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Relationship Marketing is Key to Business Success — especially in a slow economy

20 May

Appreciation MarketingCan the condition of the economy be the reason for a decline in sales? I hear this all too many times from folks I talk to. They’ve watched their businesses slow down and sales decline, and like most of us, when they hear the news reports suggesting we are in a recession, they deduce that the reason business is slow is because of “the bad economy.”

I had a conversation recently with a neighbor of mine, a small business owner, who is of that very same mindset.  He said he’s watched his sales decline over the past year, and is blaming it on the bad economy.  I asked him what he was doing to market his business, and he replied, “Very little anymore. I had to cut back on advertising and marketing to limit my expenses.”

I asked him if he was getting out meeting new people and developing relationships. “No,” he admitted.

Immediately, I saw the problem. History has shown us that during economic slowdowns, the first expense that businesses often reduce — or eliminate completely – is the dollars they spend on marketing and advertising.  But then they don’t do anything else to bring in new business. Granted, the economy may have something to do with fewer people spending money. We can’t do anything about the state of the economy, but what we can do is find alternative solutions to increase our own business sales.  Isn’t that why we’re in business?  To make a living doing what we love to do?  Well, we can’t just sit back and wait for business to come to us.  Those days are gone.  We have to take action and find ways to attract it to us.

One way to do this is to practice relationship marketing with new people we meet and with people already in our network of contacts or sphere of influence. The days of aggressive selling techniques and strategies are going by the wayside.  They’re not working as well as they used to. People don’t want to be sold, but they do want to buy.  Although some marketing strategies don’t work today, relationship marketing still does and now more than ever, it is more of a necessity rather than a selling technique if we want to thrive and survive in today’s business world.

Joe Girard is recognized by The Guinness Book of World Records as the “World’s Greatest   Salesman” for twelve consecutive years selling 13,001 cars at a Chevrolet dealership between 1963 and 1978.  Joe did not come from an influential background.  As a child, Joe was abused by his father who told him he would never amount to anything. He was a high school dropout, but Joe didn’t let that stop him.  He started working from childhood as a shoeshine boy, then as a newsboy for the Detroit Free Press at the age of nine, and then as a dishwasher, delivery boy, stove assembler, and home building contractor. In 1963, at thirty-five-years-old, he walked into a Detroit car dealership and begged a skeptical manager for a job as a salesman. He sold a car on his first day and, by the second month, people were standing in line waiting to buy a car from Joe. He was so good that some of the other salespeople complained and got him fired. His next job was at a Chevrolet dealership, where he set consecutive sales records over a fifteen-year period.

What was Joe’s secret?  He practiced relationship marketing. He sent 13 handwritten cards to each of his clients and prospects every year: one card a month and one on Christmas. These cards were cards of appreciation, tips, and giveaways—never about special sales, discounts, or promotions. During his 15 years, Joe sent 13,000 handwritten cards! Every one of his recipients began to anticipate a card from Joe every month and he was the first person on their mind when they were ready to buy a car.

Tom Hopkins is a sales legend. He has been recognized as America’s #1 Sales Trainer and The Builder of Sales Champions, but he is quick to admit that his early sales career was not successful. He wasn’t born to wealth and privilege. He was a mediocre student and began his work life in construction carrying steel. Since he wasn’t afraid of meeting new people and was known to be somewhat talkative someone suggested he try selling. He decided on the field of real estate, but his first six months were anything but successful. He sold only one home and averaged $42 a month in income.  He was down to his last $150 in savings when a man came into the real estate office promoting a three-day sales training seminar with J. Douglas Edwards. Tom hadn’t yet heard of either “sales training” or Mr. Edwards. He decided to invest his last bit of savings in the program. Applying everything he learned, Tom became a millionaire salesperson in real estate by the age of 27. He set records that remained unbroken into this century. His last year as a real estate agent, he sold 365 homes—the equivalent of one each day. Grand total, he closed 1,553 real estate transactions in a period of six years. He received numerous awards for doing what he loved to do – meeting and talking to people one-on-one. Soon, everyone wanted to know how he did it so they could do it, too. He began giving speeches and training people how to do what he did.

