Let's assume the product or service you sell is of high quality and holds significant competitive value.
You can add another important competitive barrier, and a differentiator, by turning your customers into advocates of your company.
Companies like Salesforce.com [my client] are supplying technology that enables companies to share information, solve problems and consult with customers in real-time. By example, Salesforce is now showing us how the pursuit of advocacy brings you even closer to your customers -- and augments traditional sales and marketing powerfully for this new age.
Essentially, when your customer is your advocate, he or she shares the good news with others. Also important: your customer advocate tells you first how well your product works and what will make it even better. A customer advocate is as committed to your company as you are to the relationship -- giving you, as Salesforce likes to say, a customer for life.
Show your customer you are listening. When a customer contacts you, respond immediately. Use the words your customer uses to describe a situation or to answer a question. Talk about the business and customer challenges. Ask about the team.
Be useful to your customer in a variety of ways. Read periodicals and blogs about his industry. Send her articles and site links that will help her do her job. Share stories about other customers that will spark ideas.
Connect to your customer beyond the sale. Send a one-line email or leave a short voicemail just to say hello. Follow the customer's blog, Twitter feed or Facebook page. Connect on LinkedIn.
Embrace your customer's culture. Pay attention to the office environment when you visit. Bring a small food gift that you know will be put to use in the kitchen. Acknowledge a dress code not by matching it exactly but by a slight adjustment to your own style. If the customer communicates only by email, use that; same if it's voicemail or text message.
Take up as little of your customer's time as possible. When you have a meeting or conference call, stay on point and only address product features if they relate to a specific topic. Stick to the agenda. Keep meetings under 45 minutes. Be on time.
Leave your customer wanting more of you and still blown away by your product or service. Be available and free with information, but be careful about sharing too much extraneous detail about your process. Share your successes and acknowledge that you couldn't have done it without him. Connect your experience with her -- and what you've learned from her -- to the success of your company.
Be where the customer is. If your customer is holding an event, buy a ticket. Buy his products, if appropriate, or share stories of people you know who use them. Make a business connection for her. Always demonstrate that the customer is front-and-center in your priorities -- that you appreciate the relationship -- and that the business you conduct is more than a transaction.