Win Big With Long-Term Loyalty

Be your client’s hero and drive your sales figures to new heights.

Loyal clients are the lifeblood of a healthy sales portfolio.

The clear upside to having customers devoted to working with you is that they’re a well of repeat business. But the value of loyal clients extends beyond the consistent sales they provide. Dedicated customers are more apt to give referrals, speak positively about you to others who may need ad specialties and deliver honest feedback that empowers you to elevate your professional performance.

Furthermore, the worth of loyal clients is articulated by bottom-line dollars and cents: Various studies show that it’s four to 10 times more costly to acquire a new customer than it is to retain an existing client. “No one wins with one-off, order-taker sales,” says Joseph Sommer, owner of New York City-based Whitestone Works (asi/359741). “What you want is lasting partnerships.”

In the pages ahead, Advantages shares can’t-miss strategies that will keep clients turning to you time and again.

Tip 1: Provide Service That No One Else Does

To foster client loyalty, savvy reps differentiate themselves from the pack. They get creative, going the extra mile to provide unique service solutions – solutions that make them indispensable.

“When you do something that makes you different – something that shows clients that you can make their lives easier and give them the ROI they are looking for – then you’re not just going to get one order, you’re going to get every one of their orders,” says Sommer.

To differentiate himself, Sommer creates custom catalogs for clients that feature products he has specially selected for them. He determines what types of products to include only after in-depth discussions that allow him to thoroughly grasp clients’ brands, tastes, target audiences, goals and more.

Outfitted with such understanding, he and his assistant spend several weeks assembling a catalog, which often runs a couple hundred pages. Products feature virtual proofs with clients’ branding, which helps buyers visualize just how the finished item will look. “The catalogs have everything a company needs to promote and grow its brand,” says Sommer.

For ease of use, Sommer prints, binds and presents catalogs so buyers can have physical copies. He also provides a USB drive with an uploaded catalog and sends another digital version via Dropbox. Buyers like receiving the catalogs in multiple formats because they can peruse products in whatever medium is most comfortable for them.Significantly, the catalogs are living documents. “We’re always adding items, evolving with our clients,” he says. “One client’s catalog is over 700 pages.”

Impressively, the catalogs have helped Sommer earn business from huge banks and household-name financial institutions. When a multinational bank/financial services corporation was rebranding recently, he created a catalog to help them with related promotional efforts. “We presented the catalog and walked out that day with five orders,” he says. “We have been working with them ever since.”

Similar catalogs have influenced highly coveted clients with ample spending power to continue buying their branded merchandise through Sommer. His business has more than doubled over the last two years. “We make it easy for them,” he says. “They’re able to buy off our catalogs. We take care of everything.”

Eager to emulate Sommer’s success? Brainstorm ideas for novel service solutions that will have you shining brighter than competitors. The up-front exertion pays off handsomely in the long run.

Tip 2: Become An Integral Part Of Their Team

When a buyer needs branded merchandise, you want to be the first one that comes to mind. You’re sure to be that person if you position yourself as a vital member of their team.

Leading reps make themselves essential team players in a variety of ways. They invest the necessary time to understand customers and their particular needs. Then, they pitch promotional ideas that are specifically tailored to accelerate the initiatives.

Hardworking reps know their clients’ marketing calendars and contact them well in advance of events with product suggestions and innovative branding concepts. Additionally, reps search for new products that will appeal to buyers based on each individual’s predilections. Certain sales aces also sit in on client marketing meetings to help spark ideas for everything from outbound promotions to employee recognition.

Interestingly, some promo pros go further to embed themselves in clients’ organizations. Livi Dalmau is among this select group. The account manager at American Solutions For Business (asi/120075) helps train new franchisees for a top client – a franchise company that specializes in property restoration. Dalmau focuses her training, in part, on teaching rookie owners about what types of logoed products other franchisees have used to market themselves successfully.

By providing such instruction, Dalmau removes work and stress from the marketing team – her primary buying contact at the franchiser. “ Most customers feel overworked,” she says. “By helping to lighten their load, I’m making myself more valuable to them.”

