The January 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine has a great article entitled "The Soft Cell" (pp 72-73, not available online) which profiles CDW's success through relationship selling. CDW positions itself as a partner, not merely a vendor. They are there more to solve problems than sell products. By solving its customer's problems, CDW will therefore sell products. This is an important distinction over the opposite (and in my experience, more common) way of thinking that by selling products your customer need you will solve their problems. The article also lists CDW's keys to lasting relationships which I will summarize and paraphrase here:
- Keep track of every call with every customer and rank your different contacts within a company by their power and influence.
- Rather than trying to sell your customers something they don't need, try asking, "What can I do to make your job easier?"
- Be sure your customers know when you are in the office, when you are out and how to best reach you.
- If you don't know the answer to a question, just say so honestly and get the answer. No one can be expected to know everything and there is no need to try and fudge your way through something you don't know. Just be honest and make it your mission to get the right answer quickly.
- Take cues from your customers. If they share something personal (like a love of a particular sport or city), reciprocate with something appropriately personal in return. As CDW's founder Micheal Krasny likes to say, "People do business with people they like."
Looking at this another way, I have trained myself to more focus with customers on the non-quantifiable rather than the quantifiable. By that I mean, talk more about why they are interested in something I have to sell and how that product/service will help them and less on how much they want, when they need it and what it will cost. The more you understand about your customer's motivations, fears and desires, the better you can help craft solutions that are right for them. Then you can focus on the right product/service on the right time line and at the right price.