Managing relationships in the new normal

By Paige Geddings (LinkedIn profile),  governor at large, Generation Next
Lee Transport Equipment Inc.

This article was originally published in the July 2020 edition of Generation Next Edition.

We all understand the importance of relationships when it comes to making purchase decisions. Salespeople in the commercial truck industry have always relied heavily on visiting customers face to face as an integral part of maintaining these relationships.  Enter Covid19 -- one of our greatest relationship tools is gone, and may not fully return for quite some time. This “new normal” caused me to rethink current contact options that seem to lack the ability to communicate appreciation, care and concern for our business partners. I was looking for ways to make us stand out a bit from the 100 emails a day hitting customer inboxes. I am still surprised that traditional business basics have proven to do exactly that. These three tools can not only help you keep and strengthen established relationships, but may also aid in forming new ones.

Let them hear you

Do not forget the telephone. Sounds ridiculously simple, I know, but it would amaze you how infrequently this happens. In the age of digital communication, we default to typing on a device rather than picking up the phone. How often do you have a trusted business partner call just to check on you and tell you how much you are appreciated these days? A phone call, however, allows you to express yourself, as well as gain insight as to how your client is doing, in a way that non-verbal communication just can’t match. Unlike video-calling, this can be a quick, informal thing that doesn’t require scheduling, or making sure that something from lunch isn’t caught in your teeth! Often, I find that these calls quickly turn to non-business topics like family, a favorite sport or hobby, or the latest virus news. Relationship gold, in other words. I know you have heard it a thousand times, but the relationship, quite often, seals the deal. Take 30 minutes a day, pull out your client list, and let them hear you.

Show them a dinosaur

Pull out the box of dusty letterhead cards in the back of the supply closet and take your communication back to snail mail. Write them a note? I thought that went out with the dinosaurs! A handwritten note or card, though old school, tells someone that you think enough of the relationship to sit, compose, and write out your thoughts. As a rule, the older the recipient, the more it will be appreciated. So if you only have time for a few, pick a couple of your older clients for maximum effect. With this form of communication, I believe it is best to keep it simple. Let your customer know you are thinking about them, that you appreciate their business, and that you are here if they need anything. So get some plain cards with your letterhead, practice your penmanship, and make someone feel special.

Make it personal

During these trying times you may have to be innovative in finding ways to make your customer feel just how important they are. This is a bit difficult to explain, so here is an example. Recently, I needed to do something special for one of my great, long-standing customers. This customer grew up in a foreign country before coming to America. I remembered him telling me a story of how at Christmas, when he was a young boy, he would wait every day by the mailbox for a fruitcake that a relative would send from Texas. This was one of his favorite memories as a child and a tradition he continues here in the United States. With a little research I found several major fruitcake manufacturers in Texas that were both operational and shipped internationally during the time he was a child. I took a chance and called each one telling them what I was trying to do. After several attempts I found the company and was able to send him the fruitcake from his childhood. While it took more resources than a note or phone call, actions such as this are not likely to be forgotten. This is especially useful if there is some type of milestone event occurring for them. Listen to your customers, take note of things that have significance for them that can translate into a professional, but personal way to let them know how important they are.

With the current pandemic, social unrest, and a stressful election in the near future, it is easy to get caught up in all of the additions to our daily activities and forget the human element that runs through everything we do in both our professional and personal lives. We all like to feel appreciated, cared for, and important to others in some way. So I challenge us all to make the effort daily --whether with customer, coworker, family, or friend -- to let someone know how important they are to you!

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