Try Giving More Than You Get

Being fast, flexible and focused within a customer-centric culture is not enough to sustain long-term relationships with your clients. There needs to be an exchange, or a return on relationship, in order to cultivate customer bonds—particularly at a time when companies are reaching levels of near hyperactivity.

It comes down to asking the right questions. If you dont have the internal expertise to solve a customer challenge, assist your customer by investigating their options. Customers are looking for honest answers, and you have to be willing to turn down potential business to give that to them.

Many small-to-midsize companies are eager to please new customers by overpromising on deliverables. Companies can easily get distracted from their core competencies when the promise of a large contract is at hand. Without analyzing the cost of acquiring a new customer, your company may run the risk of losing more than you bargained for, namely profit and credibility.

When speaking with your customers, it is important to ask the right questions about their problems and issues: Will your business contribution increase that customers value? Are you ready to share risk, as well as reward? Your company can improve its value proposition by accurately targeting its most profitable customers.

However, what do you do when you cannot increase your customers value?

Try passing those customers to your competitors. I have referred various clients to much larger consulting companies, like the Big Five, whose paper-clip expenditures outweigh our annual marketing budgets. More often than not, customers will respect your referral. My recommendations have translated into increased repeat business from customers and multiple contacts among our competitors.

Putting customers first and striving for mutual success doesnt always mean youll win their business, but youll capture their hearts. And thats a lifetime value.

Jonathan Stanley is the director of progress for BTG, a Canada-based consulting firm. Comments on this column can be sent to [email protected]