How do you turn new customers into long-term ambassadors for your brand?
The unfortunate reality is that most businesses don’t think of their customers beyond the transaction. Salespeople tend to focus on a particular transaction, not the long term. Then if the customer doesn’t convert after a few of their sales efforts, they abandon the customer and move on to the next one. That’s the status quo.
But every once in a while, a business comes along that teaches its salespeople, account managers, and employees interfacing with customers and clients a different way forward.
Instead of treating customers as “customers,” they treat them as long-term evangelists—right from the very beginning. Their goal, and what they’re working toward in every interaction, is to educate the person in ways that will help them with their own unique situation. For example, in our industry, loan officers and real estate agents are helping their customers buy homes. In this case, the customer needs some education on the best ways of going about finding, financing, and closing on a new home—and the company that can best provide that education is who they will trust and ultimately start evangelizing to others.
We all do this, whether we realize it or not.
We evangelize where we buy our groceries, where we love going out for dinner, where we vacation, where we send our kids to school. Sometimes, we even evangelize products or services we ourselves haven’t purchased yet, but we were so impressed with the education we received from that brand and business that we want to pass the information along to someone else.
As a growing business, this loyalty isn’t something you can buy.
It’s a relationship quality you have to earn.
1. Stay connected with the customer long after the transaction.
The secret to building long-term trust is to remain relevant.
Relevancy is why a customer chooses to call you instead of your competitor. Relevancy is what makes them remember what a great job you did, and what it would be like to work with you again. But a lot of businesses mistake relevancy with marketing, thinking that as long as they push their branding and messaging at customers day in and day out, they’ll be their first call as soon as they’re ready to do business.
The truth is, loyalty and trust have very little to do with external marketing, and everything to do with the individual relationship the customer has with your company. For example, you don’t have a relationship with a real estate company—you have a relationship with your agent. You know them by name, you know a bit about them, and you’ve had enough conversations to get a sense of who they are as a person. In some cases, you even become friends.
This evolution of the relationship is what dictates how likely you are to work with that same person over and over again in the future, and recommend that person (and their company) to your own network.
But in order to get to this point, and in order for the customer to start evangelizing who you are to other people, you have to treat them as more than just “a customer.” You have to care about them even when they aren’t in the market to buy a home, for example. You must always be giving something, not asking for something. Some ways you can do that are:
- Check-in with them on how things are going once or twice a year.
- Congratulate them when you see something noteworthy happen on social media (like seeing on LinkedIn they just started a new job).
- Send them additional industry information that may be helpful to them and their unique situation. (For example, we send our real estate agents and loan officers content they can send to their clients to maintain relationships over the long term.)
2. Be unique in the ways you communicate with customers.
“Hey Tom, hope all is well…”.
Certain phrases, actions, and relationship dynamics in business have become so overused and mundane that the positive intention itself gets lost in the process. Instead, what you want to do is find a way to stand out in the mind of the customer, and make sure your communication with them doesn’t get lumped into the category of “salesperson just trying to get me to buy something.”
For example, a really easy way of checking in with customers in real estate is to wish them happy birthday. Agents and loan officers can set reminders and that one small action can be a meaningful way of letting the other person know they matter to you. However, the problem with this action is that you end up wishing the person happy birthday at the same time as everyone else in their life. As a result, it can be easy to see your action as less meaningful.
But if you were to wish the person happy birthday a day early, and say something like, “I know tomorrow is your birthday, but since you’re going to get so many birthday wishes I wanted to send you something a little in advance.” That message is going to stand out dramatically more than if you just followed the crowd and did what was expected.
The action itself isn’t any more complicated, but there’s a heightened level of thoughtfulness.
3. Underpromise, over-deliver, and be selfless in the process.
Over the past 20 years, even though direct mail has become less of a priority compared to digital messaging, I still find people love receiving gifts in the mail.
The nuance here though is that people like receiving gifts about them—not about your company, your business, or your products.
For example, when I was early in my career, I tried creating a bunch of branded self-brand lockbox covers to give to Realtors. The idea was that Realtors would use these on the houses they were showing, which would protect the metal locks from clinking and clanking around on the door, but would also act as marketing. They were branded with my company’s logo, and my name and number.
They hated them. Why?
They felt like I was asking them to do marketing for me. I wasn’t giving, I was taking. No wonder they didn’t appreciate my effort. After that experience I decided to take a different approach, and I started handing out covers with the Realtor’s branding instead: their logo, their name and phone number, etc. I got a totally different reaction. All of a sudden, they all wanted to use them. I was giving, not taking, and the Realtors ended up doing significantly more word-of-mouth marketing for me as a result.
In sales, it’s very easy to fall into the pattern of feeling like you’re trying to get something from your customers. You’re trying to close the deal.
But if you can take a step back, and approach the relationship with the long term in mind, you’ll actually get much further, much faster.