Dalmau doesn’t stop with training. She also sponsors education seminars that the company has at its annual convention. At the sessions, she provides branded gifts to attendees. The dedication to her client that Dalmau demonstrates through the training and sponsorships has, along with her stellar consultative service, compelled the company to stay loyal to the ASB rep for nine years. “There have been times when there is turnover and new people come in and want to bring their people in. But then they see what they get with me and I’ve always continued to get their business.”

Tip 3: Build Personal Relationships With Buyers

Customers are more inclined to stray if they think of you only as the “swag seller” – or worse, if they don’t think of you at all. But if buyers know you personally, see you as a real human being, a friend even, they’re a lot more likely to be loyal. That’s why successful sales professionals seek to forge personal connections with clients. “People like doing business with people they like,” says Paula Fenn, creative marketing advisor at HALO Branded Solutions (asi/356000).

Start forming relationships by taking an interest in buyers as individuals. Get to know things about them beyond their job function and share appropriate things about yourself. Don’t force matters; develop the relationship organically as you would with any person.

Lauren Stewart, business development manager at Bob Lilly Professional Promotions (asi/254138), says relationship-building is facilitated by meeting with buyers outside the office. “They can speak more freely,” she says. “You get to know about them, what their passions are. That helps you be a better consultant.”

Stewart has launched many relationships in this fashion, and even when buyers have left positions for other jobs, they’ve stayed true to Stewart. “I’m going to be in a client’s wedding later this year,” she says. Such a client will not go window-shopping.

Of course, not every client will be a close pal, but you can still use personal information they’ve communicated to create a connection. When Christmas rolled around one year, Fenn knew that it would be the first holiday season that a particular buyer was spending without her mother, since she passed away.

Fenn reached out to express sympathy and let the buyer know she was thinking of her. “She called crying to thank me. She said, ‘I can’t believe you remembered.’” That buyer has remained committed to Fenn.

Successful reps also add personal touches by sending handwritten thank-you notes after an order. They know what types of products buyers prefer and send free samples with notes saying things like, “Thought of you when I saw this. I think you’ll like it.”

Sales stars speak conversationally, showing interest in topics that interest buyers. They always mail holiday cards and gifts. “When your customers are your friends,” says Fenn, “they don’t look elsewhere.”

Tip 4: Make Buyers Look Like Heroes

Many buyers answer to bosses. And, as top reps know, few things compel client loyalty quite like orchestrating promotions that allow buyers to shine in their superiors’ eyes. “When you make your buyers look good, they continue to buy from you,” says Fenn.

To turn clients into stars, ask probing questions that enable you to understand exactly the results buyers must achieve to please bosses. From there, put your imagination and sourcing skills to work: Conceive creative solutions that will generate the desired ROI, leaving the buyer’s superior smiling ear to ear.

Recently, the clever result of Fenn’s consultative approach left a boss of one of her buyers beaming. The superior to Fenn’s client at an insurance company wanted a unique gift to give to 350 high-producing agents at an upcoming conference. The solution had to be ingenious – something creative that agents would really love. Drawing on her knowledge of the company, Fenn put her thinking cap on and came up with a set of four mugs, each of which featured a fun Garfield cartoon themed around a different type of insurance – home, automotive, etc.

The mug set had just the type of “wow” factor the boss wanted. So pleased was the buyer with her boss’ reaction that she quickly contacted Fenn to share the good news. “She told me, ‘You rock! He absolutely loves it!’” says Fenn, who kept herself in the background. “Her boss thought the mugs were her idea and that’s fine with me. The important thing was that she looked like a hero.”

The buyer continues to be a loyal client. Fenn has helped many customers similarly, and they’ve continued to work with the HALO ace even as they’ve moved to jobs at different companies. One such customer in the oil business has partnered with Fenn for 14 years, consistently spending six figures with her. “If a buyer trusts you to come through for them,” she says, “they’re going to take you with them wherever they go.”

Tip 5: Start A Customer Loyalty Program

Reps often tell clients that giving their customers quality branded gifts fuels loyalty. Smart sales pros in the promo industry are taking their own advice, running customer loyalty programs that reward clients with free merchandise.

