Meiseiwitz (2021) asserts that it is more expensive to acquire customers than to retain them. Competitors can replicate quality and price, but what they cannot duplicate is the engagement strategy.

There are many circumstances that can give a salesperson an opportunity to be accepted or supply an order for the first time. These could include, but are not limited to, the use of a penetration strategy, quality promise impression, or the existing supplier having their own challenges, or even unforeseen events. While winning a customer is the pinnacle goal of every salesperson, the long-term objective should be to ensure the customer is retained.

Creating a guarantee of profitable repeat purchases is one of the reasons why marketing professionals now have a seat in the boardroom. Yes, you heard me. Occupying the top position in strategically directing and aligning business operations. How is this possible? The ability to present figures like the customer lifetime value (CLV) of the 20% of customers that contribute 80% of company revenue as opposed to mere generalization of market happenings and a rainbow profile of customers.

Terms Defined

RM is defined as a management activity solely focused on establishing, nourishing, and constructing competitive and profitable customer relationships beneficial to all concerned stakeholders (Matsuoka, 2022).

Contrarily, TM is a marketing strategy that focuses on a one-time sales transaction rather than on returning customers for the future. In fact, this strategy does not aim to build a connection with customers (Ndubisi, 2018).

So many strategies can be applied to foster long-term relationships that eventually compel customers to keep returning for more services. The following are some practical strategies at the disposal of a profit and growth-oriented salesperson:

1. Functional Alignment with Marketing Goals

This strategy opposes the notion that sales is the sole responsibility of the sales department. Salespeople are often the first casualties in many failing organizations because of the perception that selling should be left to the sales department only. Therefore, there is a need for collective functional alignment towards marketing goals. Imagine a scenario where salespeople, having exhausted all tricks to win a long-time difficult customer, finally supply the specified first order only to be ambushed with damaging information, for instance, from the production department that producing the order is impossible due to various reasons or the order is produced well in time but does not meet the detailed specifications. Similarly, if the finance department does not provide a competitive price and flexible trading terms depending on the value of the business, it limits the chances of the salesperson to guarantee repeat purchases. Therefore, functional alignment with the strategic intent of the organization is necessary from which the marketing goals will be derived.

2. Proactive Approach

A salesperson should make things happen instead of waiting for them to happen. By physically examining the supplied orders or balances on the floor, a salesperson can correctly anticipate expected new orders. A reminder or follow-up based on factual figures of quantities motivates the customer to appreciate the support of the salesperson in ensuring there are no unwanted production interruptions. There are many advantages associated with being laser-focused on the customer’s stocks, such as avoiding or lessening production pressure on the supplier side if the customer realizes stocks have dwindled at the last minute. Giving enough time to production enables perfection that upholds the quality promise and eventually returns the customer.

3. Communication

A traditional approach to sales is to communicate only when another order is required. Trenggana and Cahyani (2020) proclaim that communication is the lifeblood of any successful transaction. Communication promotes connectedness between the salesperson and the customer. Constant communication enables the salesperson to stay abreast of what the customer is facing. This could be new prospective suppliers that have approached the customer, product performance feedback, anticipation of the next order, internal changes in the customer’s environment, and many others. If communication is current, order solicitation becomes easy as reference is made to the previous discussion. Furthermore, communication enables the salesperson to understand whether the customer is faithful or not regarding feedback on sales inquiries.

4. Understanding Customer Processes

It is vital to fully understand the production processes of the customers. Knowing where the products are applied, at what stage of production, and if possible, the dosage ensures technical assistance where necessary or where the customer has indicated having problems with the delivered products. Understanding usage in terms of quantities, for example, per day, month, as well as frequency is crucial information that the salesperson should optimize to estimate monthly, quarterly, and yearly consumption. Therefore, that information, if supplied back to the organization, allows every functional department to plan accordingly. By doing so, the salesperson is guaranteed to retain the customer.

5. Listening Skills

From time to time, customers can have issues, some positive while others negative. A salesperson should focus more on the negative sentiments and make efforts to convert them into opportunities for further business. At no point should the salesperson focus on winning an argument with the customers or try to be smarter. A customer will never be the denominator, hence the adage that a customer is always king. A strategically oriented salesperson converts the negative remarks of the customers into another precious chance for Kaizen (continuous improvement).

6. Partner and Appreciate Customers’ Milestones

It is a well-known thought marketing strategy that strengthens relationships by partnering or participating in celebrating customers’ milestones. This can be in the form of sending congratulatory media adverts acknowledging and highlighting the effort towards the achievement as well as the support the customer is giving to the business. As executives go through the reading and see the congratulatory messages, that alone further cements the existing relationships. In fact, this is another form of engagement, getting directly to the top key decision-makers over and above the buyer-seller level.

7. Measure Customer Satisfaction Levels

The sales journey is characterized by ups and downs. The coming in of new entrants and ever-changing customer tastes and preferences require measuring customer satisfaction levels. Drafting tailor-made questionnaires to find out more about product performance feedback, service delivery, and self-analysis of the key account salesperson in terms of relationships with the buying unit, communication style, and willingness to assist customers is a prerequisite. Another way to evaluate customer satisfaction levels is by creating a contract document for a quality service promise, which will be kept by the customer for updating based on experiences. By doing so, the customer will develop myopic behavior towards the supplier while neglecting possible profitable prospective suppliers.

8. Research and Offer New Insights

I am of the view that it is equally beneficial to share research findings with customers, such as new products which can be incorporated into the customers’ processes to either add value or reduce production costs. For example, a beverage raw material supplier researches and updates its customers on a new organic cost-effective preservative that can both add health benefits while reducing production costs. The customer will definitely feel valued if they receive new market updates from suppliers. Applying this strategy distinguishes the salesperson from the rest.

9. Engage Key Decision-Makers

It is vital for the salesperson to engage key decision-makers for guaranteed repeat purchases. In some organizations, the quality department might be the key decision-makers while the buyer will be just the conduit. While building connectedness with the buying unit, it is equally important to build relationships with key decision-makers.

A strategically aligned salesperson or department should go beyond transaction marketing and envision returning customers for profitable long-term customer lifetime value.

“RM is the panacea of keeping and returning customers.”

Misheck Nyawo. A certified MAZ chartered marketer, holder of a Higher National Diploma in Marketing (HND), Degree in Marketing (BCom), and Master of Business Leadership degree (MBL). Regional Sales Manager for Codchem Pvt Ltd