Your business has a lot of assets, but your customer relationships are among the most important.
Strong customer relationships are predictive of a business that not only survives, but thrives. Your satisfied customers have the potential to be your most powerful advocates in the market.
That’s especially true in the B2B world, where decision-makers have a huge amount of options, limited time to conduct product research, and a willingness to listen to peers they already trust.
Luckily, the power of inbound marketing gives you a clear pathway to cultivating strong, long-lasting customer relationships. With inbound, you start building trust from the start.
Of course, customer relationships can’t happen by accident.
Even with the best products and services, you need to deliver a consistent customer experience – before the purchase, during implementation, and afterwards – to win long-lasting brand loyalty.
Ideal customer relationships leave others genuinely excited about what you do.
How can you achieve that? If it goes beyond good service, what’s the secret ingredient?
Here’s our systematic, five-step process for the thriving customer relationships you want:
1. Start With a Genuine Interest in Your Audience
Sales and marketing don’t begin with your customer, exactly. They begin with your defined idea of who your ideal customer is and what your customers expect from you. This is expressed in the form of detailed, written buyer personas.
As your business develops, your buyer personas will change in two key ways:
- Marketers will clarify large-scale trends affecting customers, mainly using data analytics.
- Sales pros will detect looming shifts in customer sentiment through direct conversations.
Only marketers, armed with the right data, can uncover the big picture that influences all of your customers. On the other hand, sales pros have the chance to recognize objections and other changes in individual client thinking that will make a big difference later on.
When you truly care about your customers, their thoughts, and how to make their lives better, you’ll consistently improve. That makes a cumulative difference in every customer touch point.
2. Build a Base of Helpful and Informative Content
Old-fashioned outbound marketing is about grabbing others’ attention, whether they want you to or not. It doesn’t rely on an understanding of prospects and their needs, which means a huge volume of low quality contacts with people who might not even want your product.
Inbound marketing means attracting qualified buyers from the get-go in a responsive, respectful way: Starting by providing Web content they can use right away. When your content speaks to the problems and burning questions prospects have, it fosters rapport you can trade on.
The first few months of any website’s life should be focused on generating the evergreen content that will be useful to most visitors and rarely go out of date. Once that’s taken care of, you can build out your content library by looking at other use cases and steps in the buyer journey.
3. Close Your Sales With a “Win-Win” Mentality
If your content, website, and social media are doing their work, qualified leads will go to sales.
When that happens, it’s time to take the inbound mentality a step further and make sure it’s fully reflected in the sales process. That means treating each discovery session as a mutual partnership.
The biggest difference between outbound and inbound sales is that inbound sales techniques aren’t afraid to recognize that not everyone is a potential customer. Outbound sales chase after buyers until they’re exhausted: In inbound sales, your first goal is to learn.
In the context of the discovery session, that means giving prospects plenty of opportunities to share their thoughts and concerns. Open-ended questions and active listening are the order of the day. They give decision-makers permission to drop their guard and really work with you.
4. Exceed Expectations During and After the Sale
Between people, a relationship is a give-and-take that continues even when one party doesn’t “need” anything from the other. Between businesses, the rules for making contact and using time are different, of course, but you should always be thinking about each customer’s best interests.
This could take the form of a sales rep checking in a week or two weeks after implementation, even long after handing off the matter to the tech team. It could mean sending a handwritten note on customer anniversaries. It always means making customer complaints a top priority.
Remember: Taking action to solve a problem in a way that truly satisfies your customer is sometimes even better than never having a problem in the first place. It shows you’re able to recognize an issue, respond to it professionally, and learn from the experience.
5. Keep Adding Value Long After the First Sale
How can you continue adding value as a customer crosses the six-month or year mark?
First, make sure your marketing and post-sales plans include clear, structured communication with your existing customers. For many brands, that will take the form of ongoing email campaigns.
Email is a very effective way to keep customer relationships going, but there’s a caveat. It’s vital to segment your lists according to a customer’s purchase history and other activities so they’ll consistently get relevant content. One off-key email could lead to an unsubscribe.
Two important sales activities can continue to cultivate your customers for years to come:
- Upselling focuses on improving or expanding on a product a customer already uses.
- Cross-selling focuses on introducing separate offerings that complement existing ones.
You might think at first that sales activities don’t sound very friendly or helpful. If you make targeted approaches to existing customers based on a deep knowledge of their needs, though, you can make a tremendous difference for them.
Remember: The Inbound Way Puts Customers – And Relationships – First
One step, one sale, one contact at a time, you can forge customer relationships that aren’t just profitable: They’re also meaningful. It’s those relationships, founded on demonstrated effort to do the best by customers in their individual situations, that help companies reach their full potential.