Maintaining and Expanding Your Customer Base Virtually
BY CHRISTINE TORRES
Published March 04, 2021
The times they are a-changing, and more so daily as manufacturers think differently about how to nurture client relationships beyond sales and marketing. Establishing ways to maintain customer relationships virtually can be challenging, but it’s become more important than ever. Carita Hyman, owner of 360 Outcome, which specializes in B2B sales, shares tips to stay connected to business and people authentically during these virtual times for the #USAMfgHour chat on Twitter.
Keeping in Touch
Building and strengthening customer relationships can be done in a virtual environment. However, the change of going from in-person meetings to getting comfortable using new digital tools can take some time. Mostly, it takes calm, thorough preparation. If you have an upcoming virtual meeting with a new prospect that you’ve only spoken to over the phone, you’ll want to be your best. What are some actions you can take to ensure you have an effective virtual meeting with a customer or prospect?
Rebecca Hart, marketing manager of Dynamatic - Drive Source International, said she likes to prepare by writing down a few key things from the previous chats with which you can relate. “Be personable and friendly,” she said. “Start with small talk. ‘How’s the weather?’ Laugh about technology hiccups.”
For Dan Bigger, director of sales and marketing at Chenango Valley Technologies, preparation is key. “You can check out their company website and profiles as well as personal profiles on social media, such as LinkedIn.”
“Communicate,” said social media intern Julianne Schaub of Striven Business Software. “Let the prospect know when and where to find the link, what you'll be talking about, and how long you might be. This way you both can prepare, and there's no awkwardness from figuring tech out.”
“Make sure you are prepared ... to listen,” said John Buglino, a marketing expert for Optessa.
“Research, research, and research,” said marketing manager Nicole Kangos at Snaptron. “Make sure you are comfortable with your virtual meeting platform. Make sure the presentation is customized to your prospect's needs, industry, etc.”
“Yes, if you are new to the platform, make sure you know what buttons to push, right?” said Ruby Rusine of Social Success Marketing. “Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. If you are doing a presentation, make sure that it looks like it's been respected. I typically give people the option to either do a phone meeting or a video meeting.”
“Always research to have a clear idea of who you are talking to, it will resonate well with the prospect/customer,” said marketing professional Robert Romo of Crescent Software. “Also, be sure to have a quiet place free of distractions when conducting the meeting. Show the customer/prospect that you care.”
“Prepare by learning about THEM! Review website, social media and google them,” said marketer Gail Robertson. “It will not only make them feel special but can save valuable time.”
“Lighting, background, dress for a meeting, smile,” said marketing director Gina Tabasso of Dar-Tech.
“Definitely let them know all the information they will need to participate in the meeting,” said multimedia specialist Julie Basello for Radwell International. “Nothing is worse than awkward silences while people struggle to connect.”
“It will help if you have ‘just in case’ questions to prod them,” Rusine added.
“Make sure I know who I will be talking to,” said the team at Artus Corp. “You don't want to get caught off guard and not know the people on the other end.”
“The best thing is to be relaxed on the call,” said Rebekah Mechtensimer, director at Empowering Pumps and Equipment. “Even virtually, people can see if you’re on edge also, turn your self-view off on your screen so that you can’t see yourself and only focus on them!”
“Identify the needs that customer has and how you're going to illustrate that you're the solution,” said BizzyWeb president Dave Meyer. “Your job is to listen - so check their online feeds, go through your CRM notes, and make sure you're hitting their real needs in your conversation.”
“You are spot on,” Hyman said. “Your job is to anticipate and prepare!”
There are quite a few things businesses can do to prepare for virtually meeting a prospect for the first time, she said. Here are a few basics:
- Use a video conference tool
- Test your technology
- Turn on your camera
- Be prepared
- Establish talking points
- Be personable
Customer relationships are important and so is showing them that you care, even in a pandemic. (Especially in a pandemic.) How can you show customer appreciation in a virtual capacity?
“I participate with them on social and build the relationships,” said CVT. “I also try to touch base with them often and visit whenever possible. A good way to do this is to deliver orders and say thank you.”
“We send goodie bags, recognition on social media pages, and definitely reach out with phone calls and emails,” said Radwell.
“Create a calm, open environment where they feel like they can be heard,” said Striven. “Don't wait to jump into the conversation, risk cutting them off. There's already a degree of separation with tech. be as open as you can and be flexible. Everyone is going through a lot.”
“Recognition on social media, a holiday card, a phone call or email, sending a giveaway to stay top of mind,” said Dar-Tech.
“This is gold,” Hyman said of the examples. “Customers want to feel important even when they aren’t purchasing your product.”
“Answer the email/call even if you don't have the answer they are looking for. There is nothing more frustrating than waiting for a response to an urgent message,” said Artus.
