Sales Management Digest

How to Go Out on a Limb for Customers
Annie m. Westrope
As companies and salespeople have to work harder and harder to differentiate themselves from the competition, it's not enough just to meet customer expectations anymore. If you're not willing to go out on a limb for your customers, they can probably find someone who will. The good news is that you can often exceed your customers' expectations with something as simple as writing a thank-you note or remembering a special occasion. Use these six tips to show your customers that they can count on you to go above and beyond the call of duty.

1) Show a genuine interest in your clients. Probe your prospects thoroughly and look around their offices for family photos, achievement certificates, trophies or anything else that might help you strike up a rapport-building conversation. Sooner or later you should be able to find something in common with them. You don't necessarily have to have the same interests or be graduates of the same high school – even if the only thing you and your prospects have in common is marriage and/or children, that can help you build the trust that forms the basis for a long and productive relationship.

2) Show some enthusiasm. If you're enthusiastic about your work, your customers will notice. Enthusiastic people are often super productive and overflowing with energy and ideas – great qualities for any salesperson to cultivate. Also, if your excitement rubs off on customers, they may be moved to spread the word about you and your products. Learn to take pleasure in the little things and train yourself to think and act positively until it comes naturally. Be someone your buyers look forward to hearing from – even if it's only because they find talking with you gives them a little lift.

3) Observe the golden rule. Ask yourself what kind of treatment you'd want and expect as one of your customers. Make a habit of doing the little things that help save your customers time and headaches – like scheduling maintenance service calls on the equipment you sell and making sure they're made. Be ethical and honest. Remember to say "please" and "thank you" – it may seem like a small gesture, but it might mean a lot to your customers.

Return your phone calls promptly and keep the promises you make.

4) Get involved. Be a team player in as many groups as you can. Volunteer in your community – you never know where you might meet a new prospect or business associate, plus you'll enjoy the motivational lift that comes from helping someone in need. Although you shouldn't offer your assistance only for what you can get in return, helping others now may give you a few favors to cash in to help you get ahead later. As Ronald Reagan said, you'll get what you want out of life by helping other people get what they want. What goes around, comes around.

5) Ask questions and listen. Knowledge is key to personal and professional growth – and both are vital to sales success. You won't learn anything by talking, but you can find out a lot by listening. It's a big mistake to assume you know what your clients want. Take the time to ask them, and listen carefully to their answers. Find out what's important to them and try to acquire some insight into their values. Ask questions of your manager and other salespeople as well. Everyone likes to share their knowledge, and they might help you solve a problem or learn a new technique.

6) Show your gratitude. You can never show your customers too much appreciation for their business. Writing a personal thank-you note is easy and takes little time, but your gratitude may be what gets you a second order later. An occasional big discount or freebie also says "thank you" effectively. It pays to thank even prospects who don't buy – especially if they gave you a chance to present your product or service to them. If you send a special thank you for their time now, they may remember when they're ready to buy later.

You probably won't have to bend over backward to exceed your customers' expectations. Just deliver what you say you will and show your customers you care about them and appreciate their business. Most of the time they'll be more impressed with the thought behind the things you do than with the deeds themselves. Exceeding your customers' expectations only takes a little bit of effort, but it can do a lot for your sales.
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