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Article -> Cultivate Customer Alliances

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Date Added: June 2007

As weekend gardeners know all too well, sweat and toil is pointless if we lack the patience to let our seedlings grow. Some may never materialize into what we’d like them to be. Others become more than expected.

The same philosophy is true with customers. Some partnerships never go anywhere or are not beneficial for either party. Others flourish immediately, as organizations find synergies where one’s expertise fills another’s opportunity.

Last month, a 6-step customer strategy process was discussed. One step of that process is prioritizing customers, and it deserves a closer look as it involves identifying the “right” customers. Too often, this is confused with customers that provide the most revenue or those that you’ve done business with the longest. Granted, your best customers may be either of these, though we encourage you to dig a bit deeper to determine if your highest revenue or longest-term customers are truly the “right” ones. 
While every organization is different, we encourage you to consider if your customers are the following:
Engaged. Are your customers emotionally engaged? Going beyond simply satisfied, engaged customers have an emotional attachment to your organization and brand. Research shows emotionally satisfied customers increased their spending by 67% during a 12-month period vs. only 8% by those that were not emotionally satisfied.
Mutually Profitable. Are your best customers taking advantage of every possible opportunity, holding you to impossible margins or making your life otherwise miserable? Likewise, are you truly adding value to them? If not, it may be time to reconsider if they are the right customers, regardless of the tenure of the partnership.
Culturally Aligned. Do you and your customers share similar beliefs and values? If not, it may ultimately damage the partnership. Culture may be intangible; however, organizations and their customers must have cultures similar enough to form long-term partnerships.
Committed. When working on a long-term project together, do your customers seem genuinely committed to the end result? Great partnerships stem from alignment toward a common vision and the dedication to its achievement.
Note that none of these items is “revenue.” Of course, customers have to provide some income, though if they do not meet other criteria, they may not be the “right” customers.
For customers that do fit the description, this partnership should be cultivated. Prioritizing customers must be part of your strategy. Now, asking them questions to meet their needs, listening to them, learning from them, and acting on this information are keys to growing the partnership.
Growing and cultivating customer partnerships takes patience and an understanding of the customer climate. The result is customer engagement. As is true for the gardener, you reap what you know.  
This article was published in the Green Bay Press-Gazette on May 20, 2007.
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