“Send a quick video message that is a nonsales pitch- an authentic, ‘How are you doing? I am here for you’,” said marketing specialist Shannon Simpson of DuraTech.
“Always be willing to accommodate,” said Crescent. “Be mindful of their availability & always make sure to check up on them every so often. We help companies streamline their business & provide updates to outdated software, a simple "how can we help you out?" goes a long way w/ them.”
“Keep them at the forefront of your conversation,” said DSI/Dynamatic. “Follow up with an email afterward. Send a small, emailed gift card as thanks, if appropriate, or a token with your logo on it in the mail.”
“One of the best ways to show you care is by being helpful - and personal,” said Meyer. “CRM is essential here: knowing birthdays, keeping track of favorite sports teams, pet projects - even pet names - and referencing those in conversations. Always make your outreach about THEM.”
“Can you collaborate on something, like a case study, that may benefit them? Be genuine in your desire to help them work through any problems they may have,” said Snaptron.
“Be present and attentive in meetings,” said Buglino. “Look for ways to communicate and keep in contact, aside from standing meetings.”
“Re-post their content to your own followers on social media,” said Janice McKee, a marketing expert at Burger & Brown Engineering. “They might even get some new customers out of it. That's good for everyone.”
Sam Gupta, a consultant at ElevatIQ, said that providing value customers care for is important. “(Be) understanding that the customer may be not as tech-savvy,” he said. “Be mindful of that, when you work with your customers.”
There are a few really awesome ways to show your customers how much you appreciate their business and their loyalty, Hyman said. “You’ll be surprised at how much impact the little things can have!”
- Offer a special discount
- start a customer loyalty program
- host a virtual happy hour
- engage with their social media
- send company swag
Be Helpful, Resourceful
Let’s say a customer is having an issue with a product they recently purchased for their production process. What are some ways you can handle this from your location virtually? If your customer is having an issue with a component, what are some ways you can handle a customer product concern virtually?
“We are doing most of this by phone,” said Dar-Tech. “Usually it is an issue with an invoice, an order, or a shipment. Recently, it's been with shortages in the industry. Email and phone mainly. They want quick. And with WFH (work from home) many aren't ready for an impromptu video.”
“All of the parts that we make are directly for our customers,” said CVT. “We keep quality samples here that we can refer to if there is an issue and handle it quickly. We have made mistakes in the past and they are often fixed within days.”
“A virtual call is effective for being able to understand feelings - easier to read body language and facial expressions,” said DSI/Dynamatic.
“Since our product is software a lot of the time our problem-solving solutions are entirely virtual, over the phone/computer,” said Striven. “We've made a lot of video content for users who are familiarizing themselves with our product too.”
“Have them show, through photo or video, or describe the issue at length,” Buglino said. “Make sure you have a member of the team that can help troubleshoot present so you can avoid the game of telephone + greater chance of resolution.”
“What John said!,” Snapton agreed. “It is so important to have the right people present to hear the issue. You don't want to have to set up another call.”
“Well this is where working in software comes in handy,” said Crescent. “Most of our customer's issues can be solved virtually anyway! We just gain access to their system along with a zoom meeting and discuss what needs to be done, then we go and fix the issues.”
“I make sure the problem can be solved by me... sometimes it can’t and I enlist a partner or will refer them to someone who can,” said sales expert Penny Rodden.
“If you use a system to track issues (@HubSpot has a great service module) you can assign a person to the customer and allow knowledge experts to chime in,” said Meyer. “If it's a simple fix, I like embedding video help vs. just replying with text. @vidyard makes this easy.”
“Screen sharing, annotations, pictures...seeing is believing,” said ElevatIQ.
“Great answers,” said Hyman. It also requires thinking like a customer. “It’s all about expressing genuine concern and having the ability to quickly resolve the issue, right? Customer Take: My problem should be your problem, fix it!”
Offer to assist with product concerns via video chat, this will show your customer that you want to quickly assist in resolving their issue, she said. “Or, make a helpful short video. Remember, you’re the expert on your product. Show them how to get the best results from it.”
Prospecting can be quite a task under normal/previous circumstances, but pandemic prospecting is a challenge. What are some actions that manufacturing companies can take to reach more prospects virtually?
“Sometimes it’s important to not stay in your lane,” Robertson said. “It’s good to get out and connect with people who may know people who can help you open doors. I talk about this in my keynote regarding something called social network theory! I am in this chat because of that! I’ve connected with people on Zoom, Twitter Spaces, Clubhouse, LinkedIn DM, Twitter DM.” She said she will attend virtual events and then connect with people from those events on social media.
“I admit, we don't really do this,” said DSI/Dynamatic. “Our prospective clients aren't virtual and don't often like to be. They struggle with technology. We reach them in other ways, such as a lead generation firm and finding them through other projects we've done. When we place a product in a company, they likely have connections to other businesses in the industry. We're not against asking the question: ‘Who do you know could benefit from eddy current technology?’ Sometimes we get referrals.”
