On this episode, Paul discusses how we can partner with our customers, even in these tough times.
“Tough times are an opportune time to build partnerships with your customers.”
Is your solution still helping them achieve their goals?
“Look for opportunities to….”
Call on your team for support.
“Every new relationship that you can help build, it helps build a stronger foundation with your customer.”
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How do I build customer partnerships in tough times?
(Transcribed from podcast)
You know, it seems like this week is relationship week. I mentioned on the show from Monday, we talked about how we can repair or rekindle a relationship after a bad experience. Today’s question is actually going to focus on building partnerships with our customers during tough times. How do we partner with our customers? How do we develop a solid, strong relationship with them in tough times? We’ve talked about this in the past. We’re going to build on that theme, though, a little bit more. So again, the question is: How do I build customer partnerships in tough times?
Before we get into that, a quick shout-out to Andrea over at The Creative Impostor Studios. You know, Andrea and I spend quite a bit of time getting the podcast ready, and it’s actually— it’s crazy how the downloads have been growing. It’s now been downloaded in over 56 countries. It’s amazing. It’s been downloaded in countries I’ve never heard of before. A lot of that growth, it comes from Andrea and her team helping, launching, and continuing to help with the podcast. So, if you wanted to start a podcast, please reach out to Andrea. We’re going to have a link to her website on this episode’s webpage. So check it out.
Also, Value-Added Selling, it continues to be your go-to guide for how you can build your sales career. This is the one book you can read that will serve as your guide. If you follow the principles, if you go in and actually execute what we talk about in the book, you’re going to be successful. It’s as simple as that. There’s a reason the book is on its fourth edition, and it’s because it works. It flat out works. So make the investment; invest in yourself. Pick up a copy. Pick up a copy for your sales colleagues, your buddies. They’ll thank you for it eventually. Alright, book’s available on Amazon, wherever you get your books. Check it out.
Let’s get back to that question, how to build customer partnerships in tough times. I’m here to tell you that tough times are opportune times to build relationships. Think about this. Any good relationship that you have, once you go through tough times and you experience them together with another person, your relationship becomes stronger as a result of it. And that’s one of the reasons why we should welcome tough times.
I recently put together an article saying: Would you welcome tough times? I’ve given you something to think about. And the answer is YES when it comes to relationship building. Think about it. During tough times, your customers are struggling. Your company could be struggling as well. You could be facing tough times like this pandemic right now, or it could be a deep recession, or it could be specific to your industry, like a rolling type of recession. But when you go through that tough time with your customer together, you have an opportunity to build a relationship that you couldn’t otherwise; that you couldn’t during good economic times. Struggle is like the glue that bonds you and the customer together. So, in that sense, tough times are an opportune time to build partnerships with your customers.
In order to do that, you need to do three things though: support, protect, and deepen that relationship. Here’s what I mean. I’m going to go through each one of these. When I talk about supporting the customer, your customer has to believe that you have their back. And that’s a military term, you know, who’s got your six—that six o’clock position on the clock, meaning who’s got your back. Who’s looking out for you. Your customer has to feel like you were there for them; that you were there for them, looking out for them, helping them make the right decisions so that they can achieve their objectives. And so, during tough times, to better support your customers, you need to reevaluate what their business goals are. What’s important to them. And you need to ensure and verify, really, that your solution is still helping them achieve that goal.
Other things you need to do? You need to remain flexible during tough times. Recently, I was speaking with a sales leader, and we were talking about flexibility and what you can do with your customers during tough times. In his business, it’s a lot of renewals, things like that. And, he talked about how you can be flexible with your contract terms. You know, if they’re not willing to sign a twelve-month agreement right now, work with them and do a nine-month agreement, six-month agreement. Be flexible enough to show the customer that you care; that you’re supporting them. And by doing that, it’s only going to build loyalty as you go through these tough times. That’s what we mean by partnership instead of relationship. A partnership shows that you are willing to be flexible; that you have built that foundation of trust. So, be flexible.
