by Bette Price

   Think of a flowing fountain of crystal clear drinking water in the midst of a dry, sun-drenched dessert. That's how refreshing it is to your customer when you walk through the door if you're a mover and shaker. In the crowd of all those salespeople just trying to make the sale, you'll move through the clutter if you'll focus on four important stages of being professional in your quest to sell: Customer Consciousness, Connectivity, Farming and Bring Back.

Stage 1: Customer Consciousness

   This is the stage that spans from a customer's initial awareness of your product or service to the point of being willing to give it a try. There are three challenges you must hurdle at this stage:

Target the right customers.

   Here's where your historical data becomes important. Who are your best customers? Why are they your best customers? What unique characteristics do they have that you can duplicate in your new customers? Build a statistical model based on these high-value customers and apply it to your prospect pool.

Make the right impression.

   It's critical to focus on the relationship process, not merely the transaction. This is the time for you to establish the groundwork for a mutually beneficial, lasting relationship. It's also the time for you to begin trust building and to establish appropriate customer expectations.

Avoid excessive use of deals to acquire new customers.

   Discounts, special deals and "bribes" only tend to attract deal-oriented customers who will quickly switch to the next vendor when better incentives are offered. Besides, research shows that giving excessive incentives to new customers upsets existing customers who feel their loyalty is not valued.

State 2: Connectivity

   This stage can be the critical fork in the road. Depending upon the initial experience with the sales representative and the product or service, a customer will either move to a strong sense of attachment or withdraw with apathy. This is the stage in the relationship where trust is fragile and can be easily broken. Likewise, any positive experiences at this early stage can reinforce trust and encourage the customer to expand loyalty. This is a time when the customer tests the relationship both consciously and subconsciously. Be aware of what emotional issues are present, not just rational ones. What's the customer's incentive to be loyal? What have you done to reinforce that their purchase decision was the right one? How well have you conveyed that they are important, valued and cared about?
   Research shows that a customer who has purchased a second time is twice as likely to buy again than a one-time buyer. With each additional purchase, customers demonstrate their willingness to create more loyal relationships, including providing referrals.

Stage 3: Farming

   After repeat business from the customer, the Farming stage begins. Just as it is important in agriculture to farm the soil, in your sales cycle this is the opportune time for you to nurture the customer in order to establish deep roots for a long-standing relationship. This is the sage that gives you the opportunity to differentiate yourself from your competition by adding caring to convenience, tailoring customer service to their unique needs and offering more than mere satisfaction.
   This is an opportune time to take advantage of cross-selling opportunities--loyal customers are much more receptive to cross-sell offers. Plus, experience shows that customers who purchase multiple products or services are more likely to remain loyal.
   This is also a good time to request referrals. When your customers become your best salespeople, you have created a powerful marketing tool because personal endorsements provide a compelling field of potential prospects. Your sure sign of success at this stage is transforming your customers into advocates, eager to spread your good word to their colleagues.

Stage 4: Bring Back

   Despite all best efforts, every sales representative risks losing customers occasionally for a variety of practical, realistic reasons. Bring Back actually involves two approaches: Intervention and Win Back.
   Intervention requires you to identify customers who have psychologically withdrawn and renew their investment in the relationship. This might include anything from a simple apology for failure to stay connected to providing a gift, like flowers, or even some type of compensation.
   Win Back is about keeping the door open for a lost customer to come back, or offering a compelling, relevant reason to return. The key here is to understand why the customer left and to take steps to avoid repeating the same mistake. When you take time, to do an interview with dissatisfied customers you will likely find out their true reason for dissatisfaction or ending the business relationship. This can be an opportunity to respond quickly and win back the customer. Admit the error, fix the problem, and by all means, communicate. Since 55 percent of dissatisfied customers complain only "sometimes" and eight percent never complain, it's critical to encourage complaints so you can resolve them before the ultimate damage is done. All research shows that customers who receive prompt and satisfactory resolve to their problems are likely to become even more loyal than before. One caution however is to realize that there is also a portion of any company's customer base that is unprofitable or requires a disproportionate amount of resources to serve. Loosing this customer may actually improve your bottom line and free up resources toward more profitable customers. The critical factor therefore is to know which customers to invest in keeping and which ones to let go.
   At the end of the day the salespeople that customers think of as movers and shakers share many of the same relationship elements that exist between friends: Neither the salesperson or the customer's success is ever achieved at the expense or exclusion of the success of the other; understand that commitment progresses over time, with a higher level of responsibility and interaction as the relationship develops; authenticity accelerates the depth of the relationship; and communication is a two-way open door where both parties feel comfortable to express themselves and know they will be heard and understood. When these factors exist, you will move and shake with the best of them.