Most entrepreneurs inherently know that in order to get and retain customers, it is critical to develop strong customer relationships. That means building rapport, showing an interest in others, listening, demonstrating empathy and offering solutions to challenges prospects and customers have.
But whose job is that? In one word: everyone’s.
Luxury hotel brand Ritz-Carlton trains its employees in its Gold Standards, which ensure that every customer’s needs are anticipated and exceeded. From housekeeping to sales to the general manager, every employee operates by a service credo and is empowered and encouraged to create unique, memorable and personal experiences for their guests.
But not every company is set up that way. Traditionally, the individuals involved in building customer relationships are those in marketing, sales and customer service.
While there might be some overlap in each of these areas, their responsibilities vary. Here’s a look at each.
Marketing involves everything the company does to generate interest in its current (and future) products or services. Marketing leverages its knowledge of the marketplace to persuade, inform, educate, announce and incite responses from customers and potential customers.
In that context, every communication or touch point is an opportunity to build a relationship. Why? Because people respond viscerally to what they hear, see, think and feel. The more frequently marketing demonstrates a focus on the target audience’s needs, concerns and challenges, the more likely the seller will be seen in a favorable light. That is the first step in building customer relationships.
What can marketers do to create a positive impression? They can ask the right questions, generate meaningful messaging, communicate consistently and engage in dialogue, whether in person or online.
It is marketing’s job to develop messaging that centers around the target market’s needs, delivers on the company’s brand, and demonstrates the organization’s track record of success. In that way, over time, prospects will begin to “like” and trust the company.
Further, by generating increased visibility, credibility and name recognition in the marketplace, marketing helps salespeople deepen relationships. This leads to closing more deals and achieving the company’s revenue goals.
The sales team benefits from the job marketing has done to identify prospective customers within the target markets. But salespeople cannot rely on the relationships that marketing established without creating their own connections. While marketing relationships are often responsive, and in some cases intangible, sales relationships are more direct and proactive.
Sales relationships are based on the ability to convince prospects to make positive buying decisions. To build the customer relationships that convert prospects into paying customers, salespeople need to:
Listen: Take the time to learn what prospects need and want and use that information to tailor your pitch to fit what matters most.
Establish trust: Trust takes time, but you can build trust with your prospects by your professionalism, reliability and follow through. Ask great questions, seek feedback, and be honest about what you can and cannot do. Offer to help (if you can) even if the prospect is not currently viable.
Respond promptly: While this seems like a no-brainer, respond within 24 hours. Even if you don’t have the answer, let prospects and customers know you are working on the issue. Know what their preferred communication styles are and the communication channels they favor, and honor those.
Add value: Provide your prospect with valuable content, whether a case study, white paper, infographic, blog, article or video, and do this throughout the relationship. Sometimes referrals to others add value too. Put yourself in your prospect’s or customer’s shoes and ask yourself, “What can I do to help?”
Have conversations: Every point of contact shouldn’t be a sales pitch. Find out about your prospects’ and customers’ interests, background, family, dreams and goals. Focus on building the relationship and the sale will come naturally.
Stay in touch: Don’t disappear once the sale closes. Be visible regularly. Let customers know when you release new products or services, and share relevant content about topics that matter.
When these suggestions are applied, prospects and customers view salespeople as helpful professionals interested in the success of others. If customers perceive salespeople’s role as one that is to be of service and help prospects make the right decisions for their organizations—both emotionally and logically—the bond will be stronger.
Even if a potential buyer doesn’t sign on the dotted line, the salesperson has earned the respect of the prospect and gained permission to stay in touch. From this perspective, sales and marketing have ongoing roles in the relationship building process.
Customer service’s responsibility
The role of customer service varies depending on the nature of the products or services, the size of the company, the organizational structure and other variables. In some companies, the sales staff performs the customer-service function. In other organizations, there is a separate department to handle customer service, whether it is in-house or outsourced.
Regardless of who performs this function, customer service plays a vital role in building and maintaining customer relationships. They do this by demonstrating professionalism (competence and skill), showing a personal interest in their customers, and being creative and resourceful in solving problems or answering questions.
While emotions are a large part of the prospect’s buying process, keeping them as customers requires more logic than emotion. That’s why it is especially important to provide prompt follow-up and follow-through on every customer request. More than anything else, that focus and commitment build loyalty and long-term relationships with customers.
The rest of the team
Recognizing the need for deepening customer relationship starts at the top. When entrepreneurs have a clear vision and mission that reflect the value of customers, it creates the culture needed to spread the commitment throughout the organization.
Make sure you create and use a mission statement that establishes who you serve, what you do for them and why. Communicate this mission throughout the organization. By keeping the company’s mission top of mind and by making customers the central focus of all efforts, team members will be unified in their approach to customer service and relationships.
Noted author Maya Angelou wrote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Author, entrepreneur and sales training professional Roy E. Chitwood reminded salespeople that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” It’s a similar philosophy, and both are important in nurturing relationships.
Remember, it takes time, consistency of effort and authenticity to cultivate deep relationships. When organizations develop strong relationships with their prospects and customers, it can lead to loyal clients, positive word of mouth and increased sales.