Also, to demonstrate your support, prioritize. Prioritize your best customers. Not all customers are created equal. If we treat every customer the same, that really benefits the seller more than anything, because that means you don’t have to do anything special. It doesn’t make sense to treat every customer the same, because not every customer is [as] important to your business as your top customers. You have to prioritize them.
I saw a great post on LinkedIn. This was early on in the pandemic. It’s a local distributor here in the St. Louis area, and their vice president of safety posted on LinkedIn saying, “Hey, I’ve been getting a lot of calls for PPE material.” You know, the protective equipment: the hand sanitizer, masks, things like that. And their company had placed orders. They had stockpiles of this material. And he said, “We have not missed an order to our top customers. But who I am getting calls from right now are all the other customers who would ask for discounts, who are going for the cheapest product; the companies that didn’t value the partnership.” Those companies were now calling him. And he said on LinkedIn, “You’re not my priority right now. My best customers are.” I thought that was a great message. I remember commenting on it. I actually took a snapshot of it. I have it— heck, I might frame that thing. But it’s a great message. It’s a powerful message that shows your support. So, prioritize, be flexible, and reevaluate your customer’s goals to make sure you’re still aligned.
Next thing we want to do is, if we want to build that partnership, we’ve got to protect the relationship that we have built with the customer. There’s an old expression that says, “The wolf at the bottom of the hill is a lot hungrier than the wolf at the top of the hill.” We have to view your competitors as the wolves at the bottom of the hill. They are fighting and scratching and clawing, trying to work their way up that hill, metaphorically speaking, of course. What I mean by that is, they’re trying to steal your customers. As hard as you’ve worked to get that business, remember, there’s a bunch of hungry wolves out there trying to steal that business from you. And since they don’t have it yet, they might be a little bit hungrier than you are. So, we’ve got to actively protect our relationships.
Because, during tough times, remember that many of your competitors are going to begin scrambling, and they’re going to go out there and they’re going to promise a lot to your customers. They’re going to promise them the world. They’re going to promise them cheaper prices. Whatever they need to promise in order to, at least, get an opportunity or a seat at the table, that’s what they’re going to promise. It’s up to you as the salesperson to make sure that your customer doesn’t get a “wondering” eye, where they’re looking at other alternatives wondering, “I think they might be able to do the same thing and do it a little bit cheaper. Should I switch? Should I, try to go over there?”
Now is the time where we have to protect. And the best way to protect your partnerships is to keep regenerating value for that customer. Look for opportunities to create value. Use the pain of these tough times to spark creativity. Organize a meeting where you’re sitting down with the customer and say to them, “Look, I know we’re facing tough times right now. What are the things that are missing from our current solution? What can we do more of? How can we better support you, or partner with you, on this upcoming project?” We’re actively looking for ways to create more value. We need to do this all the time. And when we do this constantly, it’s going to protect that partnership. It’s going to keep your competitors at bay. It’s going to keep the wolves down at the bottom of the hill. So, that’s the second piece; we want to protect.
The third thing we need to do is deepen or broaden that relationship with the customer. During tough times, it’s critical—it is absolutely critical—that we call on our team for support. Each of you has different team members within your organization, whether they’re technical support, whether it’s engineering, whether it’s your operations management, your sales management, your higher level VPs, whoever it might be, you have a team. Almost every position within an organization is designed to support the sales team, because it begins with sales. Every other function within your organization exists because there is a sale that takes place. So you have to view every other position within your organization as part of the support team. When you need to deepen your relationships with your customers, use the level-adjacent approach to relationship building.
All that means is that when you’re trying to strengthen or deepen the relationship with your customer, you want to take the position that you’re trying to build a relationship with. Let’s say it’s a technical person within your customer, and you want to join them up with one of your technical people. If you’re trying to meet with the VP of production, get your VP of production involved. If you’re trying to meet with an operator, get one of your maintenance people involved. The key is to connect the same level to your organization. And by doing that, it’s going to create a stronger bond. Every new relationship that you can help build, it helps build a stronger foundation with your customer. Now is the time to do that. During tough times, people are going to be more open. People are going to have more time. Be there to be there to support, to protect, and then deepen that relationship.
Make it a big day.