No matter how well-developed your relationships with current or prospective clients were before transitioning to online-first initiatives, you’ll find that there are plenty of ways to nurture meaningful connections from a distance. In fact, some simple strategies can even help you attract new customers and grow your client base from afar. The key is simply to consistently help steer partners towards winning solutions, create compelling reasons to stay in touch, and apply creative ways to show your customers that you appreciate their business and value their input.
If you’re looking for virtual relationship best-practices, consider the following tactics:
1. Create good reasons to be in contact.
We’re all being asked to do more with less these days, even while operating under tighter time crunches and greater constraints. To improve your chances of snagging time on clients’ schedules, make them a time-, effort-, or money-saving offer that they can’t refuse. For example, you might offer customers access to exclusive research, training workshops or educational programs that help them greet pressing challenges. Alternately, you might hold a virtual get-together or an exclusive webinar and offer a sneak peek at new announcements or the chance to get in early on a new pilot program.
The key here is to be creative in approach and clear-cut in terms of the value that you will add. However you craft your pitch, no matter if it’s a curated VIP virtual experience (such as live-streamed keynotes or fireside chats) or an invite to join a members-only online forum, your focus should be on quickly solving clients’ problems. The faster your team can help customers get access to the tools and insights they need while juggling the day-to-day grind, the more trusted a resource you’ll be.
Tactical takeaway: Rather than attempt routine check-ins with clients, instead create cleverly-packaged offers that help customers solve pressing problems—then creatively pitch these programs as can’t-miss insights, educational programs, and events.
2. Make a point to show your appreciation.
With everyone working long hours, it also pays to remind clients that their business is greatly appreciated and that you’re always thinking about them. One simple way to do this is by mailing promotional items, care packages and free giveaways tied to current topics or trends your firm is promoting. For example, if you can’t grab meals or refreshments with your clients in-person, why not invite them to catch up online and have some favorite local foods shipped to their doorstep? Or send a clever care package, like a gift basket that features books, movies, and snacks, coupled with clever company-branded keepsakes.
Giveaways don’t always have to be physical in nature, either. For instance, complimentary tickets to online seminars, free credits for useful software tools and free access to digital certification programs can also go a long way to helping you score bonus points. Mailers don’t have to be over-the-top or expensive, either. The goal is simply to be thoughtful in terms of your theme, personal in your messaging and unexpectedly creative in your presentation so as to be memorable. The more you follow this simple formula, the more you can help brighten your customers’ day.
Tactical takeaway: Create fun, quirky and heartwarming mailers to surprise and delight your customers (and help you stay on their radar) with a message of appreciation or unexpected goodwill and cheer.
3. Become a go-to source of insight and education.
Of course, another great way to become a welcome sight in anyone’s inbox is to help them work smarter and constantly steer them toward helpful solutions. Simple ways to do this might include offering clients instructional programming surrounding trending topics, such as video tutorials or virtual workshops; providing them with online learning resources, communities and platforms through which to share tips and best practices; or using your company website as a content publishing platform and asking your team (each a subject matter expert, presumably) to regularly post articles and how-to guides on trending topics. This content can also be adapted into e-books and whitepapers for free giveaways, helping drive further customer engagement at a later date as well.
Finding ways to establish and strengthen customer relationships in a virtual environment is more challenging than in the physical world. But just because much of the interaction that you’ll be pursuing will inevitably take place online, that doesn’t mean it’s any less important.
Likewise, many organizations are also moving away from simply promoting solutions or parroting back breaking news to transforming their newsletters and social media channels into sources of quick-hit insight and analysis that rapidly summarize the latest industry developments, assess their commercial impact, and offer actionable business takeaways, helping to create value for subscribers. Again, the more you work to establish yourself as a trusted partner with meaningful insights to share, the more that customers will want to hear from you.
Tactical takeaway: Distill your expertise and insight into articles, guides, e-books, whitepapers, social media posts, videos and other snackable content that can quickly steer clients towards the answers they need to help deal with ongoing challenges and disruptions.
4. Shine a spotlight on your clients.
In addition, many businesses are also finding an equally simple, cost-effective way to strengthen relationships and stay top of mind is just to shine the spotlight where it counts—on their clients. You can do the same by crowdsourcing stories and contributions for promotional campaigns, partnering to raise awareness for customers’ commercial and social efforts, or creating formal channels (such as dedicated sections within your company's website or official publications) for sharing client interviews and insights.
Similarly, you might also team up with customers to build community-focused initiatives—like funding and relief programs, educational ventures or charitable efforts—that highlight partners’ efforts to support your industry, and that are managed by working groups and committees staffed by pools of volunteers from these vendors.
Tactical takeaway: Establish partner-focused programs and publishing channels that put customers (and customer stories) front and center to show your appreciation, offer support and build awareness for their hard work and efforts.
5. Source partner feedback and input.
Customers also often relish the chance to be the first to road test new products, services and solutions, as well as offer suggestions that can help shape these offerings for the better. One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to strengthen client relationships is simply to invite your partners to participate in early product or service trials prior to formally launching these initiatives and ask them to offer their feedback. Not only does doing so frequently help engender goodwill, it can also allow you to source vital feedback in advance that can help you improve these business efforts for the better while simultaneously reinforcing to clients that their opinion matters.
Advance trials don’t just provide a chance to see how well new solutions are performing and the way in which customers tend to use them in context—they also provide a way to reward loyal customers with the chance to participate in an exclusive, invite-only program that makes them feel appreciated, and like their voice is being heard, which is among the most important points to establish when you’re seeking to grow or build any successful business relationship.
Tactical takeaway: Invite clients to offer feedback and input into the development process, create more opportunities for customers to share their opinion and look for ways to promote greater ongoing collaboration.
Finding ways to establish and strengthen customer relationships in a virtual environment is somewhat more challenging than in the physical world. But just because much of the interaction that you’ll be pursuing will inevitably take place online, that doesn’t mean it’s any less important. The way forward in challenging times is always to work together—and, as ever, you and your customers can continue to do so successfully simply by looking for clever and creative ways to work (albeit digitally for the moment) hand-in-hand.
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