Put Customers First and Profits Will Follow

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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. (TheStreet) -- Saying "customers first, profits last" doesn't mean profits are last on the list of things to think about -- that would be bad business -- but that when you put customers first, your profits endure.

The customer is the reason we are in business. If your customers are happy, you get more business from them directly and through referrals, recommendations and testimonials.

Making customers happy does not mean saying yes to everything they ask for. It means treating them with respect, putting them ahead of less consequential tasks and -- when necessary -- sacrificing your time and convenience to meet their schedules, respond to emergencies and clean up messes occurring from them not calling you before they take an ill-advised step.

When you have a relationship with clients that is built on respect, trust and the belief you have their best interests at heart, you have the foundation for a long-term, highly profitable and lasting connection. When you put the client first, you may be working some strange hours (when it works for them, for instance). You may even lose money in the short term because of advice you're compelled to give in the customer's best interest. In the long run, however, that honesty, integrity and customer focus will result in more business.

If you look at it from a cost and efficiency side, working with existing clients can result in lower costs while making the next sale. They know you. You know them (hopefully). If you have a solid relationship, you not only have the potential to expand offerings to your customer, but also have the chance to get introductions to people they know, taking you from making a cold call to the beginning of a credible relationship.

Three things to do for customers to grow your business:

  • Make it about them. Think about what can you do to make their jobs and lives easier.
  • Understand what your customer knows and does not know about your capabilities, products, etc. Familiarity often brings with it myopia -- the thought that "you can only do for me what you are already doing."
  • Understand that asking for the sale is expected and required ... but not until you have at least the foundation for a relationship tended.

To take these points (and your relationships) to the next level, make sure your team has a well developed understanding of the key skills: timing, process and communication.

Before you start talking about your agenda, be sure the timing is good for them. Think about the call you get when you are absolutely pushed to your maximum, when the caller talks and talks and all you can think is, "I don't have time for this!" Don't be the caller who becomes an obstacle instead of a welcome interruption.

Too many relationships are ruined by asking for a sale too soon, too late or not at all. Fail to make a connection or understand what is going on with your customer and you become another obstacle to their day, not a tool in their success.

Be willing to invest time before you ever see the customer in person, send an email or make a call. Know as much as you can about the client's situation, history with your organization and industry before you originate a contact -- but do not assume you know what is going on with your customer. You have context for your conversation, not the customer's perspective and concerns. Think of your meeting preparation as if you have the Cliff Notes of a good book: You have big-picture context, plot, storyline and the characters, but to get the entire story, you have to read the full book -- talk to the customer.

Your customers are the reason you are in business; never forget it ... or them.

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