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Customer Relations – Selling Through Your Customers

September 25th, 2006

As a marketing consultant, I often get caught up in the theoretical realm of academia and lose sight of tailoring my unique value proposition to actively engage with my target audience. You see, there I go again … what I mean to say is I shouldn’t use big fancy words to impress my customers just to make myself look smart. More importantly, I need to build relationships with my customers by speaking their language and providing them with services they truly need and value. If I can accomplish this feat, I will not only gain a loyal customer, but I’ll also gain a volunteer sales representative.

For the past two years, I’ve conducted a fair amount of research on marketing trends and I’ve noticed a lot of buzzwords have been created by consultants like myself to describe a very straightforward marketing truth that has existed for millenniums; namely selling goods and services through existing customers.

Call it customer evangelism, viral marketing, strategic referral program, grassroots marketing, or whatever; the main point is that successful businesses are built upon customers. Whether an organization focuses on business-to-business or business-to-consumer markets, a strong buyer-seller relationship is key to staying in business.

As I look back over my career, I recall having the mindset of using technical or academic language in an attempt to wow my audience by “educating them” and by utilizing gimmicks or creativity to gain their attention and to create top of mind awareness. What I failed to understand is that my audience didn’t care about how smart I or my firm was, what they wanted to know is what my company could do for them; and the dilemma was that my audience didn’t want to hear this from me or my advertising. They in fact wanted to know what others who had tried my service had to say.

Whether buyers are looking into finding a logistical consultant to assist in setting up a global distribution channel or simply seeking the best golf course in town, they’re likely to turn to their peers and/or business associates for advice. As a consumer, I often find myself asking a friend or colleague, “So what’s your opinion on … ” The answer I receive will undoubtedly play a role in my purchasing decision one way or another.

My opinion on this matter is supported by overwhelming statistical evidence that demonstrates people are making purchasing decisions off of referrals and testimonials. For instance, 83% of consumers base their purchasing decisions off of referrals when choosing a restaurant. The numbers are similar for prescription drugs (71%), hotels (63%), cars (58%), computers (40%), and financial services (57%). Without further researching the matter, I would strongly content that successful companies within those industries have a strong customer relations policy. One example, Apple Computers, has again received the highest rating on customer satisfaction by scoring an 83% score in the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Now you know why we Apple freaks are so adamant about our machines.

So how do companies like yours use customers to sell goods and services? I hate to be master of the obvious, but you simply take good care of them by going the extra mile to make sure they’re happy. No, I’m not talking about giving stuff away or incurring a loss as a set-in-stone customer satisfaction policy, but simply assuring that your customer is happy with your performance by the end of the day. Now as a former sales manager, I know that some customer demands are unreasonable, but it’s always important to demonstrate to the client that your organization has their best interests in mind. Not wanting to expend too much effort on this matter, I’ll simply say that the best policy is to put yourself into your customers’ shoes and empathize with their position. When you do this, you have a much better chance at gaining their respect and understanding.

In conclusion, I simply advise to go beyond expectations in satisfying your customer. Don’t view this ideal as a reactive crisis response, but utilize it in a proactive manner so as to add value to your product or service. The last thing you want your customer to say to others is “I didn’t get what I paid for” or “the burger sure didn’t look like the picture.” If you bring value to your customers by going the distance for them, they’ll gladly pay a fair market price for your services in the long run.

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