True customer loyalty means making the relationship more important than making the sale.
Customer loyalty comes from having a strong relationship with your customers. When they see you as a friend and ally, they’re reluctant to jump ship, even if it means they can get something a little cheaper.
Creating such relationships requires both the right attitude and the right behaviors, according to Jerry Acuff, author of The Relationship Edge in Business. Here’s some advice he gave me a while back:
1. Make relationships your priority. Customers immediately sense if you’re using them (and the relationship) to work your own agenda. Put the relationship first and treat it as more important than making the sale. Your customers will sense you’ve got their best interests at heart.
2. Get curious about people. People are drawn to those who show a true interest in them. Honest (but non-intrusive) curiosity helps you understand how you can better help your customers, while giving you the opportunity to learn new things and make new connections.
3. Be consistent and reliable. People only offer loyalty to those whom they trust. Customers decide whether to trust you based upon your day-to-day behavior . If it’s unpredictable, they’ll shy away. If it’s consistent over time, they’ll know you can be counted on.
4. Let yourself be vulnerable. Pretending to be Superman just alienates people. Building a relationship requires discovering the areas where you and your customer can work best together. This is only possible if you’re willing to admit your weaknesses and limitations.
5. Keep an open mind. If you walk into a customer meeting absolutely convinced that the customer needs your offering, the customer will sense you’re close-minded… and become close-minded in return. An open mind helps the customer be open to the relationship.
6. Be willing to recommend competitors. When you’re open to the idea that the customer might be better served elsewhere, your customer will begin thinking of you as a trusted adviser and consultant rather than a salesperson trying to make your numbers.
7. Have real conversations. A customer meeting should be a conversation and never a “sales call.” Always spend more time listening to the customer rather than talking to the customer. (And never, ever talk at a customer. No sales pitches!)
8. Be a professional. Customer want to do business with individuals who are serious about what they do, and willing to take the time to achieve a deep understanding of their craft, their industry, and the how the customer’s business works.
9. Cultivate fearless integrity. Never be afraid to take a stand, even when it’s unpopular with your customer or your company. That does not mean being picking unnecessary fights, but it does mean being willing to make decisions based upon what you know is right.
10. Decide to make selling more fun. Building great relationships is not just good business, it’s also great fun. Consider: wouldn’t you rather spend time with people whom you like (and who like you in return) rather than trying to manipulate people into buying stuff they don’t need?
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