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The Personal Touch: Making the Sale…After the Sale

"You forgot about me."

Chances are, at some point or another, you've experienced feelings of abandonment after a purchase. Think back: When you were being courted, the sales rep was always checking in. She set the standard for being responsive; you almost counted her among your friends.

Then, you signed the dotted line and took delivery. And poof! Suddenly, she was nowhere to be found.

In sales, it's always about time. You have a number to hit. There's so much on your plate…and you're already drained from closing that last deal. If it's a one-shot, building the relationship isn't a priority. When there's a contract, you assume the money is in the bank.

Of course, this transition is generally when complacency seeps in and doubts are sown. It's here where your customers are vulnerable to alternatives.

That's right, the competition is out there this minute. They're researching markets, partners, and social trends, hoping to capitalize on the next big thing. And they're creating and testing new products, promotions, and pricing models, too. They may even be writing plans for swooping in on your best customers. In short, they're doing everything you are. God help you if they're doing it better.

So how do you level the playing field? You can't be everywhere at once, let alone everything to everyone. It goes back to an old-fashioned concept: relationships. Sure, companies pay lip service to the one-on-one dynamic. But they invariably invest their resources elsewhere.

In reality, most products and services are pretty similar, and prospects are more informed than ever. It's positioning, delivery, and support that closes business these days. That's the value you—the sales rep—provides.

Too often, we let up after the sale is made. In reality, we need to step up our efforts to keep it. Here's how:

Don't assume the sale is closed. Here's the harsh reality: That first sale is really just a test. And scoring a B- is equivalent to an F. You can file iron--clad contracts, but they're worthless if your customer stops using or starts badmouthing you. And it's residual business and future referrals that make it all worth it.

How do you keep up the momentum? Start by remembering what you earned the business in the first place. In every interaction, hammer home those key elements that will alleviate their pain points. Always remember: They will second-guess themselves until the solution is implemented. Constantly reinforce the wisdom of their choice.

Similarly, worry and doubt often take root when people lack information. Walk your new customers through the process early. They should understand your action plan, so there are no surprises. Beyond this, you should anticipate their questions in each stage and address them beforehand. Remember, you're still establishing your credibility; your customers need to see you're on their side and can deliver.

One final piece of advice: Make sure the order comes through. Fill out the form or pick it personally if need be. And don't forget to follow up on delivery, too.

Show appreciation. Everyone enjoys feeling special. We like being around those who show a genuine interest in us. Take advantage of these sentiments by integrating some personal touches after the sale. Here are some examples:

• Gifts. Historically, leaders have exchanged gifts ranging from gems to maidens to cement alliances. Business is no different. Provide a token of your appreciation to keep their attention, no strings attached. Whether you bestow gift baskets or concert tickets, your gesture is certain to facilitate goodwill.

And look beyond your main contact, too. There are plenty of stakeholders with whom you'll never meet. Make sure they know you're thinking of them. For example, NFL college scouts often bring donuts to the entire athletic department for allowing them to attend practices and watch film. Think that doesn't grease the skids when scouts pose sensitive questions about players' habits and character?

• Personal notes. Whether your customers send orders, ideas, or referrals, take a moment to say thanks. Instead of a generic e-mail, voicemail, or text, convey your appreciation with a handwritten note to show you're investing time and thought into the relationship.

• Special offers. No, this isn't the same discount everyone receives. Give it real value, and make unique to their situation. Most important, it should be completely unexpected so it's memorable.

• Consultation. Position yourself as a trusted expert who can supply market intelligence and wise counsel beyond your product line. Send them an article or white paper occasionally. Distribute your newsletter (provided it includes value-added content and isn't just a sales tool). Have someone special, such as your CEO, take them out for lunch. In short, find reasons to stay in their orbit.

Follow up. It's our most dreaded responsibility, worse even than cold calls. It's here where we run into the unexpected, the sudden changes and unreasonable expectations. And we pray these calls don't open a wound that consumes our next week.

Sure, that happens sometimes, no matter how transparent the sale. In reality, though, you're collecting more than feedback. You're also gathering intelligence to close future deals, no different than when you first started talking. You're pinpointing what they need, before they even know themselves.

Even more, you're learning about changes—operational, industry and market—that could eventually threaten your significance within their organization. Take advantage of the time, access, and openness you've earned.

Maintain the same level of service. When you're chasing an account, you put your best foot forward. But how are you after transitioning from being a vendor to a partner? After you've earned their business, the expectations are the same.

Your customers demand enthusiasm, fast resolution, accountability, and timely updates. You're now an extension of them, and they expect you to be there for the long haul. Bottom line: You have to deliver on all those promises you made during the courtship. Let's hope you didn't embellish.

Reel them in deeper. To survive, the relationship must go beyond the monthly invoice. How are you making them part of your organization (besides trying to sell them more)?

Your partners are a reservoir of expertise and experience. Integrate them into product development or reviews. Introduce them to your other customers. Fly them out to visit you, all expenses paid. Put together a checklist, no different than an automobile maintenance schedule, to regularly review their status.

Thank your team, too. You didn't close this account alone. There were plenty of people on your end who helped, so make sure to share the customer's gratitude with them. You're going to need their help plenty in the future.

Jeff Schmitt works in publishing in Dubuque, IA. He can be reached via e-mail at jschmittdbq@mchsi.com.