How do you build customer relationships? How important are those relationships to the sales process?
In his bestselling classic The Sales Bible, Jeffrey Gitomer discusses how to build customer relationships—whether it’s forging relationships with new or prospective customers or retaining current customers. He provides four steps for handling complaints and offers insights on leveraging existing relationships.
Read more to learn how to build customer relationships.
Building Customer Relationships
Even with a positive attitude, articulated goals, and the tools to make a great first impression, you can’t be successful in sales without other people. Gitomer asserts that selling has less to do with your product or prices, and more to do with your relationships: People are more inclined to buy from someone they know, trust, and have a good relationship with. Being friends with your customers also makes the selling process easier for you—they’re happy to buy from you, are more forgiving if you make the occasional mistake, and are loyal to you, so you shut out the competition.
(Shortform note: The type of salesperson that Gitomer describes is a “relationship builder.” In The Challenger Sale, Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson write that this is one of five types of salespeople, the others being the “hard worker,” the “lone wolf,” the “reactive problem-solver,” and the “challenger.” Contrary to Gitomer’s advice, Dixon and Adamson argue that the relationship builder is actually the least likely to succeed, while the challenger consistently outperforms the others.)
Here are Gitomer’s tips for how to build customer relationships.
How to Build Relationships With New or Prospective Customers
Gitomer’s main strategy for developing relationships with customers is to meet them outside of an office setting. He recommends inviting them to attend a company-hosted seminar, to have a meal with you, or to play a common sport like golf or tennis. (Shortform note: If you’re meeting a customer for the very first time, it might be best to meet them in an office—in one study, 75 percent of clients said that a business setting makes a positive impression, while 47 percent said that meeting in a cafe leaves a negative impression.)
How to Retain Customers
Gitomer writes that to keep your customers happy and loyal, you should provide excellent customer service—otherwise, you risk losing their business. Customers take their business elsewhere over small things like a rude comment, delayed response, or lack of accountability. (Shortform note: One survey found that customers value four dimensions of customer service in particular: care and concern, initiative, problem solving, and recovery—which includes being able to apologize when something goes wrong.)
One important aspect of customer service is responding to complaints. In fact, Gitomer contends that if you handle customer complaints well, you can strengthen your customers’ loyalty. If a customer comes to you with a complaint, Gitomer recommends the following steps:
1) Listen. Don’t get angry or defensive, and resist the urge to interrupt. Your job isn’t to argue with them and get them to see your point of view, but to see their point of view and find ways to alleviate their pain points. (Shortform note: An important part of listening is understanding what the other person is saying. In Nonviolent Communication, Marshall B. Rosenberg advises paraphrasing the other person’s complaints in the form of a question. Doing this keeps you from misinterpreting their words and demonstrates that you’re listening and empathizing with the customer.)
2) Take responsibility. Tell the customer that you’ll take care of it—don’t dodge the complaint by saying it isn’t your job. Communicate possible solutions. Once you’ve decided on a course of action, let the customer know what you plan to do, then do it right away. Aim to resolve the issue within 12 to 24 hours. (Shortform note: Even if the customer is wrong, experts recommend that you still take responsibility by finding a solution or a compromise that works for everyone concerned. This way, you’re able to satisfy the customer and strengthen the relationship.)
3) Follow up. Call them back after resolving the issue to make sure that they’re happy. If you can, get some feedback from the customer by asking them to write a couple of sentences about how the issue was resolved. (Shortform note: Research shows that conducting a follow-up call to check if the issue has been resolved increases customer satisfaction and engagement, because customers feel valued. This then makes the customer more loyal to you.)
4) Evaluate. Reflect on what you’ve learned and if there’s anything you need to change to keep the problem from recurring. (Shortform note: You may have to reflect on a relationship with a regular customer if they repeatedly cause problems. If the amount of business they give you isn’t worth the accompanying time and stress, then consider letting them go.)
How to Leverage Existing Relationships
While it’s important to keep seeking out prospects and expanding your customer base, Gitomer says you shouldn’t forget that your best new prospects are your existing customers. Since you’ve done the work of building the relationship, they already know, like, and trust you, making them more receptive to you than prospects that you’re just starting to get to know. He writes that you can make the most of these relationships by offering new products and upgrades or refills for existing products.
(Shortform note: Instead of calling existing customers only when you have an upgrade or a new product to sell, take advantage of your existing relationship by meeting with them every quarter. Use these meetings as an opportunity to ask for feedback that may help you improve your products or give you an opening to sell other products. You can also check if other departments might be in need of your offerings.)
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Here's what you'll find in our full The Sales Bible summary:
- How to become a non-salesperson salesperson
- How to make the best impression within the first 30 seconds
- Methods for closing the sale without being pushy