Building Good Customer Relationships

How to turn a single sale into a lifetime relationship with your customers

Developing strong business relationships starts before your first meeting. Before you are standing in front of a potential customer, figuratively or literally, you need to know that you and your sales team are ready to put your best foot forward. Knowledge of your product is essential, but a list of facts won’t be good enough. You should be able to describe how your product or service will solve your clients’ problems, and your description should be clear enough that your customers can envision the solution unfolding for themselves. You will also need to be knowledgeable of your main competitors’ offerings so that you can highlight your competitive advantage

Creating a professional image and building good customer relationships is an investment in the future. If you do it effectively you can increase your customers’ trust in you, increase order sizes and give them confidence that you will be around for the long-term

If selling a product means telling a story, then your client is the protagonist. Market research shouldn’t stop at evaluating demand and setting prices. Take the time to understand who your clients are likely to be, the industry jargon they will be familiar with, and the financial trends affecting their businesses

Develop an ideal client profile. Do you want to work with start-ups or major firms? Would you rather work on a few large projects or a lot of smaller projects? Which sectors are you most interested in working with? Many of your clients won’t exactly fit this profile, maybe none of them will, but having a clear idea of what clients you want will direct your marketing efforts and help you determine which contracts are worth pursuing aggressively, and which ones might not be a part of your larger business strategy

If you don’t have a strong corporate identity, now is the time to build one. Branding doesn’t have to be expensive. HP Logoworks and similar online services offer a range of reasonably priced branding options that will fit within any budget. But skipping this step could prove disastrous – if you aren’t taking charge of your company’s image, then you are leaving it up to chance or, worse, your competitors.

Finding leads

Now that you know who your customers are likely to be and how your product fits into their business, it’s time to get the word out

Firms with an active online presence have reported stronger growth than their strictly traditional counterparts. Pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns are popular because you only pay when someone actually follows your link. If you are worried about the total cost, you can set a maximum monthly budget to limit your exposure

The key to a successful PPC campaign is to try out multiple approaches and prune the ones that aren’t performing. You will need to design ads and choose keywords based on your business, then at the end of the month you will be able to evaluate which ads and keywords were clicked on most heavily, and which ones actually led to a sale. Dropping the underperforming ads and looking for similarities among your effective ads will boost the return on investment from your PPC campaign over time

Eight things you can do today to build your customer relationships

  1. Re-open the conversation with an ex-customer
  2. Endorse a customer contact on LinkedIn
  3. Set up a free event, seminar or training event for customers
  4. Ask happy customers for an introduction or referral
  5. Hand write a ‘thank you’ letter to your best customer
  6. Run a quick survey using Rypple or another online tool to get feedback
  7. Arrange a personal visit to your top five customers
  8. Introduce or refer your customers to help them get new business

Ignoring traditional advertising is as much of a mistake as ignoring the internet. Place ads in local newspapers, magazines and other places where you expect potential customers to see them. Most people will barely glance at your ad, so you have to give a single, clear impression, but be wary of sliding into sensationalism. Your advertising should be in line with your corporate brand; don’t vie for attention at the cost of jeopardising your reputation

Direct mailings have got a bad reputation because so many companies have sent out ugly, poorly conceived mailings. Design an attractive mailing that will get a second look, with strong sales copy that describes why clients should contact you for more information. If you already have some regular clients, ask them if you can send a few test copies with different designs and ask for feedback. Including clients in the process, and including a small incentive, will strengthen ties with existing clients while you look for new ones

Randomly spamming people is a terrible idea – it probably won’t be effective and it will brand your company as a nuisance, but you shouldn’t throw out email entirely. Email campaigns should be conducted on an opt-in basis. Provide something of value, such as videos, an informational eBook or a free applet relevant to your field, in exchange for people’s email addresses. This process of self-selection makes your recipients more likely to read the emails you send out. Follow up with multiple emails spread out over a long enough timeframe that you don’t overwhelm your prospective clients. Testing email copy is every bit as important as it is in direct mailings

Online auctions are also a great way to generate leads, because people logged in to them are actively looking for goods or services. If you sell merchandise, you can set up a storefront on eBay, but you should also look for smaller, niche auction sites. If your company provides a service, consider establishing profiles on freelancing sites. The projects that you complete through these sites can then migrate to regular business channels

Promoting your business on social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and on blogs and forums, is also an increasingly important part of marketing today. HP Business Answers has free online guides to help you get started.

Creating your own collateral

Every business, large or small, needs collateral such as brochures, flyers, newsletters, business cards and presentations. Using IT to design and print your own material can be cheaper and more efficient than using expensive agencies and print shops. This will make your marketing budget go further and help you be more responsive to the market

Cost-effective marketing for small businesses

  • Choose a high-quality printer. The quality of printing has improved tremendously in recent years to the extent that even a small firm can afford to own a professional quality printer, such as HP Color Inkjet Printers and HP Color Laser Printers.

