Cultivating client relationships goes beyond good customer service—if you truly care about your clients, then they’ll care about you.

By Tom Hopkins

You may think you’re in the business of selling automotive parts, home remodeling or repairs, printing services, financial consulting, tutoring or signs, but you’re not. Even if your products are sold only to other businesses, those businesses don’t make the buying decision–a person does. You’re in the people business, and learning to make people feel important and cared about will help you make both the initial sale and long-term sales over the course of time.

I frequently find great examples of strong client relationships while reading a feature in a local area newspaper where readers are invited to review their favorite nonfranchise restaurants. The articles are wonderful publicity for the restaurants. One of the key elements I see repeated over and over again is that patrons know the names of the owners, hosts and servers. And many of the restaurant workers know something about these customers as well. They know if their guests prefer coffee or tea with breakfast; they may even remember their favorite meal, asking if they want “the usual.”

Put yourself in the seats of those guests for a moment. How would it make you feel to have your particular favorites automatically placed before you without having to explain your preferences? It would make you feel at home–or as if you’re at the home of a good friend, someone who knows you well and wants you to have what you want. Just like your friends and family, these business owners and employees want you to be happy. This type of relationship is ideal when it comes to serving your clients’ needs, and it can be created no matter what your product or service is.

Maybe you sell tires, not breakfast. Even so, you should introduce yourself to each client and tell them your name. Use your clients’ names in conversation during the sales process. Inquire about the use of the vehicle. Does the client have young children or a teenage driver? If so, safety will be an important issue to discuss with them. Do they have a cabin in the woods where some off-road driving is involved? Or do they travel for business and need “highway” tires? All these answers will help you lead your customers to the best choices for them. And keeping a record of the answers will help you build long-term relationships.

You also need to make sure every client receives your best care during–and after–the sales process. During the initial sale, get clients talking and take good notes. Then enter any potentially important information gleaned from the conversation into your client database. My colleague, Harvey Mackay, has a long list of details he requires his salespeople to gather about clients over a certain time period. This includes not just information required to help them conduct business, but a few personal details such as birthdays, whether they’re married, their children’s names, and whether they have pets. That information is used to make contacts and start conversations with clients after the initial sale.

People like to do business with people who are like them, who demonstrate that they care about them beyond making the sale and who keep them in mind when something new that might be of interest to them arises. That type of treatment makes them feel important, and they come to rely on businesses and salespeople they know they can trust to have their needs and interests at heart. And it’s in your best interest to offer that type of treatment and cultivate relationships that customers can count on.

Tom Hopkins is the indisputable king of sales. His book, Master the Art of Selling has sold over 1.4 million copies in ten languages and is considered the classic text on sales.

“Because I understood that building relationships is what selling is all about, I began early in my career to send thank you notes to people. I set a goal to send ten thank you notes every day. That goal meant that I had to meet and get the names of at least ten people every day. I sent thank you notes to people I met briefly, people I showed properties to, people I talked with on the telephone, and people I actually helped to own new homes. I became a thank you note fool.

And guess what happened? By the end of my third year in sales, my business was 98% referrals! The people I had expressed gratitude to were happy to send me new clients as a reward for making them feel appreciated and important.

I built my real estate business to a 98% referral business by using thank-you notes. I heartily endorse the SendOutCards program and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to build their business and enjoy a greater degree of success.”  -Tom Hopkins

Honor Your Market

April 13, 2009

March 27, 2009

By Simone Blum

Did you ever hear of Joshua Bell? He is an internationally acclaimed violinist. He was a child prodigy, and his performances are usually standing-room only. Seats to his performances generally sell for at least $100.

In January 2007, Joshua Bell decided to perform an experiment. He donned jeans and a t-shirt, leaned up against a trash basket in a DC Metro station, took out his $3.5 million dollar violin, casually flipped open the case for donations and began playing. He played 6 classical pieces in 43 minutes.

