Show Your Customers You Care

Showing your customers that you care and value their business is more important now than ever. But how can you do this credibly, and genuinely? The key is to have a reason to communicate (other than just simple appreciation).

Read on for a few effective ways you can show your customers you care:

Say thanks.

An e-mail is good, but a hand-written card makes a much bigger impact. Add a personal touch: Reference a recent contract or project and if possible include a detail showing you know your customer on a professional and a personal basis. A pre-printed card with the message “Thank you for your business” carries little impact; what if you instead wrote:

“Dear Mary,

Thanks for awarding us your database project – we will once again make sure you are absolutely thrilled with our work. Please contact me directly if you have any questions or concerns… and I hope Mark and the kids are doing well!”

Stay simple and to the point, and if you don’t know anything personal about your customer, make finding out a few details a priority. How? Just ask: Most people are delighted to talk about their families and their interests. You don’t have to become best friends… but you can establish a rewarding personal connection that also creates a competitive advantage.

Ask for opinions and feedback.

But do so with a purpose. Don’t send out a generic survey that in effect asks, “How are we doing?” And avoid appearing to be going through the motions; if you do, your customers will go through the motions, too – and that’s if they respond at all.

Many people also use surveys to ask questions like, “What could we have done better on the last project?” The problem with that approach is it automatically calls to mind your failings rather than your successes. Plus, if you truly know your business, you should already know what you could have done better.

Instead, look for specific opinions and feedback that shows your customers you truly value the input they are uniquely able to give. Not only will you continue to build a business relationship, but you will probably get valuable insight into improvements you can make.

Another approach is to ask how you can help your customer provide better service to their customers. For example, your customer’s website visitors may have asked for a particular widget or for client-accessible web tools. The answers you get may create new opportunities for you to service your client.

No matter what you ask, be prepared to make changes based on the feedback you get. When you ask for input you implicitly create the expectation that you will do something with that input.

Walk in your clients’ shoes.

Looking out for your clients’ interests shows you care. But you don’t have to call or write to find out how they’re doing or what’s new with their business; you can periodically check their website or blog (and make comments to their posts), subscribe to their newsletter, or use a tool like Google Alerts to keep up.

Say you’re a web developer and you read an article that has nothing to do with programming but everything to do with a client’s business. Forward the article and simply say, “I came across this and immediately thought of you…”

Not only is it a great way to stay in touch, it gives you a reason to stay in touch… and to show your client you care about their success, and not just in a “What can they do for me?” sort-of way. Or say you receive a Google Alert that your client was quoted on an industry blog – write a quick email and congratulate them.

In short, look at the world from your clients’ perspective, and find useful ways to stay in touch and on their radar. You won’t have to ask for business – they’ll automatically think of you.

Suggest and make helpful changes.

Improvements don’t have to be major; for example, call a client and ask if they would prefer to receive electronic rather than paper invoices. Ask if a different delivery schedule would help. Or ask if more – or less – frequent communication and status checks will help keep a project on track.

But don’t ask questions blindly. Take the time to be sure you understand the possible needs of your customer before you ask.

If you’ve recently implemented a new service, that’s also a great time to make contact. For example, if you’ve set up an online scheduling system, let your customers know! Stressing the benefits to your customers – because, really, they don’t care if the new system helps you better run your business – shows you’re committed to providing the best service you can. While you’re at it, consider running a promotion: Offer a discount to the first fifty people who schedule an appointment online, for example.

Above all, make it personal.

Which makes the bigger impact: The flowers you send your significant other out of the blue, “just because you care,” or the ones you send on an anniversary? Usually an unexpected gesture creates the biggest impact.

Look for openings to learn more about your customers. If a customer says, “I won’t need the project complete for a couple weeks… I’ll be on vacation next week…” use the opportunity to ask about their vacation. Jot down a few details, and next time you talk, ask how the vacation went.

In the end, showing you care takes time and effort – but that effort can pay off in long-term business relationships that survive and even thrive in uncertain economic times.

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Kick-Start Your Sales Team

Do you want to increase sales? Yes? Well, you’re not alone. In all likelihood, you’re limited by the amount of time you can spend finding, targeting, and building relationships with prospective customers. Give yourself – or your sales team – a boost by hiring a freelancer to do your legwork so you can connect with your customers.

You can start by making a list of all your current sales-related activities. Then, list all the things you’d like to do… if you just had the time. Chances are, a number of those tasks can be completed by an Elance provider.

To help spark your brainstorming session, here are just some of the ways a freelancer can support your sales team and help you grow your business:

Research your market.

Market research can help you understand and act on the dynamics of your local or global market, on market trends, and on customer satisfaction with the products and services in your area. In short, market research will help you understand who and where your customers are, and how to meet their needs. Before you devote critical resources to opening a new sales territory, expanding your services, or promoting a new product, make sure a market exists. What you “know” may or may not be supported by the data a skilled researcher can uncover.