  • Design your own marketing materials. The latest printing technology lets you print high-quality brochures, flyers, posters and business cards in-house. Templates, clip art and easy-to-use software allow almost anyone to design professional-looking marketing material. For example, you can find free online training, how-to guides and business templates at HP Printshop.

  • Reduce waste. Third-party printing companies often have minimum order sizes that leave you with boxes full of surplus literature. Products such as brochures and visiting cards need to be updated every year leading to even more waste. If you can print your material in the office as you need it, you can avoid all this waste. This is good for the balance sheet and good for the environment.

  • Design for everyone. Modern desktop publishing software such as Microsoft Publisher allows anyone with average IT skills to layout and produce brochures, reports, newsletters and all kinds of stationery. If you can use Microsoft Word, you can use Publisher – it’s that easy. Keeping the design in-house also lets you make changes when you need to. You can even customise the collateral for different customers.

  • Easy printing. Options such as the HP Creative Studio also offer you a one-stop shop where you can find templates for all kinds of material, as well as guidance on printing.

  • Getting creative. The internet makes it easier to get cost-effective help for more complicated tasks such as logo design. For example, Logoworks by HP will create a logo for you over the internet in less than a week. Once you have a great-looking logo and basic document templates, anyone in your company can produce up-to-date marketing material with a consistent look and feel.

  • HP recommends

    HP ProBook Business Notebooks look great when you arrive for a meeting with a customer and they have solid business features to match their stylish appearance. For example, a large screen lets you share information with clients easily. A built-in webcam will let you stay in touch with customers via online video conferencing. And you can get online wherever you want with optional 3G Mobile Broadband. (Broadband connections require separately purchased wireless data service contracts.)  If you want to trade in an old PC for a new HP ProBook, HP are also offering a minimum £150 cash back. (Terms and conditions apply.)

    Consistency. When making your own marketing collateral, it is important to remember that your brand must be presented consistently. Using varying colours, fonts or sizes can make your company look unprofessional or unreliable. One solution is to have a concise branding guide that details how the brand should be presented in any situation.

  • Go big screen. Switching to a bigger screen or adding a second one can dramatically improve your productivity, according to usability guru Jakob Nielsen. For example, you can review artwork on one screen and write feedback on the other. If your desktop computer only has one video connector, consider adding a discrete graphics card with multiple ports. Most notebook PCs will now extend their display over two screens. With Microsoft Windows 7, try using the Windows key and the left and right arrow keys to arrange windows side by side. It’s surprisingly efficient.

  • Polish your presentations. Marketing agencies spend a lot of time making pitches and presentations. Try to avoid long lists of bullets and reading text from the screen.  It also helps if you can get your PC hooked up to a projector without fumbling too much. Look for notebooks that have quick launch buttons to configure multiple displays, and consider getting notebooks with extended battery life so you don’t run out of power mid-speech. A neat way to make presentations more responsive is to use hidden action buttons in PowerPoint so you can navigate from slide to slide and section to section by clicking on the screen.

  • Improve the quality of your copy. Use automated tools to assess the readability of your copy. For example, Microsoft Word gives readability statistics when you run a grammar check (but you need to enable it in the options). You can also use web-based tools.

  • Increase concentration. Creativity is the heart of marketing and it starts when you shut out distractions and focus on the task in hand. Consider using a distraction-free word processor.

  • Boost productivity. Upgrade to a PC or notebook sporting a 2nd Generation Intel® Core™ i5 Processor. With Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0, this quad-core processor power to deal with the most demanding tasks, such as creating new brochures, updating websites and video conferencing with customers. You need a PC with a powerful processor to build strong client relationships and get the most out of your working day.

  • Share files and collaborate. Once you start working with colleagues, clients and subcontractors, collaboration and project management become essential. Here are some things that can help: web conferencing and screen sharing using HP Virtual Rooms; video conferencing on Skype with your notebook’s built-in webcam; and online proofing tools such as ProofHQ.

  • Rapid prototyping. Check out MakerBot. It’s an affordable 3D printer for building ABS plastic prototypes of anything you can design on a PC. (Even if you can’t use it in your business, it’ll make a perfect geek birthday present.) You can use technology to prototype other things, such as websites more efficiently.

  • Better, cheap stock photography. Good photography makes the difference between ‘me too’ and ‘look at me’. However, stock photos from traditional libraries can be fiercely expensive, especially if you can’t get a buyout and need to pay renewable licence fees. Don’t overlook the plentiful supply of public domain images and low-cost online libraries such as iStockphoto.

  • Get free advice. If you have a question about how to get the most from your technology (but not, please, technical support questions) you can ask HP experts directly using the HP Business Answers IT Agony Aunt. It’s free, confidential and run by humans.

