Guest Column | March 13, 2019

Turning Customer Relationships Into Partnerships

By Ganesh Shankar, RFPIO

Teamwork Puzzle

What is the most important thing you can do when talking with prospects and customers? Listen. Listen carefully and listen some more. As Malcom Forbes said, “The art of conversation lies in listening.”

We’ve all heard phrases over the years meant to inspire and get you thinking about how you should treat other people:

  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  • Respect yourself and others will respect you.
  • A smile goes a long way.
  • The customer is always right.

Over the past 10 to 20 years, it seems these types of phrases have lost their way as the business world continues to be taken over by automation and technology. While new forms of technology have helped raise productivity, in many cases they also have taken the personal touch out of business relationships.

The good news is personalization is making a comeback. For sales executives aiming to close the deal, it’s equally important to focus on what happens after the close. Specifically, after the sale has been made it’s critical to continue to cultivate and expand the customer relationship and realize the relationship is not simply transactional. After the sale, it’s important to focus your energies on turning the relationship into a partnership.

Encourage Transparency

Successful companies are the ones that welcome feedback regardless of what channel it may come through. While your company runs the risk of having poor reviews or unflattering comments appear on public websites, it’s beneficial to be open and honest. This type of approach shows your potential and existing customers that your company is willing to put its reputation on the line and share feedback publicly. Remember, customers are smart. They will give you the benefit of the doubt if they see one bad apple within a sea of positive reviews. And that one bad review won’t hurt your average. But if you have many, you have work to do.

Having an open-door policy is a good start, but to make your customers feel welcome you have to show them that you listen. More important is that you show them you’re taking their input to heart and are acting on it. At our company, I read every customer review aloud to our sales and marketing team, and I share the reviews with other executives within the company. This process is done objectively, in the spirit of learning, rather than punitively. Doing so ensures everyone involved in the sales process understands the customer point of view — both positive and negative. This way, we can all learn from the experience.

After reading the customer feedback, it’s time to take stock. Was the input positive or negative? Are you hearing similar themes from feedback from multiple customers? Having a clear customer feedback strategy in place is critical, so all responses are consistent, and posted within 24 hours.

Incorporate Customer Feedback

Actively engaging with your customers and promoting a sense of community involvement will only make your products stronger. Always remember your customers can provide you with real-world feedback that you and your team can’t get in a test lab.

Depending on the products your company develops, it can take weeks or months to incorporate changes into a product. As a management team, it’s important to set up guidelines about how to solicit, study, and implement feedback into your product development life cycle. How you use customer feedback goes a long way to demonstrating your organization’s commitment to improvement.

Listening Is The Key To Success

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” Dalai Lama

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but when you’re an SaaS company, reviews are priceless. Your customer’s first-hand experiences help prospects understand what it’s like to use your tool. Even the best demo by your top salesperson can’t compete with a glowing user testimonial.

Taking customer feedback seriously is an important part of executive management. Why? Because it shows you’re not treating the customer relationship as something that is simply transactional. Instead, you are using the input because you have a strong partnership with your customer. By maximizing the opportunities your customers can bring — product development, referrals, other partnerships — your listening will certainly pay off.

For tech companies — many of which are on the fast track to hyper-growth and dreaming about potential IPOs — there is an enormous amount of pressure on sales executives to close deals. Yet we tend to get caught up in the notion that when the deal has been closed, it’s time to find the next prospect. Instead, you should realize that the partnership is just getting started.

The opportunity to engage and listen is right there for your organization. If you take the time to show this level of commitment, your company and your products will be better for it. Most important is that your customer, who is now seen as a trusted partner, will be a willing advocate for you and your company.

About The Author

Ganesh Shankar is CEO and cofounder of RFPIO, a leader in cloud-based RFP response software.