The man who easily fills theaters and concert halls with premium ticket-holders was all-but ignored. Of the 1104 people that passed by, only 7 people stopped to listen for at least a minute. Twenty-seven people who were mostly running past gave money (for a total donation of approximately $32). That is a total of 1070 who ran by without taking notice. With the exception of a preschooler who was craning to listen, but was blocked by his mother because they were running late.

Three days before he performed this experiment, he had filled the house with premium ticket prices at Boston Symphony Hall. Two weeks after his performance in the DC Metro Station, he played to standing-room only at the Music Center at Strathmore, MD.

So, you might ask… what’s this have to do with my business? Although I found the story (and the video) of this event interesting, it it not just an  anecdote.  It really illustrates some very important things about the psychology of perceived value:

1) Location, location, location does not only apply to Real Estate. An artist will be perceived as more talented when performing on a stage than in a station. A piece of art will be considered more valuable when in a gallery than a home or a coffee shop. A business will seem more established if they advertise on the internet or in glossy print than with a piece of paper taped to a telephone pole or a bathroom stall. Where and how are you displaying your business? Is this the best way to highlight your products or services?

2) Appearance is everything. How are you branding yourself? What are you doing to separate your business from the rest? Are your business card or handouts the equivalent of wearing jeans and a t-shirt and leaning against a trash can, or do you come out in your concert finest, looking sharp and distinct? Do you stand out from the crowd? Are you memorable?

3) Target your market. Define your market and cater to their needs. Are you selling your concert tickets to music-lovers or to subway-token-buyers? Are you targeting the best demographic to ensure the highest conversion rate?

4) Time and Place. You could have the best message in the world, but if you are spending your time and energy on marketing to the wrong demographic at the wrong time, your efforts are simply for the sheer satisfaction of working hard. What is the point of playing fine music that slows the senses, and is to be savored and enjoyed to a crowd rushing to make the next train.

I preach “work smart, not hard” often and all the time. If you are not taking heed of the elements above, you might be working yourself to the bone with little or no result. Be mindful of when, where and how you go to market and approach your customers. It is easier to have success find you than it is to chase it down wildly without a sensible plan.

Rick Segel
• 17 Mar 2009

Downward slanting sales. Check. A depleted customer base. Check. Constant stress, worry and handwringing. Check, Check, Check! If these symptoms are all too familiar, then it’s likely your store is suffering from Recessionitis, a disease plaguing many good-intentioned retailers just like you. Thankfully, there is a cure. And I have the prescription: Start maximizing your customers at every opportunity throughout the recession and beyond.

Business is tougher than it has ever been, yet there are stores that are staying relatively healthy. What are they doing right? Quite simply, they are getting the most out of every customer who walks in, logs in, calls in, you name it. Even though they might have fewer customers come through their doors, by maximizing the ones they do have, they’re managing to beat this recession.

Maximizing every customer means getting the most out of them every time they come to your store. It means suggesting more ideas or products before they check out. It means selling your loss leaders/promotional goods and your better merchandise as well. It means collecting as much data about your customers as possible. And it means getting your salespeople focused on saying and doing the right things every time.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

Sell the customer as much as possible. Then sell her some more. Here’s the simple truth: Retailers make money when they are making multiple sales. Your store makes more money when your customers buy more than one item from you. And in order to get your customers to buy more, your employees must learn the art of making multiple sales. The trick is teaching them to remember four magic words: Did you see this?

Let’s say your store sells cookware and kitchenware. If a customer is going to purchase a new casserole dish, your salesperson should ask, “Did you see the serving dish that goes with the set?” or “Did you see this cookbook?” She might decline, or she might walk over and take a look at those items, even if it’s just to be polite. Once over there, you never know, she might pick something else up. And just like that your salesperson has maximized this customer.

Become a relentless data collector. Basically, ask yourself What should I find out from this person that will help me get him back in my store? Ask him what he does to find out what he might be likely or able to buy from you. Keep an eye on when he comes into your store to determine when he does most of his shopping. And when he does buy from you, collect his contact information—his phone number, e-mail and address, or whatever he’s willing to give—so that you can send him information about your store. And once you have this information, put all of it, every detail, into your customer database.

