Ask any salesperson who knows her stuff and she will tell you that it can take a dozen or more touches -- or interactions -- including emails, phone calls, newsletters or in-person meetings, before you begin to build a relationship with a prospect. Typically, the more complex or expensive your product, the longer the sales cycle and the more touches are required to build awareness, rapport, connection, and trust.
Your organizational brand is no different, except that instead of selling a specific product or service you are creating a connection between your prospect and your company. If you think of this relationship-building process as a series of connective touch-points with your customer, you can begin to see all the opportunities that you have to make an impression. My favorite salespeople are those who see the process not as a painful series of start-stop conversations but as a series of connective touch-points that lead to partnership. And my favourite companies are those that start the relationship off on the right foot -- with open communication and top-notch service -- and then continue to build from there.
Far too many companies spend their time and energy prospecting and closing new clients, and then hand them off to a lower-level associate with the person who sealed the deal never to be heard from again. Not that junior team members shouldn't be involved. They should. But don't send your client the message that now that you've gotten them signed and their check has cleared, your heavy lifting is over. They need to know that you're with them every step of the way, even if, in fact, the junior folks are doing most of the day-to-day work. And if you've got account executives or staffers who will be integral to the customer relationship on a regular basis, make sure your client is comfortable with them from the initial meeting.
Here are some ideas for establishing your brand right from the start, providing your customers with personality and panache, as they deserve:
• Blow their minds with a branded welcome packet. Just letting your customers know that you actually have a process to get them set up, serviced, and clear about next steps sends a message about how serious you are about taking care of business -- their business, that is. Provide documents, contact lists, and technical data in a cohesive, professionally designed print and/or digital package.
• Position the team. Set an introductory in-person, phone or Skype meeting and get your new client acquainted with anyone who will be touching their business. Give an overview of your roles, background, and how each team member will contribute to their success. This can also be a great time to set expectations and establish a communications flow, including scheduling meetings, dealing with paperwork, and handling everything from day-to-day basics to client emergencies.
• Clarify the outcome at the onset. Soon after, if not at the very first meeting, you'll want to plant the end goal of the project firmly in the minds of your client. If you don't define success, your client can't possibly know it when you achieve it. Agree on a clear outcome, including a range from acceptable to ideal results, especially if it includes things not in your control. For example, a responsible publicist may tell you how they plan to position your business with the media, the action steps they will take and the relationships they have in place, but will be unlikely to promise you the front page of Time magazine or a New York Times bestseller. When you clearly qualify and quantify the anticipated outcome, then you do everything in your power to deliver, that's when you get continued business and referrals.
• Assign meaningful homework. My clients love it when they know not only what is expected of me, but also exactly what is expected of them. If appropriate, assign homework, reading, workshops -- anything that is relevant to your customer's business growth. The only caveat is that most professionals are incredibly busy people so your assignments must be worth the effort and/or must provide a pathway to freeing up more of their valuable time.
• Surprise and delight. While your customers may expect a little something for a birthday or special occasion, a surprise gift at the beginning of your relationship can really set you apart (and pave the way for referrals.). It shouldn't be so elaborate that it embarrasses them, but it should be significant -- and relevant -- enough to be meaningful. When a new speaker bureau or consulting client brings me on board, we send a beautiful handmade candle wrapped in silk, a bottle of their favorite wine, or a super trendy home-ware item that demonstrates that we've listened, we understand their style, and that we don't just get it -- we get them.
This post is an excerpt from Libby Gill's book CAPTURE THE MINDSHARE AND THE MARKET SHARE WILL FOLLOW -- The Art and Science of Building Brands.
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