Customers Really Matter
In the “real” world we start building a long-term relationship through a sale based on a short-term relationship. Then we manage the relationship, often with notepad, Bic, Rolodex, snail mail, and old-fashioned hard-wired telephone. And often without computers.
At the car dealership we build a relationship through consultative selling. We start with a friendly, low-key introduction and an invitation to come into our office to share some information about our cars. Lesson #1 for Online Marketers:
Don’t blitz your visitors. Give them a chance to relax and “look around” a bit.
We follow the introduction with a sit-down, relaxed discussion of the prospects’ needs, experiences, likes and dislikes, driving habits, and more. (Significantly, we call these prospects “guests.”) We chat over coffees, speaking – if all goes well – as two human beings getting to know each other, not as sales predator and potential victim. As the discussion unfolds – sometimes in 10 minutes; sometimes in a half hour – the salesperson learns what the prospect wants as well as what he or she needs. We provide the information that we had promised: lots of third-party data to help the guest understand how our product is different from and -- we hope – better than the competition. Lesson #2 for Online Marketers:
Meaningful content, content, content. And, “If you teach the customer, you own the customer.”
By the way, we’ve now completed just two of seven steps in our version of the sales process. We have spent anything from 5 to 35 minutes, and a sale is not yet on the horizon, but a relationship is growing. Lesson #3 for Online Marketers:
Is lifetime customer value really important to you? Then do the ROI math: the minutes invested here can pay off in a lifetime of business.
Next we “walk-around” a cutaway of a real car – perhaps like an online demo, but with a major difference. We tailor each “walk-around” to the prospect’s specific needs and concerns – which we learned in the preceding conversation. Some prospects reveal a concern for safety; others care more about performance; still others want economy. We focus the walk-around on those topics, calling out the features -- and the benefits -- that best satisfy the guest’s purchase criteria.
By now the guest – if all has gone well -- is comfortable with the sales consultant and feels a degree of trust. After all, what has transpired is the polar opposite from the hard sell. And the interaction has been human, impromptu – not at all “canned.” Lesson #4 for Online Marketers:
True “personalization” leaves the prospect feeling that your site / email / demo / order form is specifically tailored to his or her particular human needs, desires, fears, likes, and dislikes. And they feel like you are talking to them – not to their “demographic.”
Next, after all of the preceding interactions, we invite the guest to drive the car. Later, if a sale is not imminent, we will invite the guest to take the car home overnight. Lesson #5 for Online Marketers:
If appropriate for your product, few techniques are more successful than this sort of show of complete faith in your product. “Take it away. Try it. If you like it, buy it. If not, so long.”
At last, we get to the point where we “ask for the sale.” We review the list of criteria we established previously. We show the guest we understand their needs, and ask if the demo drive proved that the product satisfies all the needs they – the guest – had expressed. Lesson #6 for Online Marketers:
This lengthy, step-by-methodical-step process might not be appropriate for your product or service, but remember again the lifetime customer value. What we do might not make sense for a single sale, but the process is designed to lead to many sales.)
We aren’t done yet. Now all the hard work building a short-term relationship can pay off. When you have built a real relationship, built on openness, human values, and trust – and by this time I have often spent several hours spread over multiple visits and often including multiple road tests – the guest will ask for the sales consultant’s advice. “Do you think I should go for the leather [$1,000+]?” “Which engine do you think would be best for me [$1,000 difference]?” Lesson #7 for Online Marketers:
Trust takes time. Trust makes money. And telling the prospect they do not need the $500 option can help you gain the trust you need to sell three $250 options.
Finally, when the sale is complete, we continue to nurture trust: there’s a seven-step pre-delivery inspection with the customer; the buyer can return the vehicle within 30 days / 1,500 miles for any reason – or no reason – and get their money back. We do follow up phone calls and mail. And there’s more. The result? 1) We have sold a car and made a little money. 2) We have created a relationship that will sell many cars, perhaps dozens over the next few years, and make us a lot of money. Lesson #8 for Online Marketers:
True CRM is not for those with a near-term “exit strategy.” Rather it is a tool for those who have a serious desire to build a healthy business that will grow and last.The Bottom Line
It might seem that we have not really delved into CRM. That’s because we so often overlook the obvious: before you manage a customer relationship, a relationship must exist. And it is not necessarily essential that a relationship lead to a sale – the relationship can actually be the result of an enlightened sales process. Lesson #9 for Online Marketers:
Care about your customers. They are all you have. Think about CRM as a long-term investment, not as a short-term expense. Next time: Implementing CRM in the offline world and linking CRM and viral marketing. Successful offline salespeople are the unsung masters of CRM.In the meantime, check out Part I of this Marketer's Diary at: