Turn your customers into your best sales people

Good customer relationship management can turn happy customers into evangelists for your product or service, spreading the word and bringing in new business. Rachel Miller finds out how you can persuade satisfied customers to become flag-bearers for your business

When it comes to customer service, don't just strive for satisfaction - aim for absolute delight. That's the message from Robin Daniels of Salesforce, who says that by delighting your customers, you can turn them into effective sales people who persuade friends, family and colleagues to use your products and services.

Exceeding customer expectations can be a key point of differentiation between you and your competitors. It should boost your reputation and your revenue, and help you focus your sales efforts - because happy customers are far more likely to influence others to buy from you. In simple terms, they become the front line of your sales force.

Focus on customer retention

Creating customer evangelists doesn’t happen by accident; it starts with brilliant, customer-focused service and a commitment to customer retention.

"Customer retention is very important. What all the research tells us is that it is five times easier to sell to existing customers. You need an approach to business that focuses on retaining the clients you already have," says Daniels.

But keeping clients can be a challenge. "Every customer counts. If you're a small company with a few high-value clients, then if you’re not servicing them in the right way, you’re in danger of losing them. It's very easy to switch suppliers. If you’re not nurturing your existing customers, then what’s to stop them going elsewhere?"

Understanding your customers

It’s easy to talk about customer retention, less so to put your finger on what will generate repeat sales. If it starts with good service, then what underpins that?

For Daniels, the answer is knowledge. "It's important to get closer to your customer," says Daniels. "You have to keep your finger on the pulse of what your customers are doing. You need to know things like when they last bought from you, when they are up for renewal or who are the highest spenders."

The chances are that you have a pretty good idea what your customers' needs are and when they are likely to buy from you. But the more customers you have, the more information you need to keep hold of.

The importance of customer relationship management

Keeping good records - whether using Excel, Google spreadsheets or a dedicated customer relationship management (CRM) system - will enable you and your team to keep track of your customers.

"A decent CRM system is the foundation stone of a successful business," says Mark Sinclair, founder of yourBusinessChannel.

"When you have so many different relationships - with suppliers, clients, prospects - you simply cannot remember everything," he says. "Ideally you need to track all of your calls, meeting notes, emails and decisions.

"What proper CRM software gives you is extraordinary visibility - you can see exactly what's going on and what your colleagues have said to people," Sinclair adds. "It also enables you to grade your prospects from warm to hot, and generate useful, real-time reports, which means you can see easily where the sales opportunities are."

How to get customer recommendations

But how can you persuade customers to recommend you online? Quite simply: ask! A little nudge can be worth its weight in gold, and also reassures the customer that you still value their opinion, even after the sale is completed.

Offering a simple incentive like a discount on their next purchase can help encourage people to share their thoughts. Always say thank you for good recommendations, and respond graciously to all online reviews, whether good or bad.

It’s worth following up after each sale to get direct feedback on what you did right - and wrong. If there were problems with the customer experience, address them quickly and professionally to minimise the chance of a negative review appearing online.

"Salespeople are good but there's nothing that beats a recommendation from an independent source," Daniels concludes. "It is very powerful to have your customers selling for you, and it offers more credibility than any sales person."

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