Create a lead database.

A freelancer can help source partners or affiliates, drive traffic to your website, collect information from prospective clients, and research, identify, and pull together contact information for key decision-makers within your industry. Pass on a description of the criteria that make a prospect more likely to buy your products or services to help the provider prioritize your leads. Instead of searching for qualified potential customers, you’ll spend your valuable time making contact and building a new business relationship.

Hand-write thank you notes.

A personal touch goes a long way. What means more to you: A pre-printed form letter or a personalized hand-written follow-up or thank you note?

Create a winning presentation or proposal.

Whether you land a new client may hinge on the quality of your proposal. A provider who can help you communicate complex ideas using an effective presentation can make a difference. You provide the information – they’ll provide the presentation. Or, have a freelancer develop professional presentation and proposal templates that you can pour customer-specific data into.

Answer e-mails and calls.

If your marketing campaigns generate customer inquiries, someone must respond as soon as possible – and if it’s a phone call, someone must be there to answer it. But – should that person be you? A freelancer can field the initial queries, answering general questions and provide information based on the materials you provide. You can then follow up with hot prospects and provide detailed information where necessary.

Perform a competitive analysis.

To grow your sales, you need answers to questions like:

  • Who are my main competitors?
  • What are the similarities and differences between their products/services and mine?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of each of my competitors’ products and services?
  • How do their prices compare to mine?
  • How should I best plan to compete: Offer better quality services, lower prices, more support, and/or easier access to services?
  • What should I do to create a competitive advantage in my marketplace?

The answers to these questions will help you better understand how to promote and how to run your business. Experienced researchers use offline and online sources to help you define strategies and market positioning that help you stand out from the crowd.

Make Every Proposal Count

Your profile, portfolio, credentials, references, and feedback establish your credibility and showcase your skills – but, in most cases the first (and possibly the last) impression you make on a potential client will be through your bid proposal.

Whether you submit a proposal on one job or 100 jobs, you’re only looking for one outcome: to be hired. Here are some ways to make every proposal count:

Know the client.

Some clients have posted a number of jobs. Check out their previous projects and get a feel for their business and the skills they tend to need. Also check out their feedback, both given and received: you’ll get a feel for how they like to work and communicate, and you may also get a sense of what’s most important to them (timely communication, frequent status reports, asking lots of questions early in the project, etc.)

Ask questions.

Use private messages (PMBs) to get clarification and additional information. You’ll not only better understand the project, but you’ll begin to build a working relationship with the buyer.

Tailor each proposal.

You may be tempted to use standard text in your proposals. Don’t. Each client and each job is unique; your proposals should be, too. Clients can more easily ignore proposals that appear to be boilerplate or generic, so, if you do cut-and-paste, tweak the results to ensure you specifically address the client’s needs. Every proposal should read like it was developed specifically for that particular client.

Stress the benefits.

Your proposal isn’t about you – it’s about the client. The client wants help meeting a need or solving a problem. While you should certainly describe yourself, make sure you describe the benefits and advantages of what you will do. And if you can, explain how you can add additional value or features to the project.

Don’t oversell.

Avoid overstating your skills and promising more than you can deliver. State exactly what you will do and use facts to back up your skills and experience. Provide relevant samples or links to previous work – the more relevant, the better. Buyers can get a sense of your design skills if you include a sample of a brochure you created, but if they need a website created, providing links to sites you’ve designed will be much more effective.

Get to the point.

Clearly explain your services, features, and benefits. Be concise in demonstrating your skills and experience. Include one or two quick descriptions of previous work you’ve done – work that is applicable to the project – and refer the client to your profile and portfolio. Longer is not always better.

Also, avoid jargon. Elance is a global workplace, and word usage varies from country to country. Get rid of catch phrases and just say what you mean in simple, clear and everyday language.

Let your personality show.

Share your enthusiasm for the project or the client’s business. You and your potential client will work together on this and hopefully many more projects – give them a chance to see you as a real person.

Review your proposal as if you’re the client.

Put yourself in their shoes: How would you respond if you read this proposal? Is it engaging? Does it clearly state the benefits you’ll receive? Do you feel confident the provider can deliver? Do you get a sense of the provider’s excitement and interest in the project? Bottom line, would you consider hiring this provider? Forget what you know about your skills and work ethic – focus instead on what your proposal says about you and what you’ll do.

Critiquing your own proposals can be tough, especially if you do so moments after you finish writing. If that’s the case, take a few minutes to review old proposals you’ve written. They won’t be as “fresh,” and you should be able to critique them more objectively. Chances are you’ll find things you wish you’d done differently – apply what you learn to help make each new proposal count.