Building Real Customer Relationships with Custom Social Network Sites

Many decry the loss of community, suggesting we’ve all lost touch with each other in a world of cell phones, video games, and other electronically based distractions; in reality, though, community is more important now than ever. People still seek the security and understanding inherent in close communities. What has changed is the appearance: instead of reaching out over the fence or sitting around a table, we reach out over continents and time zones. Our “neighbors” may be a world away, but the concept of community is still strong as evidenced by the rise of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. Instead of being connected by geography, millions are linked by interests, profession, and other defining factors.

Social Networks Are Less Confining Than Ever

The social networking site phenomenon also extends to businesses and marketing, specifically how businesses can build their brand without selling. These sites, which have been used with tremendous success, are based on a small business model. Small businesses typically cannot afford expensive television ads and aggressive marketing campaigns. Instead, they rely on word of mouth, repeat customers, customer referrals, and the like. Custom social networking sites do much the same thing for businesses of any size and have become one of the most effective brand marketing tools in the industry.

Why Custom Social Networking?

The goal of custom SNS is to build relationships. While it is true that the ultimate goal of any business is to sell a product or service, the objective of unique social networks is to establish a relationship between customers and the brand, and even between customer and customer. In other words, the goal here is not to sell. Through a custom social network, a company appeals to the sense of community that may tie their target audience together. By taking their interests to heart and by providing a resource through which consumers may communicate, a relationship – and trust – is founded. A by-product of that trust is sales. But again, the key to efficacy is focusing on community, not selling.

Existing social networks have been used by companies, especially nonprofits, to reach out to targeted consumer bases. A nonprofit, for instance, may have a profile on a popular SNS in order to encourage volunteers, raise support for a particular cause, or raise funds. The difference is that custom SNS are built by an organization specifically for the purpose of allowing their targeted audiences to communicate. These SNS are designed for a particular organization based on key factors, such as profession, age, or shared interests. Developing a successful unique social network is predicated upon knowing your audience, being willing to know them further, and motivating them to share their thoughts, feelings, and opinions.

What do custom social networking sites allow consumers to do? It, of course, depends on the site, but they should allow individuals to post text, images, audio, video, join existing communities on the site, and create their own. They should be designed around the organization’s particular niche, and above all, should be audience-based. To do this, various options are available, including wikis, blogs, RSS feeds, polls, ratings, forums, widgets, chat, message boards, friendly interface, and much more. To develop the most user-friendly, interactive, and effective SNS, it is crucial that consumers have access to the tools they want and need. They need to both be able to take from the site and to give back to it. This is the essence of community.

The advantages of developing a custom social networking site are myriad but the key benefit is that businesses can reach out the community in a way that allows the community to reach back. A relationship is developed, and the trust that we normally see with neighborhood mom and pops can be built by Fortune 500 companies or small start-ups.

The concept of community is fundamentally unchanged. We still search for connections – though those connections may be thousands of miles away. Building a brand through custom social networks benefits both the organization and the consumer because all are given a place and a voice. A faceless company can no longer expect to thrive in today’s business atmosphere; by creating a unique SNS, you give your organization – and your consumers – a face.

Five Critical Steps to Be Customer Focused

In todays highly technical and fast paced world one piece of advice is very true listen to the customer. Unfortunately, selling complex technical products or solutions (or anything else), causes most salespeople to focus on product features rather that on their benefits to the customer.

This product focused approach to sales is from the old school. It focused on specific features and benefits that would be of interest to a prospective customer. Salespeople would immediately commit to memory as many of these product features as possible.

After a dissertation on the associated benefits that went along with these product features, the prospect is suppose to sign on the dotted line because the salesperson certainly must have found a “hot-button” during this product review.

But something bizarre happens. The prospect is often overwhelmed by all the facts and technical data that has been dumped on him. When you sell only on product features, you leave yourself open to price shopping by your prospect.

The smarter method of selling that is much more effective is called customer focused selling. Simply stated customer focused selling is first finding out what the customer wants and then providing the solution for his or her situation. Sound simple, yet it is surprising how few salespeople practice this method. Perhaps its because they spend so much time learning about the hardware and software features they sell, that they would burst open if they couldnt tell their prospect all they know. Another reason is that salespeople sometimes (too often) would rather talk than listen to their prospect. Here are the five critical steps to be customer focused:
Customer focused selling means the customer does most of the talking. How does the customer do most of the talking? The salesperson must probe and ask open ended questions to determine the customers business needs and personal wins. Open-ended questions ask the listener for more specific information. Open ended questions begin with words like what, when, how, where, why, and when. They ask for peoples opinions, facts and feelings. They open the conversational door. Examples: “What results are looking for in a new supplier?” ” What makes that business issue so important to you?”
To get the prospect to be more receptive to your probes and questions, try to cushion it with a softening preamble. Try, “May I ask you a question? ” or, “In your opinion, what factors do you consider most important in selecting a new supplier?” Be creative and ask a few thought-provoking questions that will provide you with information about this person as well as facts about their company. Differentiate yourself from other salespeople by asking what important challenges the prospect is facing this year and how they differentiate their company from the competition.
Probe to understand the business issues that are most important to them. For example, a General Manager might say Improving Productivity is a top priority. Probe to see what makes that issue so important, exactly what “improving productivity” means to him or her. Once you understand the important issues facing your prospect, ask open-ended questions to uncover problems with their present system or approach and identify the benefits they need because these will become opportunities for you.
Then probe to find their personal win. The owner of the store on the corner dreams about the day her business will expand from 1 shop to 2. Then from 2 shops to 3, to 5, and more. Think about your dreams; where you are today and where you want to be next year? Your customers also have dreams about their businesses and their careers. Who knows? They know, and uncovering their dreams is a critical step in the customer-focused sales approach. If you can find their dream, you can identify their personal win. When you do, you can then bring together a “customer focused solution” that addresses their business issues. More importantly, your solution will help them fulfill their dreams.
Finally, it is vitally important to listen actively, take notes, provide feedback when your prospect is responding to your questions. All too often, salespeople will ask a good question, and then not listen to the answer. This hardly builds credibility and trust with the prospect. Salespeople can significantly improve their listening and establish credibility and trust faster by providing feedback that creates an agreeable atmosphere with their prospects. Asking material questions and then listening actively to your prospect is one of the best ways to avoid these problems and differentiate yourself from the “not-so-great” salespeople. Increasing your ability to probe and ask questions and then listening to the prospects answers provides you with the information you need to identify needs, goals and priorities. Armed with this information, you can create a “Customer Focused” solution that addresses your prospects issues. Good luck and good selling!!!

