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Never Lose Another Customer. Ever

This month I'd like to open my column with a joke:

"A guy dies and goes to heaven. At the Pearly Gates, Saint Peter says: 'Although you qualify for heaven, I'll give you the option of staying here or going to hell. I'll even let you spend a day in each place before you decide." So the dead man spends the first day in heaven, which is quiet and relaxed. On Day Two, one of Satan's sales reps shows the guy around hell - where everyone's partying like it's 1999.

"On the third day the dead guy informs Saint Peter: 'As much as I always wanted to go to heaven, the folks in hell really know how to have a great time. I'd rather spend eternity there.'

"Immediately, Satan's sales rep reappears and escorts the guy to hell, where he's shackled to a stone wall. 'Here's your new home!' the man is told. 'But wait! You can't do this!" the guy yells. "I was here just yesterday, and everyone was having a wonderful time. What's going on?'

"Satan's sales rep says: 'Yesterday you were a prospect. Today you're a customer.'"

Of course, this joke is funny - but it's also not a far cry from what happens in real life for many distributors' operator-customers. Too often the focus is on customer acquisition, rather than customer retention. During the customer courtship, you want to know everything about the customer. But as soon as the relationship is consummated, you begin to cast about for another new customer - forgetting all about "the one who pays the bills." Sound familiar?

My personal philosophy on customer relationships can be summed up in two sentences:

  • Customers will only pay for what they cannot - or will not - do for themselves.
  • All things being equal, customers will return to the place that they have been made to feel special.

    Two sentences. Anything else just overcomplicates what should be a really basic proposition. Simple, of course, assuming your customer knows what he wants. Which brings me to helping your customers see you as "not just another foodservice distributor."

    What problem are you trying to solve?
    Not surprisingly, successful companies see their business through the customers' eyes. Or as advertising legend David Ogilvy used to say, "People don't buy drills, they buy holes."

    Ask yourself: What's the hole that your customer is trying to drill? And more importantly, why do they need a hole in the first place? Now, what are you going to do about it?

    One of my favorite selling tools is the SWOT analysis. Click
    here to download.

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