What was Tom doing?   He was practicing relationship marketing.   What was his secret to success? Tom understood that building relationships is what selling is really all about. He began early in his career to send thank you notes to people. He set a goal to send ten thank you notes every day. That goal meant that he had to meet and get the names of at least ten people every day. He sent thank you notes to people he met briefly, people he showed properties to, people he talked with on the telephone, and people he actually helped to own new homes. He got into the thank you card “habit”. And guess what happened? By the end of his third year in sales, his business was 100% referrals! The people he had expressed gratitude to were happy to send him new clients as a reward for making them feel appreciated and important.

What can we learn from these stories and how can we benefit from them? Here are a few strategic objectives to consider implementing in your own businesses to help you “ride with the economic tide” to withstand the impact of a slow economy, and not be so negatively affected by it.

Meet With and Talk to People: People do business with people they know, like and trust. We need to do our part to make connections happen. We must become genuinely interested in our customers and prospects. Schedule “coffee talks” with customers or prospects on a quarterly basis — invite them to meet you at a coffee shop and get to know them personally without a business agenda. Find out how they are doing, and what they’ve been up to in both their business and personal lives. Make mental notes and then when you get back to your office, write it down on their contact record so you can refer to it when you connect with them again. One-on-one time is an important element in building relationships. If your customers and prospects are not local, schedule a Skype video coffee talk!  With today’s technology, connecting with people from a distance is easy!

Stay in Touch on a Consistent Basis: We can stay connected with our contacts by sending heartfelt cards like Joe and Tom did, or by phone calls, emails or newsletters, but however we choose to do it, the key is to be consistent. We lose 10% of our influence every month we do not have contact with our clients or prospects. When we stay in touch, we stay at the top of their mind.  Then, when your client has a need or when your prospect is ready to buy, you will be the one they go to first.

Create a strategic plan for staying in touch:  Here are a few ideas:  1) Set up a postcard or greeting card campaign to go out once a month for 12 months. Do what Joe did and provide a series of tips or address a need and offer a solution — don’t sell or promote — make it about them not you.  2) Develop or find a system that helps you remember birthdays, anniversaries, and other important dates and send heartfelt cards or gifts to show you are thinking of them.  3) Send a link to an article or book or something that you think your client or prospect would be interested in or would be helpful to them.  And of course, always be on the look-out for any leads that you can send their way.

I personally use an on-line service that has a fantastic system for managing my contacts, as well as printing and mailing postcards, greeting cards and gifts. I customize and personalize the cards with my own handwriting font, signature, and photos. I’ll be happy to share my system with you.

Have an Attitude of Gratitude.  Showing sincere appreciation and kindness not only makes someone feel good but it can make a positive impression on your clients and prospects, and a huge impact on your business in the long run. If a client is having a bad day or is sick with the flu, I send them a card to cheer them up. Sometimes I include a gift card or small gift of teas or sweets with a thank you card for something they did – gave me a referral, more business, or even a compliment!   I try to make it about them, not me. Always find a way to say thank you and show you care.  Maya Angelou said it perfectly:  I’ve learned…People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but…people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

Understand and use the Law of Attraction: When we express appreciation, recognition, or encouragement, we are focused on giving and abundance, not selfishness and lack. Every human being wants to feel acknowledged and appreciated. What we send out into the world, we get back tenfold. What we focus on expands, so if we are focused on our lack of money, sales, business, etc. we will continue to have these things in our lives. This is the Law of Attraction.

Kody Bateman, a mentor and colleague of mine said, “Appreciation wins over self-promotion every time.” It is so true!

When we build strong networks and nurture meaningful relationships with the people we serve, we will garner unlimited referrals and be less affected by economic down cycles. Start making relationship marketing part of your business today and watch what happens!

What do you do in your business to keep in touch with business contacts to show them that you appreciate them and building a relationship with them is important to you?

 

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