Before you make any business decisions, be sure you know your customers.
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Building a business today is less about creating demand than it is about leading a journey for your customer. What differentiates your brand is the experience your customer gets along this journey.
Before you consider any new initiative, campaign or product launch, you'll want to answer the following questions about your customers, as visualizing the journey you want your customers and clients to take will help you prepare the right approach for marketing, sales and customer service.
1. How will customers learn about our value proposition?
Your No. 1 job is to understand and communicate how your business is different from everyone else who says they do what you do. As you look for sales opportunities, you need to know this value proposition and be able to pinpoint all the ways you will put it in front of your ideal prospects.
In general, this will be in the form of advertising, networking, public relations, referrals and strategic partnerships.
2. What will make our customers want to know more?
To build the kind of trust you need to turn a lead into a sale, it's not enough for your marketing department to just create an ad and run it. As a seller, you really have to tap into an entire education pipeline that your prospects can explore, to learn how you are different and how you can make a difference for them. This kind of research can't be outbound; prospects must be able to find content on their own time, through what we call inbound research.
This is often achieved through a content strategy built on blog posts and e-books, and found on networks such as YouTube and SlideShare, and through interaction on social networks. [11 Social Media Selling Solutions for Small Business]
3. Why will our customers give us permission to share our story?
Every business has trust issues. This question really gets to the core of those issues. You have to earn the right to come to the table and tell your story. This also marks the point in the buying process where your reputation often plays a part. Prospects that have gotten to this point are interested in what you do. Now they need to learn how you do it in a way that fits in with their values and beliefs. Reputation management, reviews, SEO, content and customer stories can make or break this piece.
4. How will we prove that customers will get the results they want?
Today, it's not enough to simply make a promise. All prospects do their homework, so when they find examples of broken promises, those broken promises hold the same weight as the copy on your marketing brochure that tries to refute it. Offer substantial proof that you can and have delivered a result for someone else. Case studies and customer testimonials are a great place to start, but real-life experience is even better.
This is where proof-of-concept, trial offers, evaluations, workshops or even "freemium" versions of what you do allow people to see your ability to deliver. Offering proof in a low-risk form makes it easier for a prospect to decide to purchase your product or service.
5. How can we make the buying experience fun, effective and convenient?
Once someone says "yes," you may think your job as the salesperson is done. However, your job is far from over. At this point, your focus should be on ensuring customers' experience is just as good as the treatment they received in the sales and marketing part of the relationship.
If you want life-long customers, you have to think of it as selling to them for life. I know that the actual servicing of a client or product may be another department's responsibility, but if you don't nurture the relationship, you'll only be asked to fix something that may be beyond repair.
Create a formal new-customer orientation process that includes providing information and communicating expectations. Sometimes, telling your customers what's going to happen and whom they need to know is a huge relief. Make sure you make introductions to other key players in your organization and meet the key people inside theirs.
Adding something special or surprising to this part of the sales process can go a long way in letting your clients know you're still thinking of them and their concerns. Buying your service team a few pizzas goes a long way. It's incredible how often attention to this question leads to referrals and word-of-mouth buzz.
6. What should we measure to ensure our customers get the results they expect?
Sometimes, through no fault of the sales department, a customer doesn't get the result it had expected. Regardless of the reason, building a process for measuring your customers' results is one way to handle problems before they turn into disasters or simply begin to chip away at your credibility.
A formal or informal results review process can uncover lingering issues. This also allows you to highlight the value your service or product brings to most customers, and to use that proof in future selling situations.
When you start to experience firsthand that what you sell returns, you can start having meaningful conversations about results and value that go far beyond what the marketing department might be feeding you today.
7. What will lead customers to talk about us to their friends, neighbors and colleagues?
This is one of the best ways to improve your sales. Begin every client relationship with a referral in mind. At a minimum, think about the times when you know the prospect or client will be open to being asked about referral. Always take advantage of times when you can plant the seed for referrals.
One of my favorite opportunities to plant the referral seed is while you're explaining the result you intend to create for your prospect. Tell each one that you're positive they are going to be so happy with the work your company does, that they will want to tell their friends how they can get this kind of valuable experience as well. Then, ensure they will actually be happy, and get those referrals.
When you start to see your role as a salesperson more like a guide on a long journey, you'll be able to think in terms of your impact on the customer before, during and after the sale. With this mind-set, you'll be on your way to creating lifelong customers.
John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of "Duct Tape Marketing," "The Commitment Engine" and "The Referral Engine," as well as the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network. His latest book, "Duct Tape Selling: Think Like a Marketer, Sell Like a Superstar" (Portfolio, 2014), is available online and in bookstores May 15.
Originally published on Business News Daily.