I suppose another way of framing that question is to ask you if you think customers and clients still value long-term relationships?
Let’s look at what we know: All of our customers and clients are more informed than ever and typically enter the sales/buying cycle much later than they used to – you must be sick of hearing that, but it’s true.
We also know that customer service levels are at an all-time low, as companies of all sizes indulge themselves in a frenetic and sometimes indecent chase for new clients, leaving their existing ones to fend for themselves. (Lots of foreplay until the initial conquest, and then a combination of coldness, indifference and arrogance)
This in turn breeds mistrust, which inevitably results in an initial reluctance to engage – or commit to a longer-term relationship – for fear of being hurt.
However, the reality is that there are enormous benefits to be gained by both parties from a secure and mutually rewarding marriage: For a vendor, the opportunity to forecast regular and reliable income, keeps the grey men in the finance department happy. Equally, the customer, once convinced of our integrity, is able to enjoy consistent and continuous levels of customer service – well that’s the theory.
So how does that work?
You see, since the key to differentiation is in forging closer links with clients, the role of the long-term ally is a crucial one. Once the salesperson has earned the right, it is important to develop and maintain the relationship.
As the term suggests, acting as a long-term ally involves maintaining contact with the client even when there is no immediate prospect for a sale. It also suggests that the salesperson needs to be committed to the long-term development of the relationship.
I believe that top salespeople demonstrate this commitment by continuously looking for ways to:
Build interpersonal trust
Create and maintain a positive image of the sales organization
Inspire respect for their company
Show genuine concern for their customers’€™ short and long-term interest
Identify ways to strengthen the quality of their business relationship
Help the customer meet needs within his or her organization
Deal with issues openly and honestly
Deliver on promises
It is also crucial for the salesperson to ensure that the relationship between the organizations is mutually beneficial. In other words, it is essential to build and honor the expectation that reaching agreements will mean good business for both parties.
At the end of the day, taking a long-term approach proves more profitable since the customer will recognize that the salesperson is taking a committed interest and in so doing is giving honest and open advice. This inevitably encourages the customer to trust the salesperson and to view him or her as a colleague rather than an opponent.
In Summary: Long Term Allies and Mutually Beneficial Agreements.
For relationships to grow and prosper, supplier organizations must be willing to …
Elicit feedback from customers regarding overall satisfaction with the products / services delivered.
Maintain regular contact with current and prospective customers
Alert customers to new developments in own organization
Review the business relationship underlying each account on a regular basis
But reciprocation has to be forthcoming and buyer organizations must be willing to ….
Keep suppliers “in the loop” regarding the company’s strategic direction and needs
Value the record of service provided by supplier organizations above lower cost competitors
Grant access and information about their customers to the supplier organizations
Sometimes I find myself repeating a statement so often that I worry it is becoming a cliché, but I can only re-iterate: “It now costs fifteen times more to first locate, then qualify, then sell to a new customer as it does to an existing one” FACT.