Of course, collecting data from your customers can be easier said than done. Whenever you or a salesperson try to get a customer to open up, remind her that finding out this information will help you better serve her. And when you ask for her contact information, explain that having it will allow you to send her coupons and exclusive sales information. When customers know how they’ll benefit, they’ll be far more likely to talk.

Create a customer wish list. Then, try to grant those wishes. If a customer wants an item you don’t have, or one that you usually do have but that isn’t currently in stock, get his contact information on your customer wish list. That way when the item is in, you can give him a call or send him an e-mail to let him know. This is a great way for you to stay in front of your customer and to give him a reason to come back to your store.

Keep in touch with your customers—and know that “expected” communications may not be good enough. No matter what kind of retail store you own, you should be keeping in touch with your customers. Know, also, that if you’re just letting your customers know about upcoming sales or price notices you aren’t doing everything you could be doing. In a bad economy especially, you need to give your customers every possible reason to remember that you’re out there and to feel connected to you.

Your customers probably get lots of sales notices. Think of ways that you can contact them that will be specific to them or you. Send them a birthday card or a short article that you think might be of interest to them. Or if you or your store has recently been featured in a news story, let them know by sending the clip. The goal is to remind them that you are still around. If you can keep your store on their minds, they’ll keep coming back.

Do whatever it takes to keep the customer referrals coming. In today’s economy, customer referrals can be a great way to boost your revenue. You have to make sure your salespeople get in the habit of asking customers if they have any friends or family who would like what you sell. And because customers are often reluctant to provide a friend or family member’s contact information, you have to give them an offer they can’t refuse.

You might create a customer referral program in which the customer doing the referring and the person she refers receive a reward. You might give the person doing the referring a $20 gift card, and the person she’s referred 25 percent off her sales total in her first visit to the store. I know this feels painful, but just think about the lifetime value that new customer could provide. If she keeps coming back to your store, you’ll make back what you may have lost in the discount, and you’ll continue to make money off her if you turn her into a loyal customer.

Use coupons. They’re a back-to-basics tool that always works. It’s a recession. You simply can’t fight the fact that your customers are going to be more price- and value-minded. You should just go ahead and embrace it. That said, there aren’t many things in this world that price- and value-minded customers like more than coupons. They love feeling like they’ve gotten a great deal, like they’re smart shoppers, and even like they’ve beaten the system in some way. And that should be perfectly fine with you as long as they are coming back to your store.

The secret to successful coupons is using a dollar amount instead of a percentage. Dollar amounts are more tangible for customers. They immediately know what their savings would be whereas with a percentage they might have to take a second to calculate it. And the reality is they may never take that second! Also, make sure your coupons have tight expiration dates.

“Bounce them back” into your store. Bounce-back coupons are a relatively new retail sales tool. They let you give your customer a reason to come back to your store before he even leaves. Here’s how it works: You offer your customer a percentage of his current purchase in a coupon that must be used at a later date. For example, if a customer buys $100 worth of merchandise, he gets a $20 off coupon, but it must be used within a certain time frame, say, at least three days after his purchase but within seven days.

Not only does this provide you with a way to get a customer back in the store, it allows you to pressure him to come back sooner rather than later. Give him too long of a window and he’s more likely to forget about you.

Get your customers to sing your praises…and record their arias. Customer testimonials are the most powerful form of marketing for retailers. So, any time a customer sings your praises, be sure to capture the moment. Bring your customer testimonials into the 21st century by keeping a digital camera and a notepad by the cash register. When a customer gives you a compliment, thank her and ask if you can write it down and take her picture. Then put it on display.

You might frame the picture and testimonial and hang them in your store. Or you can put it on your Web site. Or you can use them in a mailing piece that goes out to your customers. Displaying these testimonials reminds customers of how great you are and convinces potential customers of the same thing. And who knows? The special attention might persuade your attention-seeking customers to give you a testimonial just so they’ll get the same treatment.

Turn your customers into research sleuths. The curse of the retailer is that, despite how beneficial it is for you to see what other stores are doing, you are often trapped in your own store. Your customers, however, have more opportunities than you to get out and about. You might as well take advantage of their mobility.

