by Brandon Gross
I still vividly remember my first week in this industry, starting out at a copier dealer in Los Angeles as an account manager (snazzy term for entry level sales rep). On my desk was a computer, notepad, pen, highlighter and a 50+ page list of businesses that included ZERO current customers. My sales manager explained that once I completed a series of online training classes about MFPs, I was to begin calling the list of businesses and setting appointments. I was zealous and ready to start dialing for dollars, to prove myself and kick off my new career with a bang. Little did I know the road ahead was long and paved with challenges college hadn’t prepared me for.
Two weeks and 500+ phone calls in, I recall thinking “once I build a book of business I’m going to hold onto it for dear life.” Cold calling wasn’t exactly my favorite pastime, and I knew there had to be a better way. I observed my peers and constantly assessed my own progress. I quickly came to the realization that retaining current customers is more fun and fruitful than cold calling. It’s not that I didn’t want to gain as many new customers as possible, but I wanted to be more strategic as opposed to being another “me too” and relying on dialing for dollars/pounding the pavement to make a few hundred bucks selling a copier.
Whether you find yourself gravitating more toward being a hunter or a farmer, customer retention is a key to success in this industry that should not be overlooked.
- Acquiring new customers isn’t easy. Whether acquired through cold calling, advertising or referrals, new customer acquisition is time-consuming, challenging and costly. Not only do you have to make a logical argument for your proposed solution, but you have to displace the incumbent vendor. And, as many of you can attest, this usually ends up in a price war that yields little to no profit on the front end for you, the rep.
- Business is conducted with trusted partners. By maintaining/growing current customer relationships, you are essentially paving the way to future business with them. Remember, current customers make great references and/or case studies. Lastly, current customers are a great source for referrals. If you’re doing a good job, your customers will advocate for you.
- Consistent revenue streams. That’s right, a consistent revenue stream that doesn’t dry up! You already have established a business partnership, so why let them go elsewhere for solutions/professional services that you can provide?
How to Retain:
- To build on the aforementioned consistent revenue stream, solution and professional service selling is the ace up your sleeve. Software solutions and professional services yield annual maintenance and support, a.k.a. revenue streams. And, luckily for you, each and every client you have has gaps in their workflows. They have business problems that need a solution (saving your customer $10 per month on their lease and giving them five more pages per minute ISN’T a solution, just FYI). They may even be bound by compliance laws such as HIPAA or Sarbanes Oxley — another business problem you can provide a solution to.
- Be a resource. A partner who truly cares about their customer and is willing to work on their behalf breeds contentment and loyalty. All too often reps present themselves as a consultant, but once the standard box sale is complete the “consulting” comes to a halt. Don’t be “that” copier rep. There is a hungry, solution-selling rep just down the street itching to take away the business you worked so hard to gain. You don’t have to be a subject matter expert on everything, your dealer/OEM reps/vendor partners are resources. If you’re not compelled to provide a complete solution (hardware/software/services) to each of your customers, this isn’t the job for you. Find an 8-5 with a fixed salary; you’ll be happier in the long term and so will your customers.
- Be ethical. You work hard and are solving a problem your customer has, so you deserve a profit. But don’t take advantage of the situation or the trust you’ve earned. Like any other relationship, cheating doesn’t end well.