And then I read The Challenger Sale, a book by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, and it changed my perspective forever.
In the book, Dixon and Adamson present the findings of a customer loyalty study. They found that the combined impact of company and brand impact, product and service delivery, and value-to-price ratio accounted for just 47% of customer loyalty to a particular company.
What? 47%? That can't be right. Surely people remain loyal to a company's products mostly because they like the products, right? Wrong.
The remaining 53%? That was directly attributed to the "sales experience."
In other words, if you work for a company with a rock-solid reputation that makes a truly remarkable product and prices it at a level the market believes is fair, you are only less than halfway toward creating the kind of loyal, repeat buyers every business longs for.
I confess that I never realized how critical the buying experience was to the success of my company.
We make a CRM product in a very crowded market, and we've worked hard to create features and benefits that truly help the people who use our software. But I realize now that a great product isn't enough; I have to make sure the process of buying our product and being our customer is also exceptional.
Confronted with that revelation, we took a hard look at the buying process for our company.
In the end, the three most effective things we did were really pretty simple, and I want to share them with you. Each is a strategy that any company could implement or adapt to its own sales process; and all have done wonders for our results.
1. Experience the buying process yourself
When we started looking at the buying experience, we realized we didn't even have the full communication picture mapped out anywhere.
So the very first thing we did was to pull out a credit card and walk through the sign-up process ourselves.
It was an eye-opening experience. Nothing was particularly wrong with our process, but I saw right away all kinds of things I wanted to improve.
I still have a file with screenshots taken at every step of the process, including the automated emails and thank-you pages we saw along the way, and we made all kinds of tweaks to the timing and wording of the messages our new customers received.
2. Add a personal touch
We still have automated emails from "The Stride Crew," which we like to send when a user signs up. I like that phrasing because it's informal and yet still professional.
But we also realized we were missing an opportunity to really connect with our new users on a personal level. So we added a few personal touches to our automated messages.
For example, 15 days after people sign up for a new account, they get a personal message directly from me. I ask them how their new account is working for them and whether they have any questions.
That little email gives people a chance to connect directly with me, a real person, and not just our company.
And it works! Every day I get emails from people responding to that email, and it always starts up a nice conversation. I'm often able to help people get more out of our tool through these conversations, and it helps us convert more people from our free trial to our paying membership.
Not bad for a single automated message.
3. Notice problems and offer help
When users sign up for our tool, we're able to see how much they use it, and if they're using it as it was designed.
One of the most common things we see is someone who's manually entering data that we know can be handled automatically in the system. When we see these patterns, we reach out and offer help.
People love this. It makes them feel like they're valued, and it lets them know we're paying attention. It's also just fun. I don't know too many things that feel better than surprising someone with something that makes their life a little better.
I would encourage you to take stock of the buying experience your customers go through. As you go through the process, notice how you feel at every step along the way.
If your experiment goes the way ours did, you'll quickly find all kinds of places where you can improve the experience or add a personal touch, or both.
And after you've worked through the actual buying process, think also about the experience of your regular customers, those who come back to you over and over again.
What do those people need that you could help them with? If you don't know, can you think of a way to observe them for a while and find out?
Remember, 53% of customer loyalty comes from the purchase experience. It's critical that you get it right.
When we took the time to take these steps, the result was more and happier customers. I hope you find they produce similar results for you.