What an interesting thought – win customers for life. According to Ed Boyle and John Fleming (Gallup), “While other businesses rely on price cuts and short-term promotions, the best set out to win customers for life.”
They point out that for companies with the vision and commitment to set such a target, the rewards can be immeasurable – Roughly 30 trillion dollars in new customer spending will be up for grabs in the next 30 years and this type of mindset may be a way to get a bigger share.
Like most good ideas the notion of “customers for life” is easy to say but not so easy to do. In today’s market customer’s expectation are greater than ever before. The days of being a purveyor of product knowledge have been replaced with a demand for salespeople to bring fresh idea for framing the problem and creative solutions for solving it and that is just to close the deal.
This means for the customer for life concept to be realized, salespeople must understand their customers better than the competition and develop more trust and a different type of relationship than they have in years past. In order to get that done they must ensure that every customer interaction brings a small piece of value and strengthens the nature and extent of the relationship.
What else needs to be done?
- Be selective. When writing Getting Partnering Right (about companies forming extraordinary relationships with their customers) one of the insights from the background research for the book was the simple finding that it takes a lot of work, effort and commitment to develop extraordinary relationships – so be selective. Not every customer wants to be “a customer for life” and you probably don’t want every customer as a lifetime partner.
- Bring everyone to the party. To do what needs to be done to win a customer for life, Sales cannot do it alone. They need help and not just help from Marketing. The entire company has to come to the party – that includes the Manufacturing, R&D, and from those functions that deal with the money side of the business.
- Engage senior leadership. Because of the potential companies, who are serious about the customer for life concept, are instituting special Executive Sponsorship Programs where they assign a top senior leader to the account in addition to the salesperson. The purpose of these programs is to develop a special relationship with the C-level personnel in the customer organization so new opportunities can be explored. The customer needs to feel that the involvement reflects the thought that you care enough to form a relationship of a different kind – “they want to do more than just sell us more; they want to help us go where we need to go.”
As Gallup suggests, companies find that customers for life spend more, resist competitive overtures and are more forgiving about mistakes. We think that is right and although it might not be a great idea for everyone right now – it is an idea that needs to be on the agenda.