Since starting Less Annoying CRM, I’ve had the chance to talk with hundreds of small business owners about their companies. They’ve ranged from established family businesses that have been passed down for generations to brand new startups that don’t even have a name yet, and I’ve seen all different levels of success. One of the biggest differences between the businesses struggling to keep their heads above water compared to the ones that are comfortable and successful is how they view their relationships with their customers.
For the most part, the successful businesses I’ve talked to have taken a very long-term approach to developing their relationships. When they talk to a potential customer, they aren’t focused on maximizing the revenue from that sale. They’re focused on creating a lasting customer that they can count on for repeat business for years to come.
I’ve started referring to this as “building an asset”. If you view each sale as a one-time thing, then that means that you have to start all over once it’s done. Maybe you did well last month, but who cares? You’ll have to do it all over again this month.
By taking a longer-term view with relationships, every new customer you get makes your entire business permanently more valuable than it was before. That’s how a struggling business can turn into a reliable revenue machine.
Doing this successfully obviously requires months or even years of hard work, but here are a few ideas that can help you get started:
#1 - Understand the difference between a one-time sale vs. a long-term asset
Every time you’re working with a potential customer, ask yourself whether or not this will be a one-time sale, or a lasting relationship. By asking yourself this each time, you’ll be able to (a) take a more long-term approach with each customer and (b) spend your time focusing more on the relationships that can last.
#2 - Act as a resource to your customer, even if it means losing the sale
The role of a salesperson is changing. When you’re talking with a customer, it’s tempting to try to drive the conversation toward your goal (completing the sale), but that’s not how you build trust with a customer. you can build trust by asking more questions to learn what the customer wants, and by letting the customer drive the conversation.
#3 - Stay in touch, even when you don’t have anything to sell
Customers will notice if the only times you talk to them is to sell them something. Instead, make sure that they’re getting real value out of your conversations. Maybe you can schedule a follow-up six months after a sale to make sure there haven’t been any issues. Or touch base once a year just to catch up. That will make it much easier and less annoying when you reach out with them to talk about another sale.
#4 - Record EVERYTHING so you’re not starting over from scratch each time you talk
Let’s face it, it’s impossible to remember every detail about every customer. It gets even harder when you start focusing on longer-term relationships because you have more time to forget things. You can solve this problem by having a system for recording information about each customer so that you can read up on you history with them before each contact. Hopefully you already have a CRM, or some other system for recording this data. But it’s not enough to just have a CRM, you have to be disciplined about actually using it to record a note about every single customer interaction.
#5 - Make it easy to pass down your relationships to the next generation
Most business owners are laser focused on growing their businesses themselves, and they sometimes forget about the next step: delegating. Assuming you're successful, you’ll want to bring on more employees, or maybe sell the business or hand it down to your children. Whatever the case, you’ll need to make sure that the information you’re logging about your customers is in a clear, understandable format that other people will find helpful. So when you’re entering and organizing information about your customers, keep in mind that you might not be the only one referencing it.