BLOG VIEW: One of the most powerful ways a company can fuel its sales is to have its clients sell on its behalf.
That doesn’t mean adding to the sales team or structuring incentives. Instead, the investment should come from the account management team and their internal partners, working seamlessly together to create an extraordinary customer experience, which builds a book of referenceable clients.
The best salesperson any company can have is a client who raves about their experience.
A reference is a true testament to how much a customer likes doing business with a particular company. If they are willing to provide detailed and transparent feedback to prospects, it builds trust and commitment to the experience that the organization provides.
Building a roster of referenceable clients enforces a company’s sales message of why a customer chose that company over the others, but more importantly, why they continue to stay with that company.
Understanding the Importance
A customer that is willing to promote a company to influence their peers and partners proves that the services provided exceed their expectations. This creates separation from the competition and earns a company a higher degree of integrity, respect and loyalty within the marketplace.
A referenceable customer does not necessarily expect perfection, but does appreciate and acknowledge quick resolution, quality of solutions, and exceptional support, and is happy to provide positive and honest feedback to industry peers.
Lessons From the Front Line
We polled our team of account managers for their advice on how to build relationships and create reference-able clients. With 72 reference-able clients and 14 written testimonials added this year alone, this wisdom comes from the front lines and is practical for any organization.
It is very important to be proactive and transparent. If there are service challenges or obstacles it is better for the client to hear directly from the company than to figure it out themselves. Customers will appreciate a company being forthcoming with feedback and one’s commitment to the steps being taken to address the concern.
Setting clear expectations with clients is crucial to company’s relationship and client satisfaction. Unclear expectations can leave the client upset and frustrated; communicating what to expect will allow everyone involved to follow-up on the commitment within the appropriate time frame.
Meetings & Preparedness
It is easy to fall into a routine of recurring meetings. Regularly evaluate the value of standing customer calls. Are the meetings meaningful and valuable to the company and the customer? If not, it is probably time to shake things up a bit.
Be well prepared for customer meetings. Come with a clear objective for the call and specific agenda items tailored to the customer. Following the meeting, disseminate meeting notes and action items to all attendees. Stay focused on the resolution of open items and keep customers frequently informed, especially if there are unexpected delays.
Get Personal and Listen
Make small talk and find commonalities. Begin calls with anecdotes that the customer can relate to – or will find entertaining. Bonding with customers on a personal level is a key factor in the longevity and resilience of a working relationship.
Getting to know customers and truly listening to them lets them know that the company they are working with cares and is committed to helping them be successful.
A personal connection can also help when an issue arises. Knowing clients personally can help take the sting out of a situation or explanation that a client is not going to like. Research and resolution will hold more weight.
Listen to client challenges. Be a problem solver, not a solution pusher.
Social media is a powerful resource. Leverage LinkedIn to congratulate promotions, acknowledge birthdays, comment on company awards, or read press releases and news articles about relevant topics to clients and the organizations they serve.
This helps one further create personal bonds with clients, as well, and creates talking points that allow one to learn more about client needs and operational landscape.
Be Customer Obsessed
A customer that is enthusiastic about being a reference for a company goes beyond the service, technology, and user interface. More than half of a customer’s satisfaction and enthusiasm stems from the ability to create a winning relationship. Being “customer obsessed” centers around the constant drive to find ways to add value, quality, and meaningful experiences for the customer.
Keep a finger on the pulse of how existing products and services are meeting the needs of the customer’s business culture and evolution. Instead of just doing monthly or quarterly check ins, ask a lot of questions.
Having insight into the client’s world helps one understand their unique business requirements or the idiosyncrasies of their market, which allows one to better anticipate their future needs. Ask about their business model, their clients, goals, mission, culture – and be inquisitive about how they measure success.
Becoming a trusted advisor for a client begins with establishing a relationship of mutual trust – understanding their needs and priorities better than the competition can. A company must position itself as not just a subject matter expert but also as credible source of information.
These relationships are developed over time by demonstrating consistency and reliability, arriving to meetings on time, following up on emails timely and completing projects by the agreed upon deadline. Clients need to feel confident the company they are working with is a valuable resource and committed to their success.
A customer’s interest in being a reference will depend on whether they feel like the organization they are working with rises to the occasion in the moments that matter the most.
The best way to understand client challenges is to consistently inquire about the current landscape of their organization and changing priorities and challenges.
With a clear understanding, one can more effectively partner to enhance and fulfill ever-changing needs.
Shannon McClaughry is vice president of customer success for LERETA.