Every sales professional knows it is challenging to find new clients. That’s why we want to keep our current customers and build strong relationships with them. Relationship building begins when you sell the first job and officially become a vendor.
By working hard, performing well and showing customers you value their business, you can rise up a level and become the buyer’s preferred vendor. At the preferred stage, buyers prefer you over your competitors. If buyers come to rely on your advice and expertise, you take another step up and become a trusted partner.
At the pinnacle of success, you achieve the lofty position of the sole supplier. The buyer stops shopping around and purchases everything he can from your company. To get here, you and your company must perform brilliantly.
What defines brilliance? For your company, it is producing products and services that consistently meet and exceed the customer’s quality and delivery expectations. For you, it means excellence in five areas of account management:
- Get the basics right
- Be responsive
- Watch the customer’s back
- Make people feel good about doing business with you
- Continually look for ways to bring new value
To excel at the basics, you must understand your business well enough to help your customer. It’s impossible to be an expert at everything, but you need a baseline of knowledge that facilitates effective communication when selling.
Effective communicators are confident enough to say, “I don’t know, but I will get you an answer.” They also know how to listen.
Buyers quickly lose patience with reps who miss details, ask repetitive questions and don’t follow through. Brilliant account managers know how to organize and implement systems for efficient follow-up.
Print production requires custom manufacturing, and problems occasionally happen. To do the basics well when there’s an issue, you have to offer answers, not excuses. Customers don’t expect you to be perfect, but they expect you to fix problems when something goes wrong.
No. 2 – Responsive
To be labeled as responsive, clients must be able to reach you when they need information to move forward. Being responsive is different from being instantly available every time a customer calls, emails or texts.
To manage time effectively, you must set boundaries. To keep customers happy, you must set expectations.
Alina Tugend wrote an interesting article on why expectations are important for The New York Times. The article, “What Did You Expect? It Makes a Difference,” referred to research done by David Rock, director of the NeuroLeadership Institute.
People like predictability. Research shows that when expectations are met, our brains release dopamine, resulting in a feeling of well-being. When expectations are not met, negative feelings result. Negative feelings related to disappointment tend to be stronger than the positive feelings that come from met expectations.
Your takeaway: Set expectations, so you don’t disappoint customers.
For example, tell clients you’ll get back to them within three hours, which the majority of sales professionals can do 99 percent of the time. When clients agree this is reasonable (and most are fine with the standard), you’ve set yourself up for success.
Here are the Thought Transformation best practices to provide responsive service to clients:
- Set expectations for how quickly customers can expect a response from you.
- Acknowledge their request within the pre-set window of time and let your clients know what to expect next. Tell them when they will get a price, more information or an update on a project.
- Use an external memory tool to remember what you have promised, so you can keep your commitments.
- Provide updates as needed. If expectations need to be reset, do this as soon as possible.
No. 3 – Watch your customer’s back
Customers expect you to look out for them. You don’t have to micromanage every project, but there are times when you must take charge of the customer’s experience to ensure a happy outcome for all.
It’s time to take charge when:
- You’re doing something extremely complicated for your customer for the first time.
- The risks of nonperformance are significant and your customer won’t tolerate failure.
- The project you’re working on has a high profile within the customer’s organization or has a critical component, such as a drop-dead delivery date.
- You are battling to save a customer relationship after a string of small quality problems or a major issue that made the buyer look bad to their boss.
- It is the first project for a new customer, and you need it to go flawlessly.
While it’s important to delegate tasks to manage time, brilliant account management also requires an understanding of when it’s time to step in to create a positive outcome.
No. 4 – The feel-good factor
Do you have lunch with customers at least once a week? Do you send them occasional thank you notes to show appreciation for their business? When they email you the news they’ve selected you to produce a new project, what do you do first in your return email? Do you ask when you’ll get the files or thank them for the project?
Have you ever given a customer a small gift that reflects their personal interests, like a book on design for the graphic designer at your biggest account? Or sent a Starbucks gift card to a coffee-loving client who gave you a referral or a testimonial?
People buy from people, and we all buy more from people we genuinely like. Brilliant account managers understand this. They never stop building rapport, and continually make an effort and invest time to show customers they care.
This week, here’s an exercise. Keep a log of all the feel-good selling actions you take this week. How many times did you thank clients for their business or a specific action?
Did you take someone to lunch, or drop off doughnuts or bagels at the office of a good customer? Did you write any personal notes, or take the time to respond to a birthday announcement on Facebook or LinkedIn?
The actions are simple. The hard part is making time for these activities, but the time you invest in feel-good selling will pay off.
No. 5 – Bring value
When you bring value, you bring something useful to customers such as:
- Information that educates
- Knowledge to prepare customers for the future
- Solutions for problems
- Sharing stories of what other customers are doing to succeed
- New ways to reach goals
- Presenting better ways to get tasks done
To identify the best ways to bring value, ask questions and listen to the customer’s answers. Determine what’s relevant and important.
Don’t wait for your customers to tell you what they need. Be proactive, because your best accounts are your competitor’s best prospects.
Account management is an important part of selling. Brilliant sales professionals who are also brilliant account managers have a plan to build strong relationships with customers. They grow because they know how to maintain business and earn referrals.
Think about your account management skills. What do you need to improve? And how would that help you progress from vendor to preferred vendor to trusted advisor to the single source in the accounts you serve?