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The Six Stages of Super-Client Development

customer relationship business development_newsPicture a great client. He or she will have been buying from you for quite a while. They make purchases on a regular basis. They appreciate the work you do and they respect your expertise. And the best part is that they recommend your business to their friends, family and business associates.

Do you have a lot of clients like this? Do you have any? If you’re short on the number of super-clients in your client base, it may not be a reflection on the value of goods or services you provide. In fact, the opposite could be true. Maybe you put so much effort in being the best at what you do, that you’re neglecting the customer-development stage of your business. After all, you don’t just find great customers hidden like Easter eggs. They must be created—by you. It’s a process that takes planning, dedication and time.

There are six stages to creating a committed client:

  • Create awareness of your brand – Yes, this is basic but we’ve got to start somewhere. Besides, it’s impossible to have more great clients than people who’ve ever heard of your business, so maximize the foundation of your client base through marketing (i.e. PR, social media, digital advertising, direct marketing … etc.). Not every promotional vehicle is effective for every business type and there are a lot of factors to consider (that’s where agencies like Pinstripe Marketing come in!) but you must let people know your company exists, one way or another.
  • Get your target audience interested in your products/services – Congratulations! Some prospective clients have heard of your business! Unfortunately, they have probably heard of your competitors as well. Now you have to help them understand why your products or services are better than those they can get elsewhere. You do this with a consistent brand message based on value propositions to the customer by utilizing marketing vehicles tailored to your business and audience.
  • Do some convincing – After the first couple of stages, you may have landed a few clients, but you want more, don’t you? Now’s the time to back up the value claims you’ve made with blogs, testimonials, case studies and white papers. You might even show off your confidence by inviting customer reviews/feedback on your website or through social media. Such persuasion motivates buying decisions and helps cement the client-business relationship. People who carefully consider a decision before making it become emotionally invested in seeing it turn out well. No one likes to admit to a mistake, so if such a customer has a rare moment of disappointment, they will be less likely to cut and run, allowing you to recover from a minor error.
  • Ensure the purchasing experience is a good one – What would you do if someone concluded their business with you feeling regret, and you knew about it? How could you get them to feel better? Send them a card letting them know you appreciated their business? Maybe inquire as to their ongoing satisfaction with the product or service, or the level of attention they received? Perhaps make sure they know you stand behind their purchase with reasonable support so they stay happy? Do these things with everyone as standard operating procedure, and you’ll combat stray feelings of regret among the few. You’ll also ensure that worry-free clients bond even more tightly with you!
  • Never take them for granted – If you’ve been diligent in developing client relationships through this point, you should be in great shape. In fact, victory is yours if you don’t blow it. Remember those promises to answer concerns and provide appropriate ongoing support? Make sure you’re keeping them. And, in general, stay in touch with friendly cards, surveys, newsletters and specials. Always let existing customers know how important they are to you. (Just think of all the work you’ve put into the relationship already. Don’t let that go to waste now!)
  • Take advantage of their advocacy – They really like you and you really like them. This is where the investment in client development truly pays dividends. Make it easy for great clients to share their enthusiasm by featuring them in testimonials and case studies, onsite reviews and marketing collateral. You might even reward them with a client referral program. (Meanwhile, don’t forget to take a moment to feel earned pride over every super client you have!)

It’s true that not every prospect will require every outlined step to be a buyer; you may be lucky enough to have a few very low-maintenance clients for years and years. Conversely, some people are going to leave you no matter what you do. But If you have a process for turning customers into advocates and stick to it, you will have exponentially increased your odds of enjoying consistent, sustainable business growth.