Making the sale

Getting customers in the door may be the hardest part of your job, but if you don’t convert leads into a sale, all your preparation has been wasted. Since your client has already made the decision to contact you, approach the situation with confidence

Both online and in bookstores, you can find tomes full of tricks to close a sale, but if you’re looking for a solid long-term client, closing should be natural; you should get the client because you genuinely offer value

To demonstrate that value, listen carefully to what the client is telling you. The preparation that you’ve done on your product and your client’s sector isn’t a shortcut to avoid listening. Instead, it gives you the context to understand what your client is telling you and the background to think through the best application of your goods or services to the client’s needs. When you make your final pitch, keep it simple. Most decisions are made intuitively, so keep the details in reserve to answer specific questions and to provide justification for the purchase your new client already wants to make

Up-selling is great for increasing the size of your sale, but you should only up-sell when appropriate. The goal is to have clients who are impressed by your ability to anticipate problems they couldn’t articulate, not who feel that you have pulled one over on them

Strong-arm tactics often backfire, but it is a good idea to inject a sense of immediacy into the discussion. Don’t just convince clients that they should take action, convince them to take action now. Try to quantify the benefits of your service so that clients know exactly how it will affect their bottom line. In some situations, you can offer an introductory discount, but be careful not to set a precedent that you will regret in the future – some clients will insist on one-time discounts becoming permanent.

Customer relationship management (CRM)

It’s easier and cheaper to work with an existing client than it is to find a new one, so once you close the deal, give great service. There is no substitute for providing value for money

Stay in contact throughout the course of your contract. Clients have different expectations about how responsive you should be, so be clear about how quickly clients can expect you to respond to a query and then keep that standard. If a problem arises, be honest about what has happened, explain how you will solve the problem and give realistic timeframes for service delivery

After the contract finishes, don’t lose track of your client. When you are getting started you should at least maintain a contact list through Outlook or another email management program. As you get more clients, you will eventually want to use dedicated customer relationship management software such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM

You can use your CRM software to build client profiles, the mirror image of the ideal client profile you started with, so that you know what products a client has found useful, what they might need in the future and how you can tailor your business to each client

Use social media like Facebook and Twitter to keep clients in the loop on your company’s latest news. Approaching social media with a business-casual attitude can foster a stronger personal relationship with your customers, though you’ll have to decide if this is appropriate in your sector. A good place to start is HP’s own Business Answers group on LinkedIn

If you haven’t heard from a client for a while, don’t be afraid to initiate contact. A simple email offering relevant services may be all it takes. You can also offer special discounts to show your appreciation. Hosting free training sessions and seminars gives your current and former clients a good reason to touch base with your company

Finally, use your existing clients to find new ones. Once you have proven yourself to a client, ask for referrals. It’s reasonable to offer incentives, such as short-term discounts, for every referral. Document success stories to use on your website and in other marketing materials. Your clients’ words will add credibility to your own claims, winning over sceptical clients.

Benefits of CRM software

CRM software, such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM or Microsoft Outlook with Business Contact Manager, is a great way to turn good intentions into consistent action. Benefits include:

  • Customer data in one place. Sales teams spend too much time putting together customer data stored in different locations. CRM software lets you access data on customers’ past purchases, behaviour, preferences, usage and demographic and contact information quickly. Regularly updating this data ensures that sales teams do not have to scramble for information at the last minute before a call or a meeting.
  • Qualifying leads. Not every lead converts into a sale. So the question is: how do you improve the ratio? CRM software can track past performance and identify metrics; for example, past purchase value or demographic indicators such as income or age, that indicate which leads are ‘hot’ and which are not. This allows you to devote more attention to the best opportunities.
  • Cross-selling. With better and more updated knowledge of customer behaviour and preferences, salespeople have a higher chance of re-selling or up-selling to existing customers.
  • Manage cash flow. All businesses and especially small to mid-sized ones find predicting and managing cash flow one of their biggest challenges. Using CRM software gives businesses a clearer picture of the sales pipeline. How many leads exist? Which are likely to convert to a sale? CRM helps you answer these questions.
  • Team management. You can more easily track your team’s activities. CRM lets you see who is performing well and who needs help. It can also simplify bonus calculations by giving detailed reports on sales. More importantly, because everyone has access to the same data, teams can avoid mistakes, oversights and delays.
  • Future planning. Modern CRM systems provide for detailed reporting, including the ability to link sales results with different inputs such as campaign spends, customer research scores or sales staff employed. This can help businesses analyse the cause of both success and failure, and plan better for future rounds of sales activity.
  • Keep security in mind. When you’re dealing with customer data, you need to be extra careful. Check out HP ProtectTools software which is included with HP commercial notebooks and desktops. It lets you encrypt your data and control access with fingerprint scanners or even facial recognition. The 2nd Generation Intel® Core™ Processor family includes hardware acceleration for certain encryption functions which will boost the performance and security of your system when dealing with your precious data.

The daily habit

What is the biggest tip for building great customer relationships? Simple: repeated, consistent effort. Make it a habit. Whatever tactics or technology you use, schedule time for marketing into your daily activities. Just like budgeting and planning, marketing is a core function of every successful enterprise.

This business advice article published in association with HP. Find out more about HP Laptops, Tablets, Desktops, Printers & Servers

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