“We have resorted to video. Tours of our plant, of our processes, and how we make what we make for our customers,” said CVT.
“Create Social Media connections, enhance the website to be more interactive- better user experience,” said DuraTech.
“Being online has allowed folks to reach further,” said Striven. “For social media, you get what you put in, and even then, it takes time to build that momentum. It's also a great way to build community morale because it's so easy to make someone's day.”
“There is a silver lining, the pandemic forced more people and businesses online,” said Mike Womack from NJMEP.org. “It's a perfect time to either initiate or double-down on a digital marketing strategy to improve inbound lead generation and outbound marketing efforts.”
“We've engaged a number of industry associations, trying to do more virtual events (like webinars/panels), and looked to social media to grow our community by connecting with people. I am also starting a few new things on the website to boost engagement/appeal,” said Buglino.
“Content marketing! What search terms are your prospects using to find your products and services? Then create helpful content and resources around those terms or questions,” said Snaptron.
“Trade publications, webinars, trade associations, email marketing, PPC,” said Dar-Tech.
“Yes,” said NJMEP. “No reason to rewrite the playbook. The fact that more people are being forced online means that these kinds of prospecting activities can actually be more effective.”
“I would say keep it brief and informative-communicate well and provide takeaways so the prospect can revisit their interaction with you after the meeting,” said Radwell.
“I attended a virtual tour of a company last week,” said Nick Rivers, sales at Obsidian Manufacturing. “I messaged the CEO after the tour and told him he did a great job - turns out he's in the market for one of our products! Whoop Whoop!”
“Look up Google's SEO document and follow the steps to improve your ranking,” said Burger and Brown Engineering. “Add metadata to your website and tag all of the photos inside the code. They tell you what they're looking for.”
“I think that some extra time lends itself to exploring new avenues, such as virtual,” said Artus. “Just ask @SoftwareStriven. I didn't know about anyone here on the #USAMfgHour chat until recently because "normal" times didn't leave me the options to explore online leads.”
“Holding webinars, collaborations with partners that serve the same market, good 'ol online advertising (Google has broad reach but lots of competition, LinkedIn lets you get laser-focused on your best customers but trends more spendy),” said Meyer. “Always add value! Help them.”
“Build thought leadership, build a community around your offerings, host happy hours, start a podcast, build authority on LinkedIn, and host and participate in Twitter chats,” said Gupta.
“Connecting with your prospects over social media is easy and effective, if done right,” Hyman said. Here are some great ways to use your social media platforms to reach your target prospects and customers:
- Post targeted creative content
- Go live from a job or project site
- Do a “How it’s Made”-style video to share your process
- Introduce your staff and their expertise
How can you interact more with customers and prospects, virtually? How can you use multiple platforms to target your audience? By using the right tools & resources, Hyman said.
What are some free or low-cost tools and resources to help maintain a virtual presence with customers?
“We love free and do not have much of a budget to work on,” said CVT. “We use the right social media outlets to post and engage existing and new customers. Also participating in events and networking. All FREE.”
“Get active on LinkedIn,” Snaptron said. “It's such an easy and passive way to connect with your customers and potential prospects. I'd also recommend a prospecting tool like Lusha. It provides contact information for prospects on LinkedIn. You get 5 free per month.”
“THIS CHAT! And all social media connections,” said Artus. “Without real networking events, you have to take advantage of any opportunity to connect!”
“It costs zero dollars to pick up the phone to check-in,” said Buglino. “You can also use social media and email to stay in front of your clients/prospects. to name a tool - have seen some awesome insights with #SparkToro. Get 10 free searches/month and they alert you when the account resets. Pretty nice.”
“HubSpot has a free CRM that I use with any of my clients that lets you track your contacts, capture emails and form-fills, and integrate with social,” said Meyer. “It's simple, very powerful, and grows as you grow.”
“Being active on social media has been a HUGE tool for us worldwide with our customers. Also, providing not just hard-selling content, but resources and information has been helpful (such as our blog and podcast),” said Radwell.
Hyman then shared her list of low-cost, super-effective tools for making sure that you can have successful virtual meetings, interactive social media accounts, and lots of awesome images to share online:
- high-quality digital camera and tripod (Nikon Coolpix)
- Social media content calendar (Hootsuite)
- Video conferencing tool
- Photo editing software
- Smartphone with lots of cloud storage
Having the right tools is so important. They don’t have to be expensive, just effective, Hyman said.
Anyone who champions U.S. manufacturing can join in on a new conversation each week on Twitter using the hashtag #USAMfgHour. The chat starts at 11 a.m. Pacific Standard Time/2 p.m. Eastern. Share positive blog posts, helpful articles, news, important information, accomplishments, events, and more with other manufacturers and supporters from throughout the country.