Building a Reputation Through Volunteering

building-a-reputation

“Oh! I know Ginger!” My team often hears that phrase while talking with people at events around Tampa Bay. When the topic of work comes up and they mention Pinstripe Marketing, they frequently get that response. Years ago, after hearing dozens of those exclamations, our former creative director joked, “Geez, we should have buttons!” A project manager agreed and they decided to arm themselves with a response of their own at the next event. It caught on. Although silly, people would actually wear the buttons, causing others to say “I know Ginger; where’s my button?” or “Who is Ginger? I want a button.”

building reputation through volunteering

I am what many would consider “a habitual joiner.” Perhaps suffering from a severe case of FOMO, I wanted to be involved in everything – professional associations, business organizations, non-profit boards – wherever I could surround myself with people (typical ENFP) and give back to my industry and community. By being involved and serving on boards, I had the opportunity to illustrate my work ethic, organization, communication and marketing skills, and (hopefully) that I was friendly and easy to work with.

Through the relationships I’ve built volunteering, I have met some of my very best friends, business colleagues, and, most importantly for my business, clients. In fact, I can directly trace a significant portion of the agency’s annual revenue to connections made from my volunteer work.

Just recently, we landed a new client in a fast-growing segment of the GPS technology industry. When I asked the vice president of operations how they initially heard about us, he said, “I sent a query out to my circle of trusted associates and your name came back twice.” Similarly, when meeting with a local law firm that week, I asked the same question. The marketing director said, “I asked a group of legal administrators and you were recommended seven times!”

While most professional services firms attribute more than 70% of their business to referrals, I know our involvement in the community is responsible for even more. How do I know? Because we have rarely proactively pursued a client.

However, now is the time to leverage that reputation and implement a business development campaign to strategically target new clients. We’re looking forward to growing the business and building relationships with new clients who will ultimately make new referrals.

I understand that we’re all busy, and over the last several years, I have become more selective about where I spend my time. It’s important to identify what organizations will provide what you’re seeking – more knowledge, more connections, or more passion for a cause. Getting involved and serving in trade associations or volunteer organizations is an excellent way to build a network, particularly for introverts who may cringe at the thought of attending a big networking event or non-profit fundraiser. The idea of “working a room” is unappealing to most, but getting to know a small group of like-minded individuals working toward a common mission creates bonds that last.

I wrote this article because we have been planning for 2017 and analyzing many aspects of our business. This year especially, my involvement in the community has really paid off. So whether you are making resolutions or just looking to approach business development from a different perspective, hopefully this is a good reminder. We always recommend to our clients to stay heavily involved in trade associations and the community – for many reasons. Best of luck capturing more of an audience for your business in the new year!

Oh, and let me know if you want a button. 🙂

 

Below are some resources for getting involved and building your own reputation.

Find a Trade Association

Networking for Introverts

Fundamentals of Serving on a Board

 

The Importance of Measuring Client Satisfaction

Tampa Bay marketing firmAre your clients happy with you? You might answer, “Business is good. In fact, it’s never been better!” If that—or something similar was your response—frankly, you haven’t answered the question. You see, customer satisfaction is just one among several factors that motivate buying behavior. There’s also price (a big one!), convenience and brand familiarity. One of those may be the reason for your success. So why is customer satisfaction still a big deal if you have another of these important business-drivers as your ace-in-the-hole? Here’s the thing. Customer satisfaction affects loyalty, so when a competitor matches your best general attribute (and one will, eventually), happy customers stay with you. That’s why you should be measuring client satisfaction.

To gather information that will allow you to evaluate customer satisfaction, conduct a survey or some form of live interview … or maybe both. Take a look at the following questions for your survey subjects:

  • How would you rate the quality of our products/services?
  • Do you feel our products/services fit your lifestyle in terms of ease-of-use and convenience?
  • Are you satisfied with the range of products/services that we offer?
  • Do you feel that our products/services are a good value for their cost?
  • How well do we meet your expectations in terms delivery or provision of our products/services?
  • How satisfied are you with the level of courtesy you receive from our staff?
  • How would you rate the availability of our staff?
  • Are you satisfied with the knowledge levels of our staff?
  • Would you describe our staff as friendly and responsive?
  • If you have ever had a problem or question in regard to a purchase, how would you rate our ability to resolve your issue?
  • What would you say is the public perception of our company?
  • When business with us is concluded, how do you usually rate the experience?
  • Would you recommend us to a close friend or family member?

