Keeping customers and finding new ones in a bad economy

I have attended a garden variety of sales training seminars and classes throughout my career. Almost all of the techniques taught these days focus on “taking control” of your client, putting them in a place where they have no choice but to buy from you, etc, etc, etc. No wonder companies are losing their current customers in droves and can’t find new perspective customers. This is NOT the way you should run your business and client development.

Here are my thoughts on how we can keep our customers and snag a few new ones to keep us humming in these times:

  • Focus on your customer! Your opinion of what is important for your customer is irrelevant. How many times have I heard someone complain to me how most sales people and consultants just don’t listen? Yes, sometimes a customer needs to be educated about things they don’t know. But, the only way you can educate them is when you are product/service agnostic. Uncover the pain first. If you have spent time showing your customer what you can help them achieve and they don’t want it, then move on to your next client. Too many “no” answers… and you maybe be full of it. UPDATE 4/9/09: Seth Godin has a great post on his blog called “What does better mean?“. Read it, he reinforces the point even further.
  • NOBODY cares about the fabulous features and capabilities of your service or product. They are simply irrelevant. If you are not solving an actual pain point for your customer, you are about a second away from being replaced by someone who does. Some sales people are phenomenal B.S.ers, so much so that they may start drinking their own kool-aid. Most people with the checkbooks are not stupid, and after the honeymoon is over, you are out! Good luck getting paid too.
  • In bad times, when supply outstrips demand, EVERY experience counts. I don’t have enough fingers on my hands to count the number of times I fired suppliers due to just one infraction. When it came to my company, I wanted perfection every time, all the time, from every supplier or service provider. Our customers expected the same from us. This is the pressure you need to put on yourself. And if you are “the only game in town”, make sure you still set proper expectations and over-deliver NOW. We are all as loyal as our options, and your competition may come and cut you out sooner than you think.

So how do we get inside of our customers’ brains to make sure we are taking care of them and providing them with what they need? Ask questions, show examples of solutions, ask questions again, and ask them to question you. Candor is the best 2-way street for the relationship. Let the customer tell you how to sell them something.

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