Ask your customers where they’ve been shopping and what interesting merchandise or clever sales or promotions they’ve seen. Ask the right customers in the right way and you will get unbelievably valuable information. This also helps you make a special connection with your customer—most people love being asked their opinion. It makes them feel important.

Seek out anonymous feedback via customer service surveys. Many retail owners don’t use surveys, but the truth is they can be very valuable. Anonymous surveys, in particular, are a great way for you to get straightforward feedback from your customers. Try it at least once. You might be surprised by the powerful advice you get.

You’ll find out things about your store that no one would ever say to your face. Sure, some of them might be hard to see on paper, but they allow you to correct any problems that are mentioned in your survey. Besides, if you’re doing things right in the first place, the survey results shouldn’t be all negative. You might find out that certain customers would be coming in more if you had a certain product line or if you ran a certain promotion more often.

Create a customer advisory board. Ask a few of your loyal customers if they would be willing to meet with you about four times a year so that you can pick their brains about your store. At meetings, ask what they think about your merchandise, your employees, the way you do business, etc. Remember, those on your advisory board should not have lifetime appointments. You’ll want to switch them in and out every year or so to ensure you are getting the freshest perspectives possible.

Seek out and cultivate lagniappe moments. In tough times businesses have to be willing to give lagniappe—that’s New Orleans-speak for “a little extra.” While this concept is interpreted in various ways, it means that in addition to great deals, coupons, and the like, you also give of yourself. And that is the heart and soul of customer maximization.

You focus on what you can do to genuinely improve your customer’s day rather than on what your customer can do for you. You build a relationship with him. Whether that means you take the extra time to really explain a product to someone or give him a gift card as thanks for referring a customer, you’ll be building a relationship that turns into customer loyalty.

Today’s consumer is in the hunt for the best buy of the day. And we as retailers are in the hunt to convert the hunters into the hunted—in a nice way, of course. That process starts with maximizing the customer.

I love the saying that retailing is a contact sport. You have to get in front of your customers. We are living in the era of proactive retailing. We can’t wait for customers to just walk through the front door anymore. You have to interact with them and get them to open up to you so that you can find out what their want is. Naturally, that’s never an easy process. But going the extra mile, every day and in every way, can keep them spending more and coming back. And that’s the best recession survival strategy you’ll ever find.

Rick Segel, CSP, a seasoned retailer of 25 years, owned one of New England’s most successful independent women’s specialty stores. He is the marketing expert for Staples.com, a contributing writer for numerous national publications, and a founding member of the Retail Advisory Council for Johnson & Wales University.

Rick has authored nine books, two training videos, and a six-hour audio program. Retail Business Kit For Dummies, published by Wiley Inc., became the No. 1 selling retail how-to book in the United States in January 2002 and is now in its second edition.

Marketing to new homeowners has long been a valuable tool to attract new customers. Many companies like Welcome Wagon offer this service to businesses. My problem has been that once you sign up for the service, your marketing dollars get spent on mailings to people that, although they are “new homeowners,” they are not new to your neighborhood.

Companies like Welcome Wagon spend your marketing budget on mailings to anyone that has turned on a utility within a two mile radius of your business. They pride themselves on showing you that 1,000 new homeowners have received your offer through their mailing. The problem is that, in reality, only 20% or 200 people are actually new to the area and are in need of an introduction to your business. The fact is, on average, 80% of the people on the list that they are selling you, have moved less than ten miles. This means that most of the 80% will continue to use the services of the businesses that they have already developed a relationship with. It means that their drycleaner, salon, dentist, doctor, landscaper, handyman…etc, will remain the same after they have moved. In other words, you just spent money to send a direct mail piece to 800 people that are already your customer or will not switch to you. There are ways to win these customers over to your business (see http://tinyurl.com/ccxlkh), but it is not likely to happen with a mailing through Welcome Wagon or similar companies.

There is a company, however, that will focus on the 20%, “Cream of the Crop,” that are actually NEW to your neighborhood and will need your services.

www.YourNewNeighbors.com provides lists of New Neighbors that have moved 10 miles or more. With their list you should achieve 3 to 4 times the response rate that you will get with the older systems and you will save money at the same time.

