Building relationships with digital age customers

Every day I help businesses of all sizes better engage customers and improve sales. I’ve enjoyed a lot of success doing this work, but seeing independent businesses succeed is much of the reward.

As I prepared to speak this week at the annual Marine Dealer Conference and Expo in Orlando, Fla., I reflected on ways in which the businesses-customer relationship has evolved in recent years. Anyone who has heard me speak knows the emphasis I place on communication as fundamental to every relationship. That is something that hasn’t changed and probably won’t.

But in the digital age, people communicate differently and business – especially those that sell discretionary goods like recreational boats – must embrace those changes if they expect to thrive. There was a time when the sales person who knew the product best and was able to effortlessly spout facts and figures could be counted on to consistently make sales. But digital age consumers aren’t so easily impressed, and when purchasing durable goods, they often walk through the doors of a business armed with detailed product information stored in their smart phones.

They frequently have a good idea of what they want to buy and how much they are willing to pay for it. According to a study released by Forrester Research last year, buyers are often 70 to 90 percent into the sales process before they even engage a retailer. A Nielsen study found that consumers are five times more dependent on information than five years ago.

This presents opportunities and challenges for independent businesses. You can build more relationships and compete at levels not imaginable a decade ago, but only when you take advantage of opportunities to create new customer relationships and build relationships with existing customers.

At the heart of this is effective communication. It sounds simple, and in many ways it is. But sometimes it’s these simple techniques we need to learn and reinforce in ourselves and our sales teams.

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