There is no question about it: competition in the tech market is getting fierce.
So how do you stand out in a crowded marketplace?
Through the Cloud Profitability blog series, we have explored a number of different ideas on how to differentiate your business, from building intellectual property, to going vertical, and specializing in a technology area. But there is another crucial step that I want to explore: building trust through more consultative, long-term relationships with your customers.

How to build trust with your customers:

I had the pleasure of spending time in Dublin, Ireland with about 40 Microsoft partners just a few weeks ago. A number of partners I met with remarked on the importance of relationships in the selling process in Ireland. Patrick Leggett of Xperience Group shared this thought with me:

Trust does not come out of thin air. Instead, it is built over time—and it’s vital to lasting business success.
Here’s how you can begin to build more trustful, consultative relationships with your customers and business partners:

Step 1: Establish yourself and your team as thought leaders and experts.

There are three easy ways you can get started:
  • Define your brand and goals for engagement: Start off by defining what your company’s value proposition is and what you want to be known for. Determine what goals you have for social engagement.
  • Establish your presence through social channels: Ensure your website is a strong reflection of your company’s value proposition and build your business’ social presence on outlets like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Demonstrate your expertise by showcasing great content such as customer stories, whitepapers, blogs, and videos.
  • Listen, engage, and respond: Engage in social listening to understand the perceptions of your company and programs. When people ask you questions or provide commentary on your posts, follow up.

Step 2: Take a consultative sales approach.

A consultative sales approach starts with understanding customer needs: Think through what a customer is really concerned about and propose solutions that will address the core needs in their business.
Consider this example: when working on a new project, a partner asked their client, a bakery, to tell them the #1 concern their business had. The answer: profitability. After brainstorming all the possible ways to impact the bakery’s profitability, the partner created an analytics solution. The solution analyzed things like the weather, local sporting events, and holidays to predict the demand for baked items and minimize waste. Challenge yourself to think out of the box!
And, if your business is pursuing a vertical or industry focus, another great way to deliver a more consultative sales approach is to hire experts within your customers’ vertical or industry. If you are targeting law firms, for example, hire an attorney to do your selling. Customers want to feel like they are understood, and in highly specialized verticals, having someone on staff who is specifically trained in a particular area can make your business stand out from the competition—and position you to charge a premium for your services.

Step 3: Measure results.

In order to build long-term relationships with clients, it is important to demonstrate that you care about whether your work helped achieve your customer’s goals. At the onset of a project, set clear goals and key performance indicators (KPIs), and then track and measure progress. At the end of the project, if you haven’t achieved the results you set out to, openly discuss how to rectify the situation with your customer. Taking these steps will demonstrate your commitment to the customer’s success.

Step 4: Ask for feedback and measure customer satisfaction.

It is critically important that you have a mechanism in place to ask for feedback from your customers on a regular basis. If you provide managed services, this might entail asking individual users about their level of satisfaction with the service they received. If your business is more focused on providing project or professional services, consider sending out a satisfaction survey or setting up a meeting at the completion of your project to collect feedback. Another strategy is to conduct annual or bi-annual surveys with all of your customers to gauge satisfaction from your customer base as a whole.
But remember: it is not enough to simply measure satisfaction, you must act on the feedback you receive. Follow up with customers to demonstrate that you are taking measures to address any concerns they might have.
The bottom line is that winning—and keeping—business in the cloud world is increasingly contingent on building trust and strong relationships with customers.
If you’ve got questions or feedback, please feel free to reach out anytime via email, Twitter, or LinkedIn.