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Be in the business of romancing your customers

February 15, 2016

Many of the everyday fundamentals of our Western lifestyles owe a debt of gratitude to the Ancient Greeks – democracy, drama, all-action blockbuster war epics, and lying around thinking about stuff in general. All beloved activities in the Eastern Mediterranean 2,500 years ago, and all still popular today in our house – as well as other aspects of their culture including moussaka, retsina, lashings of taramasalata and a big, chunky feta salad.

Greek dancing and plate smashing are optional and mostly accidental at home, but my affection for all-things Greek stems from the fact that I met my future wife as a student whilst on holiday in Corfu. A Greek holiday romance which blossomed to the sun drenched sounds of bouzouki, fuelled by souvlaki and drenched in ouzo. Dôs moi pâ stô, kaì tàn gân kīnā́sō.

And as the sacred festival of St Valentine’s came upon us once again yesterday – with all its promise of new romance, maturing affection or crushing rejection – the Greek influence on our way of life and their pioneering attitudes towards love once again came into my thoughts.

But what is love, that old romantic chestnut? Love came in many forms for the Greeks, perhaps the depth and complexity of their understanding of love was due in part to their selection of eternally, irrepressible deities etched on some hideous pottery?

The Iliad, the smash-hit blockbuster page-turner from celeb epic poet Homer, was a love story, a war provoked by a young man who was unable to keep his passion in his trousers, and an attractive married woman who sacrificed a husband and a perfectly acceptable job as Queen of Sparta for a cheeky bit of nooky with a younger lover. Quite a few of the Greek dramas end with someone having killed a current or former lover in an eruption of vengeful jealousy or spite. However, they also treasured the purity of love, and the spiritual transcendence it could engender.

Eros was the eponymous market-leading Greek god of love, all statues seemingly obliged to have his tackle out on full display, but as the son of Aphrodite, the lascivious love genes ran strongly in the family. While other famous deities such as Zeus, Artemis, and Poseidon have since tumbled down the rankings, Eros remains a prominent presence today.

Can we assume that our love-struck Greek heroes and heroines would have embraced Valentine’s Day as enthusiastically as they embraced each other? Valentine’s Day gestures have always taken many forms – from the cheeky card, to the anonymous light-aircraft banner-trailing fly-past, to the hastily-bought bunch of petrol-station flowers. St Valentine himself was, of course, the patron saint of hackneyed chat-up lines and clumsy passes.

St. Valentine’s Day began as a liturgical celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus. Several martyrdom stories were invented for the various Valentines that belonged to February 14, and added to later martyrologies. A popular hagiographical account of Saint Valentine of Rome states that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry. According to legend, during his imprisonment, he healed the daughter of his jailer, Asterius. An embellishment to this story states that before his execution he wrote her a letter signed ‘Your Valentine’, as a farewell.

Okay, maybe you deserve a little bit more credit, it wasn’t a hasty, last minute arrangement, you actually made your dinner reservations weeks ago, and you had a genuinely heartfelt token of your affection wrapped and ready to go a week before the day too. Great work Casanova, but you’re still forgetting some very special people who are also deserving of your love today.

“Who?” you ask? Your customers, that’s who. Don’t they deserve some attention, too? Luckily, there’s not as much pressure to show your love to customers on Valentine’s Day as there is to show your significant other. That being said, you need to woo them from the charms of the competition – and after customer attraction, it’s all about retention and renewal, as in any other relationship.

According to research, it costs five times more to find a new customer than to retain a current customer. Sometimes, small changes have a big impact on how customers perceive the quality of your relationship and make the difference between loyalty and high churn rates.

Customer retention is an essential part of your business model because existing customers are easier to upsell and more profitable than constantly acquiring new customers while having a high turnover. Customer churn is a key performance indicator firms need to track and control. When churn happens, they’ve lost the romance.

Nurturing relationships with your customers is a crucial part of growing a business. In this age of automation and innovation, caring for your customers has never been more important. At any moment, an unhappy customer can share their opinion with the masses through social media and negatively affect your business. That’s why it’s even more important than ever to create an excellent experience for your customers to help develop your company’s relationship with them into a loving and lasting one.

Walt Disney said it best, Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends. Creating love between your business and your customers can help scale positive word of mouth that’s absolutely priceless. Creating a customer-focused culture should be a priority. Most businesses are failing when it comes to the customer experience, which is your opportunity to swoop in and enchant those same customers into falling for your company.

So what are the lessons from a romantic St. Valentine’s Day for your customer encounters? It’s all about being thoughtful, and having the right mindset. It’s about creating romance, a relationship. It’s not simply about the transaction or price – price is the value of the relationship, it is not the metric for an immediate transaction, so don’t focus on that. The aim is to find, win and keep customers, develop a horizon for future, ongoing work, and not simply an immediate invoice.

