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Prioritizing Maximum-Value Customers: A Primer in Relationship Marketing
C-level managers should know that nurturing existing customers, especially high-value ones, is highly more preferable than constantly trying to acquire new customers.
The best way to do that “nurturing”? Get directly involved in prioritizing the needs, current and anticipated, of your best customers, and vastly increase your chances of repeat business.
While there are several ways to get the job done, the data shows that reaching out and prioritizing customers isn’t a luxury for businesses — it’s a necessity. All told, 70% of U.S. firms say it’s more cost effective to retain a customer than it is to gain a new customer.
Companies also say that so-called “relationship marketing,” or a formalized management process to nurture customers, is critical. Forty-nine percent of company managers say they earn superior return on investment via relationship marketing as opposed to acquisition marketing, where the bulk of efforts are steered toward landing brand new clients.
Then there’s the old maxim about 20% of your customers being responsible for 80% of your sales.
In that context, good, reliable customers deserve all the nurturing and prioritizing you can give them. How do you get the job done, and done right? Try these five strategies to keep your best clients happy:
1. Involve the CEO directly
There's often an unwritten rule in business that the chief executive officer is above it all, and that the customer relationship efforts remain in the domain of sales and customer service staffers.
While the latter departments undoubtedly play a huge role in high value customer retention efforts, the CEO should be involved — and the more extensively, the better. When a customer picks up his or her phone and hears your CEO on the line, that customer understands instinctively that he or she matters. That’s big, as valued customers are almost always repeat customers.
2. Be proactive
Whether it’s the CEO, the sales director, or a member of your firm’s customer service staff, checking in with a customer is another proven way to build customer loyalty. Nobody is demanding a handwritten letter (although that would certainly be appreciated by a high value customer), but a call, an email, or even a text goes a long way in solidifying the relationship.
3. Be socially responsible — your customer’s way
Business clients love it when companies climb aboard a charity or a cause the customer is passionate about. Regardless, writing a check to the Sierra Club or pitching in on a new Habitat for Humanity home is a good decision — it's just a better one when it matches the charitable and ethical passions of your customer.
4. Make your firm indispensable
Customers also appreciate any perks and add-ons they get for doing business with you. Sure, that can mean tickets to a play or a ballgame, but that’s not really what we’re proposing. What really benefits your customer is an easier and more productive way to use your product or service.
If you’re in the auto repair systems market, for example, and you can provide your clients (think garages and service centers) with a video tutorial on maximizing productivity using your system software — how that software will shorten labor hours, streamline invoicing and parts ordering, and make estimates more accurate — that customer will return to you time and time again.
5. Every client interaction should be a quality interaction
Always use the opportunity to genuinely connect with a client, and always make sure the interaction matters to the customer.
Take nothing for granted and get ahead of issues with creative engagements like focus groups of steady customers, to better understand their problems and needs. As Steve Jobs once said, “You can’t just ask the customers what they want and try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they will want something new.” Improve the quality of all your interactions and make sure they matter. Clients will appreciate the effort, and you’ll learn something new about them every time out.
Yes, the term relationship marketing sounds generic and almost clinical. But when you demonstrate that things like nurturing and prioritizing are very much a part of the business/client relationship, you may well have created a client for life.
Brian O’Connell is a writer with 15 years' experience covering business news and trends. A former Wall Street bond trader, he has written for dozens of national business publications, including TIME, MSN Money, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, The Street.com and CBS Marketwatch.