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Business Observer Friday, Dec. 12, 2003 14 years ago

Lou Lasday: Build Relationships with those You Know

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Getting up close and personal means top-of-mind and profitable.Lou Lasday writes about marketing.

Build Relationships with those You Know

Getting up close and personal means top-of-mind and profitable.

The most potent force for establishing new business in your entrepreneurial enterprise may already be on your books. It's your existing customers! Especially for Gulf Coast service businesses, existing customers represent by far, the best opportunities for profit growth. If your customers have a need for service that can be readily obtained from more than one source, then no marketing concept will be more important to your firm than relationship marketing.

Relationship marketing concerns attracting, developing and retaining customers through on-going contact and performance. The relationship continues long after the sale is consummated. Its central tenet is the development of the loyal customer, creating a special level of nice folks who are glad they selected you. The key word here is loyal and not merely satisfied. To understand the realism of the task, like it or not, this segment represents probably just two out of 10 customers now on your books. If you've done your job correctly, they perceive they are receiving added value and that they themselves are valued. They are likely to buy additional services from your firm and are unlikely to defect to the competition. Think of this stratum of business not as faceless customers but as friendly clients. This critical stratum to your corporate growth is not only loyal, but also profitable, spending more and staying with you longer. They are that special breed that like a homing pigeon, will fly directly to you when in need of service you provide if and when you feed them day in and day out with value, selection, quality and very personal attention.

Chances are you can develop this trusting valued relationship client by a simple redirection of your own mindset. Just create a formal, dedicated program of customized, personal interaction, even after - especially after - the original encounter and ultimate first sale.

You'll think in terms beyond pricing incentives and you'll listen more than you'll talk. And when you do talk, you'll have something to say. And you'll stop talking before your client stops listening.

Moreover, companies with many relationship clients typically have lower marketing costs than companies with significant marketing churn. This churn results in costs for 1) persuading prospects unfamiliar with your services and benefits to become customers; and 2) providing costly start-up services to new customers such as account interview, paperwork and set-up into the system.

This is not a one-sided effort. Most casual customers of service firms - law, health care, hospitality, real estate, accounting, insurance, advertising, auto and home maintenance and more - desperately want to oblige the firm seeking their continued loyalty. They want ongoing personalized relationships with their service providers. You'll recognize that planned, targeted, purposeful staying in touch unleashes an unparalleled learning dynamic about their wants and needs, their hopes and dreams, and their frustrations too. Doesn't it just make good business sense to oblige them? This goes to the issue of relationship quality. Your own relationship selling behavior may include personal touches like an occasional informational telephone call, a mailed brochure, a meaningful advertising specialty item or small gift, an F.Y.I. trade publication article, a party invitation, an in-house seminar, tickets to a sponsored community performance, a professional newsletter, a social lunch, or even a simple hand-written social note. Anything and everything reasonable to confide in the client and getting the client to confide back; and, demonstrating a cooperative, extra-effort, responsive service attitude.

Always remember, to your client, you are the entire firm or company, regardless of its size. In the relationship marketing dynamic, you are a one-man brand. You'll reap favorable word-of-mouth and that might even allow a premium for the total benefit you offer.

Your potential relationship clients really want their representatives to contact them between purchases - with ideas, offers, events, specials or maybe just a sincere thank you note. They want partnering; someone who knows them personally and who truly cares about them.

Your first realization, then, may be to think of the life value of this elite group and not just the sprint to close the sale at hand. Consider a patron to your restaurant seeking an upscale dining experience who might spend $75 on a Saturday night. Now consider him as a relationship client who feels welcomed and valued and who dines with you 26 times. Now that patron spends $1,950 a year there. If you are in high end sales, such as real estate, mortgages or banking, think about the buyers of their first house on the Gulf Coast and who may upgrade or downsize in a few short years; and, if loyal, may extol your virtues to others.

Run the "life value" numbers of the loyal clients whose physical and emotional needs you have answered, whose relationship you have valued, whose trust you have earned.

Building relationships is the best overall way to build sales and greater profits.

Lou Lasday, an independent marketing adviser residing on Longboat Key, creates action-oriented strategic corporate initiatives for emerging companies. A career direct response executive, he has been a senior partner of a national advertising agency and served as regional president of the American Marketing Association.

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