It’s romance, not speed dating, think lifetime value, so how do you create a ‘customer romance’ and a long-term relationship generating a sustainable stream of sales revenues? Here are my thoughts, and remember, it’s seduction, not speed dating:

Set the scene Frame the meeting in the first 60 seconds, be a psychologist, shape how the ‘feel-think-feel’ experience happens. This three-stage process happens in the first 60 seconds of a meeting and frames how the client anticipates the meeting will be as an experience.

Be curious, take their agenda, not yours live in your customer’s world, be counter intuitive, your sales agenda will kill the sale. Identify some immediate needs and quick wins you can help them achieve and add value, whilst looking at the bigger picture and longer term.

Don’t come on too strong too soon Join the dots for the client’s thinking – link statements with insights. It’s like jazz, learn the harmony and improvise over the top, give them a feeling of assurance and excitement, the art of the possible from working with you. Wow them!

Always listen Playback their words to create a connection: ‘So, if I’ve heard you correctly…’ – reflect back – shows listening skills, validates where you’re at, and helps you to organise their thinking; understand how they are feeling. Build intimacy and engagement in the conversation.

Have insight Be prepared to directly describe a real problem and your solution from experience, be able to demonstrate the value you bring. Serve as a sounding board, facilitate collaborative discussions by providing an answer that stimulates the conversation. Listen with curiosity and interest to make an authentic connection.

Watch their watch, mind your mindset. Help them simplify, clarify and focus on their issue, help identify the critical factors in their decision. Be a collaborator, focus on being a helpful part of the decision making process, not the decision itself.

Treat your customers like a valued partner Talk about yourself less and your client more, take them on a journey of thinking about what could be. Frame the issue in your client’s language then build a relationship road map, a picture of what success looks like for them from being with you.

Ensure your conversations have energy Be alert, engage sincerely, show interest, make it a dialogue of ideas and insights, show the client you and your thinking. Create empathy – we are in this together, identify the common ground and create win-win scenarios. See yourself sat the client’s side of the conversation – how you see it is how you sell it. Your energy in a meeting can create opportunities.

Build trust Make yourself relevant to the client’s business and personal goals, agenda and aspirations. Be able to have a meaningful dialogue in their industry language, understanding their business and drivers – all client buying decisions relate to this information. Let them see you are investing time in them as a person and the relationship, not just a transaction.

Be a thought leader, create the possibility of something Treat your customers right, genuinely interact. The quality of your thinking reveals your credibility, create dialogue to stimulate your client’s thinking, not a sales opportunity. Success means not closing a sale in the first meeting, the less you sell today, the more you sell in the future.

Understand what is not being said What are they thinking now? Use contrast to change the mindset – what’s the most important message you want to leave? Develop your ‘points of view’ – offer a perspective developed from experience – medals and scars – offer advice, guidance, thoughts – create a personal impact of your credentials.

Consistently make gestures Offer a point of view or some learning, ‘I’d like to see if there’s something we can help you with… ‘….and share the benefits of our experience, and see what success means to us both….’

Be the person your dog wants you to be when you get home Ok, wet noses aside, the unconditional love of a dog is the simplest and most uncomplicated love you’ll ever experience. The greeting you get from your dog when you get home at night is often the highlight of the day. It’s simply about being you, they want the person that is you, so take that ‘you’ to your clients, and simply be yourself.

So the Monday morning after Valentine’s Day. Just think, would you go out on a date with someone who you did not know and called you out of the blue? Of course not, you’d expect a little flirting and romancing first, you’d want to have an idea who’s asking you out, and something about them.

It’s the same for business decision makers, a cold sales call is bound to have less chances of securing that first meeting as opposed to someone who has done a little business flirting and romancing to get to know you before you agree to a first appointment – however enticing their proposition.

With so many of your competitors challenging for your customer’s attention, you need to invest time and creativity engaging and ‘flirting’ with customers, with knowledge, expertise and content to show you can help them and get on their radar.

In the digital age empowering customers, you need more than the data you get from social media, CRM systems and other analytics tools. Your best competitive advantage will be the relationships you build with your customers. Companies who love their customers, get a lot:

A 2% increase in customer retention has the same effect as decreasing costs by 10%.

Source: Leading on the Edge of Chaos, Emmet Murphy & Mark Murphy.

On average, loyal customers are worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase.

Source: White House Office of Consumer Affairs

The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60–70%. The probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20%.

Source: Marketing Metrics.

Spend time understanding their problems from their perspective, showing the potential value you can bring before you even start to think about selling to them. Remember, it’s seduction not speed dating, you want a relationship not a transaction. You need to ask for that first date and get it, because if you’re not romancing your customers, who is?

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