These targeted New Neighbors need to find your business, because now they live too far away to travel to their old Salon, Dentist, Drycleaners, Doctor, Landscaper, Handyman and more!

If this makes sense and you would like more information about your area, please call 888-867-1905 or email info@YourNewNeighbors.com.

Jeff Battiston   www.twitter.com/jbatts

Jeff is Founder and CEO of Global Capital Services, a company that provides financing to businesses and municipalities.

A Quick Guide to Writing Effective Copy for Your Web Site
by Jeanne Yocum— Tuscarora Communications, Ltd.— http://www.yourghostwriter.com

#1:  Understand the connection between content and credibility.

#2:  Realize that good writing needn’t be expensive, but bad writing is always costly.

#3:  Start fresh; what you’ve written for your marketing brochure won’t work on the Web.

#4:  Develop a Web personality.

#5:  Keep it simple.

#6:  Make it easy for your visitors to understand your copy and for search engines to find it.

#7:  Create a style guide and use it!

#8:  Provide value-added content.

#9:  Update content regularly so the site does not become stale.

#10: Proofread, proofread, proofread.

For a detailed explanation of these ten tips visit Jeanne Yocum’s free Ebook:  10 Ways To Better Web Copy.

Jeff Battiston is founder a CEO of Global Capital Services, a financing company for businesses and municipalities.  Jeff also offers businesses a cost-effective way to build sales through appreciation and relationship marketing, Grow Your Sales Through Word-of-Mouth. Jeff can be contacted by email Jeff@GlobalCapital-LLC.com or follow him on Twitter.

The majority of my business–especially the high-ticket and repeat kind we all so love–comes via referrals. I will bet that the same is true for your business.

The reason: All things being equal, people do business with those they Know, Like and Trust. The next preference is to do business with those that have been recommended by others, they know like and trust.

So the key to generating more sales in business is, very simply, to become known, liked and trusted by your customers or their friends. How do you go about doing this?

The answer can be found in a book that was first published in 1936. (It is amazing how sound fundamentals can so often be overlooked or forgotten) How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie, is one of the first bestselling self-help books ever published. As outlined by Carnegie, one of the most important techniques in getting someone to like you is to show that person honest and sincere appreciation.

As human beings, everyone wants to and needs to be appreciated.  So are you showing your clients and customers that you appreciate them?   We have grown accustomed to expect a “Thank You” at the time of purchase, but when was the last time you received a gift or a “thank you” card from the business you transacted with?  A  heartfelt “Thank You” card not only shows appreciation, it causes mutual appreciation for your company. It strengthens your relationship with your customer and makes them more  eager to return and do business again and most importantly refer their friends.

I will give you another example:

About eight years ago we sold a house and bought a new one. Because of timing, we happened to use two different realtors. The woman that sold our old house sent me her business card after the closing and I never heard from her again.  I don’t remember her name and I don’t remember the name of her company.

The woman who brokered the purchase of our new house was Kathy Day from Prudential. I haven’t seen Kathy in 8 years but I remember her very well. Why do I remember her?

  • She sends me Birthday Cards
  • She sends my wife Birthday cards
  • She sends us Holiday Cards
  • She sent us a Happy Anniversary Card and a gift basket for the One Year Anniversary of our house!
  • She sends new listing and closed sale updates
  • She even sent a card on the fifth anniversary of our purchase

Not only has she showed us honest and sincere appreciation as customers, but she made us feel as part of her family. So if somebody was to say to me “Hey, Jeff, I’m looking to buy or sell a house … Where Should I Go? Who would I recommend? Some woman I don’t even remember or Kathy?

Furthermore, statistics show that it’s cheaper to retain a client than to obtain a new one.  You have already made the investment to get the customers that you have, by showing them appreciation you are protecting that investment.  Sending personalized greeting cards is an inexpensive way to strengthen relationships and by strengthening your relationships with your existing customers and clients you are growing your business by retaining them and encouraging them to give referrals.  Consequently, the effect of sending a personalized card is very potent and profitable.  A verbal thank you or an e-mail to clients is a necessity, but in today’s world of electronic communication, there is nothing more powerful than sending a hand written, personalized and tangible card.