Please note, the questions above should serve as information reference points for your research. Simply rephrase them to match your own survey format. The questionnaire design should allow easy comparison across all respondents (apples to apples), and you will want to distinguish differences in intensity such as “very satisfied” to “not at all satisfied” for easier quantification. Survey templates are readily available on the Internet (i.e. Survey Monkey, Qualtrics) and many of these are free, so explore your options.

There are a number of ways to conduct your survey including regular mail, email and website, phone or in person. Regardless of which best fits your circumstances, it’s most important for your survey to be randomly drawn from the same population pool—presumably current and/or former customers. As much as possible, avoid letting respondents self-select themselves. (This is one reason that phone surveys and face-to-face interviews may result in more accurate results than mail or online surveys).

Naturally, you’ll review the survey results looking for potential trouble areas. If your “report card” is good to very good across the entire of range of questions with little variance, that’s great! Doubtlessly, you can still find something to improve—even if your customers haven’t noticed—but be proud of yourself. And if you have mostly good customer ratings, with only one or two trouble areas, at least you now know what to work on—immediately!

But—just theoretically speaking—what if your ratings are uniformly abysmal? Where do you start? The best approach is to choose the easiest thing to remedy first and go from there. That way, customers who stick with you can see improvement quickly as you set about making things better for them.

One thing you should always do with a customer satisfaction survey, is let everyone know the results. You don’t have to get into details (especially if the results, were really, really bad), but make it plain that you value the feedback you received, note that areas for improvement that will be getting your immediate attention (and possibly the specific steps you’ll be taking) and promise to continue to maintain high standards in the other areas (a little humble-bragging never hurts anyone). And if (theoretically) you got a massive FAIL on your report card, let your customers know how hard you’ll be working to regain their trust. It’s been done before, very successfully, so don’t panic and get to work.

Customer surveys, just like any other, need to be carried our consistently over time in order to measure progress toward your customer satisfaction goals. Because, ultimately, happy clients are your best defense against determined competition.

Some of the information in this article was culled from Customer Satisfaction Surveys & Research: How to Measure CSAT.

Other links to check out:

12 Steps to Creating an Effective Customer Survey

How to Develop and Effective Customer Satisfaction Survey

How to Write a Customer Survey

How to Speak to Your Ideal Customers

ideal customer relationship
Earlier this year, we shared our thoughts on how to identify your ideal client. This month, we’re going to consider what to say to them once you know who they are.

Speak to their concerns – Whether from surveys, conducting focus groups, or simply talking with a sizable portion of your client base, you’ll have developed a fair understanding of what the majority of your customers have in common. Most importantly, this intelligence should include understanding problems that you can help them solve, or goals that you can help them accomplish. Your messaging needs to speak to these concerns at the very outset of a communication in order to get their attention quickly. Then once a prospect is paying attention, don’t beat around the bush in stating how your business can meet their demands.

Impress them with your expertise – If you’re conducting a business-to-business campaign, you want to show that you understand your client’s livelihood. Therefore, in the course of explaining how your own company will meet their needs, throw in some terminology or phrases that are specific to their industry. Don’t overdo it (and for heaven’s sake, verify that you’re using your ‘key words’ correctly!) but demonstrating familiarity with your customer’s industry will increase their confidence in you. Additionally, and for any sort of customer, be sure to mention any awards, designations, or professional qualifications that you have as an aside to your main message.

Recognize their individuality – You’ll be assuming members of your target audience have many things in common, but don’t forget what folks say about the word ‘assume.’ Craft your mass-audience message to acknowledge that no person or organization is exactly like any other. One of the easiest and least obtrusive ways to do this is by using the word ‘you’ in your advertising copy. (FYI, the individuality-vs.-mass-appeal conundrum is why you often see phrases like “if you …” or “whether you …” in marketing copy.) And anytime you can easily customize communications with a client’s actual name, do so.

Acknowledge (and defend against) objections – If you’ve spent any time at all your business, you already know why a good portion of your prospects are hesitant to become customers. There’s no use pretending these objections don’t exist, so the best course is to meet them head on. (This will also reinforce that you understand their interests.) Be first to cite their concerns. and explain how much better off—overall—they will be once they decide to do business with you.