How To Build Strong & Lasting Customer Relationships

Can you imagine the following scenario? Your customer profile consists of people who solely value your products and services, who dont make decisions based solely on price, and who dont try the competition occasionally. Seems like a dream, doesnt it? Well, this can be your reality with some hard work, value positioning and building of strong customer relationships. When a salesperson (you) is valued as an asset to the customer, he becomes ingrained within the customers organization, making it virtually impossible for others (the competition) to get any business.

So what is the best way to make yourself valuable and build customer relationships? Here are some excerpts from an article from small business sales training web site, SalesprenurEDGE, providing some insight on how strong customer relationships are formed.

Getting Started Developing A Foundation

It is important to realize that a solid customer relationship is not developed overnight; it takes time and effort. When establishing a new relationship with a customer, it is important to pay attention to the little details that make a big difference. As a rule of thumb, everything you do should make it easy for the customer to do business with you. Here are some examples:

1. Respect the customers time, show up on time and stay within the time allotted for your meeting / discussion. 2. Learn as much as you can about the customer and start thinking of ways you can help make their job easier. When working with a customer, in the back of your mind think of ways to make the customer a hero within his or her organization.

The reason that building a foundation is important is in the customers mind there is some level of risk involved in making a purchase decision. This is not a personal reflection on you, but a natural part of the buying process. If there is nothing that removes some of the risk from the mind of the customer, he will not make a purchase. Simply do the right thing by your customer and treat him the same way you would like to be treated if you were in his shoes. Over time, you will reap the rewards of building a strong foundation.

Strengthening The Customer Relationship

The strength of a customer relationship occurs during and after a sale has been made, as well as when leading up to future purchase decisions. In fact, the strength of a customer relationship can be measured by how many times you have cycled through the sales process with a customer. The key to making this an ongoing process is, again, being able to continually add value to the customer. Be aware that a common pitfall here is that you may think you are adding value, but if your customer doesnt perceive value, then you have not provided value. Here are some are some examples of what you can do provide value and strengthen your relationship with the customer.

1. Understand the customers needs. 2. Admit mistakes. 3. Pick up the phone.

What To Do When The Customer Says Can I Try it for a Few Days

Can I Take This Home For A few Days And Try It?”

“What If I Take It Home And Dont Like It?”

Have you ever had those questions?

Heres why the answers to these questions are so important. When the questions are asked, your answer makes or breaks the sale. Almost every time.

When the customer asks if they can take the product home for a few days to try it, they are asking for a few reasons; Lets say you sell vacuum cleaners; They may want to simply use your machine & bring it back without paying anything (Im sure this is the rarest case), they may want to be sure it will work for them at home the same as it does here, or they may simply want to defer making a decision. This question is usually asked if they want to take home the product without paying for it first.

When the customer asks if they can return it if they dont like it, they have generally seen and tried out the product in your store. They usually ask this question if they are paying up front for the product.

Have you seen ads in the Newspaper and Magazines that say “Try Free For 30 Days”?

Do you know why they make that offer? Because it works. It generates more sales than it generates returns. But the BIG reason the “Free Trial” is used is that the customer cant see the product. They cant touch and try out the product before they buy. If theres no “free look” the customer usually wont buy. In these cases the buyer has paid up front for the product. But the offer is “Risk Free”. Meaning, a refund is easily obtained.

In a retail store, they can see, feel, try out, & test the product to their hearts content.

In our store, when a customer asks if they can return it if they dont like it (this is on non-returnable products), I ask “If it works as well at home as it works here, will you be happy with it?”

The answer is invariably “Yes”. I say “Thats why we have a warranty, If the vacuum cleaner (or whatever) doesnt work as well as it does here, were here to service it so that it does. Fair enough?”

The answer is almost always “yes”. Had I just said “No, you cant take it home and try it”, any reason I gave would have sounded bad to the customer.

On vacuum cleaners that we will let them take home and bring back (just one brand), we say “Well do better than a few days. Well give you a full two weeks to use it in your home. If you dont like it for any reason, well exchange or give you a refund. Your choice. Fair enough?”

Why do I give two weeks, when they only asked for a few days? Because they are far more likely to keep the product if they dont feel the daily pressure to make a decision. Giving 30 days is equally valuable.

We wont let the customer “Borrow” a vacuum cleaner to use in their home. We have heard from several retailers that swear that they make sales by letting customers “try out” the vacuum cleaner before money changes hands. My thought is that the people who bought would have paid up front if asked.