Become a partner, not a vendor

PartnerI know very few businesses that aren’t looking for additional sales. Ninety-nine percent of the time, those businesses identify potential customers and then woo them until they either buy something, tell them to go away or they get busy enough that they go back to ignoring the prospects. Without a doubt, we need to chase after new clients. But we often overlook the quickest, easiest sale –our existing customer base.  Businesses that grow year after year don’t do it by chasing new prospects.  They do it by delighting their customers in a way that they can’t get anywhere else – by becoming a partner, not a vendor.

Want to have that kind of permanent impact on your sales to existing customers? Partner them with smarter employees from within your organization. By smarter, I don’t mean someone who knows the most about your business, products or services.

I mean someone who knows the most about your customer’s business and business in general. The more your project managers, customer service team and salespeople understand how business works, the more they can serve their clients in ways beyond just selling them something.

Businesses that are thriving today aren’t selling their clients stuff. They are helping them solve problems.  We need to deeply and genuinely understand our client’s business or life (if we sell consumer goods) so that they can be helpful.  As we’ve talked about before, helpful is the new entry point of marketing and sales, whether that entry point begins online or in your brick and mortar location.

Your employees don’t magically become more knowledgeable and helpful. It requires a big investment (both time and money) on your part. But it’s an investment that keeps on paying dividends.

There are many reasons why your team needs to understand your clients’ core needs.

  • It allows them to bring better, more complex solutions to their client’s real problems
  • It allows them to be a valuable resource to their client, rather than just a vendor
  • It differentiates them from other companies that are still just selling stuff
  • It allows you to charge a premium price – because they can document the value they deliver
  • It typically means they are better at retaining clients
  • If you’re selling to a business, it gets them to the C-suite table, rather than having to deal with middle management

You have a choice to make – you can either be a trusted advisor or a vendor.  In both cases, you can earn referrals from your client. But customers treat partners and vendors very differently when it comes to price, repeat business and expectations.

So you have to decide – how do you want to be referred and what kinds of new client relationships are you trying to earn.

If you want to be your customer’s partner and want to be able to rely on repeat business from them, here’s how you can build a team who is prepared to deliver on that promise:

  • Broaden their education by taking classes
  • Join a club, networking group or professional association focused on best business practices in your customer’s field
  • Ask clients if they can shadow them for a few days and ask a lot of questions
  • Read leading books on the industry
  • Visit trade shows and attend their educational workshops
  • Start their own small business on the side to learn about business in general

For this strategy to work, it has to be a company-wide initiative. Everyone has to adopt the idea that it’s their job to understand and guide your client’s business or life to a very different depth than most organizations would be able to do.

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