Offer proof of your value – As one excellent way to defend against objections—as well as show that understand your customers—is to provide them with real-life examples of your success. This could be as simple as brief customer quotes, or as detailed as a lengthy case study. And while you may not want to prominently include this element in all of your communications, we do recommend letting prospects know that such testimonials are easily available for their review.

Presume a long-term relationship is in the making – This is not something that you should necessarily spell out in your marketing communications. Rather it’s a thought that you should always keep in the back of your mind. That is, speak to your customers as if you both want and expect to serve their needs for years and years to come. Maintaining the mindset of an enduring relationship is a very good way to witness a happy self-fulfilling prophecy.

Below are some more resources on building client relationships:

 5 Tips for Building Strong Relationships with Clients

10 Steps for Growing Your Keys Accounts Infographic

Relationship Building for Business and More

relationship building for business
Relationship building is a fundamental facet of life – we meet people, we connect with them, we become friends with them. Building relationships happens over time, and as time goes by, acquaintances become friends through common interests and shared experiences. Perhaps we’ve known a person long enough to have watched their children grow or were present during tough life events. The longer you know someone, the more you share. These shared experiences form bonds and serve as the foundation of a more profound friendship, but this type of relationship affects our professional lives as well.

Friendships and business relationships overlap fairly often. One of the things we have learned over time is that business relationships often evolve into friendships, and vice versa. Someone who has been a friend for years may one day open a door that you never knew was there.

Case in Point

This is a story about a small network of three people who were connected in different ways, with names changed for anonymity.

September was on the hunt for a job, and her first search terms pulled up a website for a company that she had never heard of, despite the fact that it was right down the street from her old photography studio. She looked over the website and thought the company looked interesting, so she prepped her cover letter and resume and thought she would give it a shot. Sending an unsolicited resume is often fruitless, but September knew that sending hundreds of resumes out would be more likely to yield a collection of viable results. She sent her resume to every single email address she could find.

Diana received September’s email and read over the cover letter with curiosity. She was intrigued, so she decided to do “the search.” First, she went to LinkedIn and discovered that she and September shared a number of connections, although she had never heard the name before. One friend in particular was William, who was a good friend of Diana and whom she had met years ago through a leadership program. She immediately called William to get the scoop on this mysterious September. William, always one to chat, was instantly excited. He told Diana that she had to hire September, sang her praises almost endlessly, and almost kicked himself for not having made the introduction himself, much earlier.

On the other end of things, September continued her search and had sent her resume to a few more places, not expecting immediate results, but diligently focused on acquiring at least one or two responses within a week. To her surprise, she was to receive a response within minutes of sending out that first resume, certainly a personal record. The phone rang and it was William. It had been quite some time since September had seen or even spoken to William, but he was one of those timeless friends who you pick up with wherever you left off. She was happy to hear from him. William instantly began talking about Diana, the owner of the very company September had just sent her resume to. He was ecstatic for the connection, and told September that he thought it was the perfect fit. He told her that he had just gotten off the phone with Diana, and had a really good conversation.

September emailed Diana when she hung up with William. They set up a time to meet, and their first meeting was such a success that September knew almost instantly that this was where she would end up. William was right. He had seen something in these two women that he knew would bring them together. September accepted Diana’s job offer, and the rest is history. The three of them still have lunch on a regular basis, and September and Diana both are grateful to William for bringing them together.

As you can see from the story, there was one small hole in this network – the connection between September and Diana had not yet been made. Now this web is complete, and they have connected other parts of their web as well, through friendships, business partnerships, and acquaintances. It is quite interesting to think about the vast network of people that we have in our lives, especially for those who are involved in many community activities. Your network could extend much farther than you even realize. Sometimes it takes only one person to bridge the gap, as in this case. Once September and Diana’s gap had been bridged, they realized how many other friends they had in common.

Have you had a similar experience? We would love to hear your stories about networking surprises.

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