Another interesting point; Carnegie reminds us, “Remember that the person you are talking to is a hundred times more interested in himself than he is in you.” To this point, I have found that sending a card that includes my client’s or customer’s picture or a picture of something important to them, becomes a card that does not get thrown away. To the contrary, that card is hung on a wall or remains on their desk, always reminding them that I appreciate their business.

So you don’t think you have time to send a card?  It’s vital that you make time.  The online system that I use allows you to choose from 13k cards, personalize them with photos, your own hand writing and signature. These are not ecards. When you click send, they print, place your card in an envelope and mail it with a stamp. Best of all, it only costs 62 cents per card.  It will probably take, at the most, 3 minutes to send one card or one hundred cards. This tool also allows you to send gifts like brownies, books, gift cards etc.. along with the card. You can find this tool at http://www.buildrelationshipstoday.com.

Some other ways to show appreciation is to send a “Thank You for Doing Business” card to new clients, or send a card to prospective clients to thank them for taking the time to talk with you.

For one of my clients that owns a construction company, a card is sent when they complete a job with a picture of the final construction.  His sales have increased 352% in the last two months because of return customers and referrals.  Not only is this because of the quality service that he offers, but because he is following up and letting the customer know that their business is appreciated.

As Dale Carnegie told us many years ago, “Three-fourths of the people you will meet tomorrow are hungering and thirsting for appreciation, give it to them and they will love you.” Perhaps more true today than when he said it.

It is very important to have a quality product or service but you also have to have a quality ongoing relationship with your clients and that starts by showing honest and sincere appreciation for them.

Jeff Battiston   www.twitter.com/jbatts

Jeff is Founder and CEO of Global Capital Services, a company that provides financing to businesses and municipalities.

Some people support Obama’ stimulus plan, while many others expressed their disagreements. If you’re not satisfied with the government’s response, what should you do? Well, Mark Cuban had an idea: create his own stimulus plan. This puts a whole new twist in the old saying, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.”

The billionaire entreprenuer and owner of the Dallas Mavericks announced his intentions last month on his blog, and it’s still ongoing. Joining is simple: leave a comment on his blog, post your business plan, wait for a response. Almost 2000 comments have already been recorded as of this time. Unlike most VC projects, he aims to make his chosen startups profitable as quickly as possible, so your business model should reflect that. Interested? Follow these rules:

1. It can be an existing business or a start up.
2. It can not be a business that generates any revenue from advertising. Why ? Because I want this to be a  business where you sell something and get paid for it. That’s the only way to get and stay profitable in such a short period of time.
3. It MUST BE CASHFLOW BREAK EVEN within 60 days
4. It must be profitable within 90 days.
5. Funding will be on a monthly basis. If you dont make your numbers, the funding stops
6. You must demonstrate as part of your plan that you sell your product or service for more than what it costs you to produce, fully encumbered
7. Everyone must work. The organization is completely flat. There are no employees reporting to managers. There is the founder/owners and everyone else
8. You must post your business plan here, or you can post it on slideshare.com , scribd.com or google docs, all completely public for anyone to see and/or download
9. I make no promises that if your business is profitable, that I will invest more money. Once you get the initial funding you are on your own
10. I will make no promises that I will be available to offer help. If I want to , I will. If not, I wont.
11. If you do get money, it goes into a bank that I specify, and I have the ability to watch the funds flow and the opportunity to require that I cosign any outflows.
12. In your business plan , make sure to specify how much equity I will receive or how I will get a return on my money.
13. No multi-level marketing programs.

Yesterday, he posted some of the early favorites to get funding, and it’s worth your while to study them to see what he’s looking for. The list was a mix of food and tech ventures, which might reflect Cuban’s own personality. If you have similarly brilliant ideas, go to the blog and leave a comment. Be sure to think it through and leave a short but compelling argument on why he should choose you.

Best of luck.