Sommer has a program in which clients who spend at certain levels are eligible for free swag or to have a donation made to a charity of their choice. For example, clients who spend $5,000 in a year can receive their choice of 300 roller pens, 150 16-oz. tumblers, various other products or a $250 charitable donation. Naturally, all products are embellished with the client’s logo.

As customers reach new spending levels ($15,000, $30,000 and upward), they become eligible for higher-end gifts or more sizeable donations. Spend $150,000? Sommer will provide 50 High Sierra (asi/60724) computer backpacks, comparably excellent items or a $4,000 charitable donation.

Not surprisingly, the program has played a key role in influencing Sommer’s clients to invest their promo spend with him. “The program has worked because it incentivizes clients to work with us, knowing that they will receive free products if they do,” he says. “Who doesn’t like free swag?”

Tip 6: Make It Right When Things Go Wrong

There are going to be bumps in the road of every business relationship – times when orders veer off course despite your best efforts. But handled smartly, these challenging ordeals can strengthen clients’ commitment to you. By taking responsibility, proactively proposing fixes and delivering viable solutions, you will be viewed as a reliable partner who can be trusted to deliver. Such belief in you helps keep your competitors on the outside looking in.

Jennifer Powell is an expert at turning potential relationship-busters into relationship-builders. The account manager has kept some of her biggest clients loyal over her eight years at Inkhead (asi/231159) by navigating deftly when the sales waters turn choppy.

Not long ago, an international technology company’s $8,000 order of stress toys was accidentally shipped to the wrong address. Upon realizing the error, Powell quickly contacted the client to alert them. What’s more, she provided assurances that the products would be delivered by the in-hands date. With the deadline imminent and no time to waste, Powell and the Inkhead team paid to have a new order shipped and rushed out to the customer. The shipment arrived on time.

The heavy-spending technology firm was impressed by Powell’s order-saving performance and continues to work with Inkhead. Ongoing deals include periodic reorders of the stress toys, which Inkhead has provided from the incorrectly shipped order (that was tracked down and stocked).  “We go above and beyond,” says Powell, “to stand by our word.”

Start Off Right

Long-term client loyalty starts at the outset of a business relationship. To begin well, approach the initial interaction as if it were a first date, says sales veteran Tom Latourette.

“Successful first dates start with a focus on the other person,” says Latourette, a managing partner at M3 Learning, a sales and management training company. “If we get them to tell us their dreams, desires and aspirations, they not only feel heard and appreciated, but we actually learn if they are someone we want to devote time and energy to.”

Good “first date” questions include queries that empower you to comprehend the buyer, their company, the organization’s challenges and how you can help. A sampling of questions to ask includes:

What are your/your company’s top goals over the next couple years?

What is your goal for this particular promotional event/initiative? What would you consider an ideal result?

Who is your audience?

How would you like your target audience to feel and act after receiving branded merchandise from you?

Why is it important to you and your company to generate this reaction in the audience? How does it help you meet broader company goals?

Have you done similar promotions in the past? What was the result?

How else have you used branded merchandise in the past? What worked well? What didn’t?

How would you benefit professionally if this promotion goes well?

What type of budget and timeframe are you working with?

Are there branding guidelines that must be adhered to?

Based on the answers, you can next ask solutions-oriented questions, such as, “If I could provide you with (give an example of a solution) that achieves (fill in the blank with specifics based on their main goals) for you, would that be acceptable?” If yes, then delve into the particulars of providing that solution. If not, ask more questions to drill to the core of what will work.

Bonus Tip

Get Embedded At Clients’ Companies

Work with multiple buyers at a single organization. That way, if one buyer leaves, you’ll remain plugged into the company and better positioned to win business from the person who will be taking the departing buyer’s place. Similarly, establish friendly relationships with people other than your buyer at client organizations, even if those people aren’t directly buying from you. Again, this will prove helpful in retaining a company’s business when there is turnover. 

Christopher Ruvo is senior writer for Advantages. Contact: Follow: @ChrisR_ASI