Get to know your customers before the competition does

Ask questions to build trust and uncover new opportunities.

Eric Brandenburg

Eric Brandenburg | COMMERCIAL PROGRAM MANAGER

Have you ever pulled into a McDonald’s drive-thru only to immediately hear, “Would you like to try the McRib?” If you’re like me, it feels like an awkward way to greet someone. I can’t remember ever taking the offer. That specific question asked at that point in the ordering process seems focused on helping McDonald’s reach its goal to sell more McRib sandwiches and make more money. It does not consider my goal, which is to order a Big Mac. More effective and appropriate questions include…

  • Can I please take your order?
  • Do you have any questions about the menu?
  •  Are you interested in hearing about today’s special deals?

When we don’t take time to get to know our commercial and retail customers, we give the impression that we’re focused on our goals instead of their best interests. If you don’t know and understand their businesses, you may simply be the person with whom they place their orders rather than a valuable resource. This may work with some customers, but in general it decreases your value as their Dealer. When the competition swoops in with a lower-priced product, the customer is much more likely to leave AMSOIL. When you don’t know your customers, it makes it difficult to help them reach their goals, solve problems and help them save money.

My colleagues and I have spent considerable time working in the field with Dealers to better know some of our largest commercial customers. We’ve found plenty of opportunities to improve relationships and ultimately gain additional trust and business.

We often find that AMSOIL products account for just a small percentage of a customer’s lubricant needs. We may provide motor oil, but we are missing out on transmission fluid, gear lube, coolant, filters, grease and other opportunities. The customer may operate additional machinery that requires other lubricants or fuel additives. However, we can’t simply expect this business to fall into our laps – we need to earn it. But it’s difficult to earn that business if we haven’t invested time getting to know the customer.

Sometimes you may derive a feeling of comfort in not knowing your customer. You see the customer’s name on your Dealer Zone reports. They call you periodically to place an order. Things must be going well. Why rock the boat?

If you have a good customer, but you’re not taking time to understand his or her business, it’s often a matter of time before your competition steps in to fill the void. Your customer may have concerns about pricing, require bulk dispensing equipment or need updated promotional items. Dealing with such questions or requests may be a challenge, but these issues don’t go away on their own. And, if they do, it’s probably because your competition did something about them. Knowing your customers’ needs provides a chance to provide value, which in turn increases your chances of keeping your customers. Uncovering your customers’ needs after they’ve stopped ordering is too late.

So, how do you get to know customers? It’s simple: invest time with them to ask questions and have conversations.

Tell them you want to better understand their business and determine if there are ways you can help them solve problems or reach goals. Having this conversation in person is always best. That’s easy if the business is local, but out-of-town accounts present more challenges. Email your contact and ask to setup a phone conversation. Skype or Facetime are also great options. Again, just let them know that you’d like a few minutes of their time to better understand their business and help uncover ways you can help them save money. Conduct Internet research to learn about each customer. In some cases, you can use your research plus periodic phone calls to build a solid relationship. If the customer has been paying you hefty commissions for some time, however, consider investing in a yearly visit, even if they aren’t local. Doing so can pay great dividends.

Getting to know your customers is an important part of developing a longterm relationship. Doing so makes it much easier for that customer to tell the competition, “No thanks.” While any McDonald’s will do when you’re looking for a Big Mac, as a Dealer, you want to be like the restaurant people drive across town to visit due to great service – the place where the servers know your name and remember your order.

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