The year was 1849 and California was buzzing with activity – it was the start of the Gold Rush. Prospectors from all across the nation scrambled to stake out their claims and pan for gold, in the hopes of striking it rich. Though the process eventually gave way to mining companies, individuals who arrived on the scene early – called “49ers” – were relatively successful, with about half making a modest profit, after expenses, and a few thousand lucky prospectors becoming quite wealthy.
The California Gold Rush ended in 1855, but there is still gold to be found in commercials sales. The gold we seek today is not shiny nuggets retrieved from rivers and streams – our “gold” is our customers. Every time I give a seminar or consult for a dealership, I’m asked, “What’s the fastest way to grow my business?” My answer is always the same: “Through your best customers.” Just like gold that has been wisely invested, our best customers maintain and increase in value over time, providing both retained business and prospect referrals.
Unfortunately, commercial salespeople often fail to stay in contact with even their best clients, falsely thinking the relationship is secure without continued investment. These associates are at risk of both losing their most valuable gold and also failing to discover more gold along the way via referrals. Luckily, there are some proven ways to nurture relationships with consumers. A friend, A.J. Hewitson of Paradise Chevrolet, was recently featured in a podcast and made some great points, some of which I’ve outlined below, along with a few of my own (but all credit to AJ!). Here’s how to protect your most valuable assets and grow your business:
1. Make a list of your Top Twenty best customers, based on the strength of the relationship and the volume of the business they provide. I recommend that customers who make this list be accounts with at least 10 vehicles.
2. For each of your Top Twenty customers, keep a running list of personal and professional details, such as their favorite sports teams, recent vacations, etc. To gather this information over time, I tell salespeople to always ask at least one personal question on every face-to-face meeting or phone contact. Store this information in your commercial Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system -or at a minimum, in a “Customer Profile Form” that you keep on file. This information is extremely useful in helping you relate to the customer in subsequent interactions.
3. Collect important information that your Top Twenty clients may appreciate, including maintenance tips or industry articles. The top expenses for work vehicles are fuel costs and tire replacement. You can bet your customers won’t mind receiving an article on how to extend the life of their tires, and it keeps your dealership top-of-mind. I use an inexpensive scanner called Neat to quickly scan and categorize any article I happen to see while on the road. This is incredibly helpful in developing a library of resources to provide for clients.
4. Review your Top 20 Customer List at the beginning of each week to plan how you will intentionally make contact with them. Right away, choose half of the clients on the list and email them an article, or even a joke (an appropriate one!) with a simple note, “Made me think of your dealership,” or “Thought you would enjoy this.” This will ensure that every person on your list hears from you at least twice a month.
5. Start a monthly electronic newsletter or weekly bulletin to further stay top-of-mind. Regular, quality content can position you as the expert you are, hold the attention of prospects, and keep your Top Twenty customers engaged. The beauty of today’s newsletter software is that everything can be tracked, from open rates to how many of your newsletters were forwarded and to whom. This digital information is perfect for helping your dealership stay connected. Interested in diving deeper into content marketing? You can read more about it here.
6. Make phone calls to check-in with clients whenever you can. If you are in a certain part of town, whether visiting a prospect or just grabbing lunch, look up which of your Top Twenty customers are nearby and stop-in to say hello. Even if the owner is not in the office, he or she will appreciate hearing that you took the time to stop by. During a visit, always leave something of interest other than a standard brochure, such as a handwritten note or a printed article. Not sure how to fit this into your schedule? You can read more about setting up an ideal sales day here.
7. Send a thank-you card after every appointment and every time a current client provides a referral. No one does this anymore and you will stand-out, in a positive way. If the referral ends in a sale, send a gift card to your customer, which you can personalize based the information you’ve gathered about the customer. Want to take a deeper dive on referral programs? You can read more about them here.
8. Take each Top Twenty customer to a meal once a quarter, or invite several contractors to the same dinner so they can network with each other. This is a great way to say thank you to your best clients. You’ll often find that customers will start to invite you to their own events, from dealership open houses to friendly fishing trips, where you will get to network with their contacts.
9. Use your active membership in trade associations and networking groups to further build relationships with Top Twenty customers. If they already belong to the same organizations you do, work with them on a project or event. If they’re not a member, invite them to join or use your own membership to benefit them in some way, perhaps by passing along referrals from within the group to them. Each of these activities serves to enhance your value with the client. Just getting started with organizational networking? We have some tips on mastering it here.
10. Create events at your dealership, such as a Contractor Appreciation Day or a Local Trade Show, where you can provide value for all clients while highlighting your Top Twenty customers through Business Recognition Awards or VIP booth placement. We have some additional thoughts to share with you on community engagement here.
11. Call or send a card on special occasions, from holidays to their business anniversary. It’s especially easy in today’s world when all you have to do is say, “Siri, remind me on July 4th to send a birthday card to Ken Taylor” (yes, that’s really my birthday and I expect a card!). Whether using your smartphone or your CRM, be sure to set reminders a few days beforehand so you can mail the card on-time.
12. Review your Top Twenty List at the end of every week, take note of successes and shortcomings, and strategically plan how you will communicate with your best customers next week. Reflection and planning are the primary keys increasing the value of your relationships with top clients.
“The road to the extra mile is never crowded.” That’s the mantra by which I live. If you engage in the above tips and tricks for growing relationships with your Top Twenty customers, your retention and referral rates will go through the roof. In short, you’ll strike gold. Good luck out there!
About the Author
As the Founder and President of Commercial Truck Training, Ken has consulted, coached, and trained commercial dealers on individual, regional, and national business levels. Known as an industry leader, Ken has worked with companies like General Electric, General Motors, FCA, Ford, Commercial Truck Trader, and Equipment Trader.