Preserving Customer Relationships
 By Bob Martel, president, JMB Marketing Group

Once in a while you have to put aside all of the debate about the latest and greatest social
(I call them anti-social) marketing technologies, and focus on the real goal: Creating a conversation with qualified prospects and customers alike, leading up to a purchase decision. Everyone is Twittering their life away, publishing senseless, mostly useless, self-promotional drivel, and very few marketing professionals are actually focusing on having real, meaningful dialogue with their customers. Some would argue that marketing people don’t talk to customers and prospects… that face-to-face interaction for sales people. We have lost sight of engaging the customer in conversation about them, their wants, desires, and needs. Thus, I shine a light on the importance of preserving customer relationships. Are you investing enough time doing so?

Ever catch yourself silently saying, “Well, I guess I should have seen it coming?” You play Monday morning quarterback with analysis of a failed customer relationship, after it’s too late to restore the once healthy affiliation. It was great for both parties. The company enjoyed a reliable revenue stream. The client enjoyed the perceived value of the benefits they received. Yet, in the long run, the customer relationship you thought you had nurtured and cemented firmly in place was not, in reality, anything close to what you envisioned. Because it’s so important, and with 2010 at about a halfway point, I thought I’d call your attention to those customer relationships that are so invaluable to your future.

Relationships are all about trust; hard to earn, yet easy to destroy. Customers come in an out of our business lives, just as people cross our paths throughout our personal journey. We interact with some customers only once, while most form a longer relationship; perhaps for a year or two, perhaps sporadic, or for a lifetime. It’s a natural process, but just as in personal relationships, you have to be attentive and nurturing in the relationships with your customers. It’s too easy to take your existing customer relationships for granted.

In business, just as in life, relationships have a beginning, middle, and an end. How they begin is not so important as how they evolve, or how they can dissolve when taken for granted, or when issues are not addressed. Many of those relationships are healthy and prosperous; others are short-lived, and for good reason in many cases. The lifetime value of a customer relationship can increase a hundred fold, or it can end, sometimes tumultuously, and the value you once enjoyed goes up in smoke. The payoff, all of the investment in goodwill, and the quality of the relationship can be lost forever, if you or your customer is misreading the state of the relationship, and whether that customer is happy.

Your customer relationship management plan is a key marketing strategy that you must develop and perfect. Call it managing your business karma, or charting your business destiny by making your customers feel acknowledged and appreciated. Just as you are on a journey, both personal and in business, so are your customers. They count on you, and they also need to feel valued by your company. Close your eyes (after reading this article!). Imagine being your customer trying to have a relationship with you and your company. What is it like for them now? What can be done to strengthen that bond? (If you are interested in the Zen of Marketing, drop me a note with Zen in the subject line).

Assume that your fiercest competitors, and competitors you don’t even know, are courting your best customers. The big question is “What are you doing to manage your important customer relationships?” Of course, all customer relationships are important, some more so than others, and some more profitable than others. Since we are on the topic, now would be a good time to let the high maintenance, low profit relationships fall by the wayside. Marketing technology aside, here are five tips for helping you manage and nurture the customer relationships through smarter marketing:
1. Stop taking your customer relationships for granted. Whether you use a CRM system, a contact management tool, or your accounting software, you need a communication strategy for staying in touch with them, so they know you appreciate their trust and confidence in your company.

2. Educate your customers and help them make smart buying decisions. One of the best strategies for luring a valued customer away from you is for your competition to educate them about topics that you are ignoring. Your customers will call you on the carpet for not showing the initiative. After all, they trust you and rely on your expertise.

3. Understand the customer’s wants, desires, and motivations for buying your services. Show them the benefits and build upon the perceived value by improving your service delivery or product offering. Google “16 Core Desires” for more information on human desires, or send me an email requesting my 27 Magical Marketing Secrets. You’ll also want to pick up the book Who Am I? by Steven Reiss.

4. Create a well thought out communication plan for staying in touch with your customers (and prospects, with a separate system). Timing is everything, even with your best customers who wouldn’t dream of going elsewhere, right? You simply don’t know when your customers are in a buying mode, but you can influence that mode using a combination of regular emails, newsletters, postcards, and sales letters, extending private offers, or announcing pertinent news.

5. Find creative ways to let your best customers, and those in your database with higher potential lifetime value, know that you value their decision to do business with your company, given the myriad of choices. A handwritten thank you note is a great place to start. A phone call from the CEO or C-level executive team to top accounts is an amazingly simple strategy, and boosts loyalty. The gesture also stimulates the need to reciprocate with a purchase!
As you look at your important customer relationships, look at them as people, too. Your customers, believe it or not, are human beings (most of them, anyway). They have families, personal dreams and goals, job and life stresses, and they face the same everyday challenges of business. They have hectic schedules driving their kids to soccer, lacrosse, basketball camp, or wherever. They are busy people leading busy lives, just like you. But, it is your job to stay in touch!

Specifically, it is your job to understand and point out how your services and products contribute to the quality of their lives. This is the key to preserving customer relationships. In the industry, we always talk about B2C or B2B marketing. These categories are important, but don’t forget that you are marketing to an individual person who can make or influence a purchase decision. I call it P2P marketing; Person to Person.

If you’d like to calculate the lifetime value of your customers, as well as look at the mathematical power of having an effective referral program in place, request our lifetime value spreadsheet with LTV in the subject line.

Don’t ignore your current customer relationships, or your personal relationships for that matter! You can follow me on Twitter if you’d like. Find me there by searching for bob_martel. Or make connect with me on
Linked In.

---Source: Bob Martel is a marketing consultant, direct marketing copywriter, and author of the book “How to Create All of the Business You Can Handle.” Subscribe to his monthly newsletter: Marketing With Ease. Reach him at (508) 481-8383 or by email at to request your free copy of 34 Reasons to Write A Sales Letter to Your Best Customers.


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