last and the more mutually satisfying it will become.