Each time I shop at a farmer’s market and find out that I was sold rotten fruit, I feel frustrated. I remember the vendor being extra nice and realize it was fake. But instead of running back to this vendor, I wonder why they chose to sacrifice their reputation, while a little bit of good service would mean I would come to buy from them again.
Starting from 2020, most retailers have realized that selling with an intention of building good relationships is something that can not only help them to stand out from a crowd of similar businesses but also save them during the catastrophic disruption we are all going through. Naturally, such a selling model is much easier to adopt for small local businesses who can recognize their customers and remember their preferences by heart. However, bigger brands operating in a customer-centric economy also feel that building strong relationships with their customers can lead to higher retention rates and bigger sales.
That said, let’s discuss what relationship-based selling is and how you can get started with it.
The essence of relationship-based selling
Relationship-based selling is a set of sales techniques that take a fact of sale not as a final goal but rather a starting point of mutually beneficial relationships that should encourage customers to return. This involves building personal connections with customers and matching the product or service with their needs and preferences.
Such techniques are especially popular with businesses with long sales cycles and high price ranges, but virtually any company can use it to gain a competitive edge and become a trusted vendor in the conditions where many businesses offer the same products at a similar price. What’s more, it makes customers not only return for more purchases but also recommend such a business to others.
How to start with relationship-based selling
When you have more than a few dozen customers and want to connect with each personally, you need to use a set of different methods. Let’s review the most essential ones.
Put the customer in the center
Businesses that start with relationship-based selling should remember that just being nice and charismatic isn’t not enough for increasing retention rates. It’s great to communicate with a pleasant person but it doesn’t always help solve problems. Under these circumstances, probing for customer needs and pain points and offering solutions based on your products and services is a good starting point of a lasting relationship.
While it’s much easier for a local shop where it’s possible to engage with each customer and ask about their needs directly, it gets rather complicated when you’re a big retail chain. Here is where a retail CRM comes in handy with its ability to accumulate customer data throughout the entire journey and turn it into insights about customer preferences and needs.
This way, each customer-facing employee can access a single customer view and have enough data to ‘recognize’ customers even if they communicate with them for the first time, tailor their offer on the spot to make it enticing particularly for this person, and provide consistent selling experiences across different touchpoints.
Empower your sales team
The relationship-based selling approach can become a game changer for your sales team as well. They will consider their work more meaningful when they are able to change their focus from KPIs to improving the quality of their communication with customers. A CRM can certainly become an enabler for sales reps but it’s not enough to just implement the technology and say: “OK, now personalize”.
Sales reps need to understand how the CRM platform (or any other tool) can be useful particularly for their activities, how it can reduce their load by streamlining time-consuming tasks, and how they can use the technology for building relationships with customers. It means they need to be engaged in continuous education that includes role-based technology training, soft skills drills, and access to customer trends analysis. In other words, sales reps should feel they have all the necessary knowledge and skills to sell in a way that makes customers return for more.
Provide valuable loyalty perks
Customers are often inclined to choose a business with a beneficial loyalty system over the one without it. So how about pleasantly surprising your customers with both great communication and exclusive loyalty bonuses?
You can connect a loyalty system to your CRM and get the full view of customers’ personal details and activities. This way, you can offer rewards both for certain activities and events (like birthdays or name days) and milestones (like being with the company for 1, 5, or more years). You will also be able to access such information as brand or product preferences, which can be used to send highly targeted promos. As a result, the customer won’t treat your messages as spam but know that when they get something from you it’s relevant and worth considering.
Focus on brand or product storytelling
Another method of strengthening your ties with customers is to make them want to be a part of your story. Most probably, you won’t be able to create a narrative comparable to those of Apple or Tesla yet you can use the same mechanism and attract a smaller but loyal audience.
If you sell products similar to your competitors, emphasize your brand. Share the history of your company focusing on your mission and vision, underlying those moments that can be important for the audience you want to attract. If you donate to any charities, let customers participate by purchasing certain products.
If you sell unique products, for instance, created using intricate technologies, local materials, or exceptional craftsmanship, put this into the narrative and sell your products with a story. Powerful product narratives can inspire customers to participate in a common initiative, like letting local businesses become more visible. Product narratives can also be used for reacting to the changes in customer behavior or the market by means of revealing new meanings and showing how your products or services can be used to address new challenges.
Practice social listening
Social media is where people, including your customers, spend a part of their lives and share things that bring them joy (or frustration). You can use a social listening platform, like a standalone tool or the one connected via a CRM, to find out what people are talking about your brand, your stores, your employees, your products or services, and your competitors. With such insights, you can promptly react to complaints and offer solutions via your customers’ preferred channels. Plus, by putting together all the feedback, you can pinpoint common problems and prioritize the most pressing issues for improvement.
Keep in touch
Any relationship implies regular interactions, and it’s true about relationship-based selling. Even if the customer makes one purchase and doesn’t return during a long period of time, you still can keep in touch with them thus reminding them about ways you can help.
If applicable, you can offer post-sale support that allows contacting a sales or support agent in case the customer has any questions, issues, or comments. Besides, you can use messengers to notify your customers about special offers, discounts, and secret deals, invite them to brand or charity events at your store, and share information about products related to their previous purchases. It’s possible to create special reminders in your CRM or plainly in the calendar to make sure no customer is left behind and gets a portion of personalized attention. Plus, you can use your social media accounts to tell your story, celebrate important milestones of your company, share user-generated content, and run contests.
All the stakes on relationships
Relationship-based selling will never be able to replace transactional selling. However, building relationships is a promising investment for the future that guarantees the company builds a community of loyal customers who are ready to choose the company’s products and services over and over again.