A customer connection

Liz WalzWhen my husband called me at work a few days ago, I could hear a smile in his voice. It wasn’t long before I found out why. He had spent the past hour talking shop with Dan Barnes, the co-founder of Velovie, an Arizona bike manufacturer. Now, Jason is the kind of consumer who can be either a company’s dream customer or its worst nightmare. When he walks into a store to make a purchase, he has done his research – sometimes several years’ worth – and often knows more about a product than the salesperson. While he’ll research any major purchase, from household appliances and power tools to cars and lawn tractors, his real passion for which he reserves the most focus and attention is cycling equipment.

Cycling is more than a form of fitness or a hobby for my husband. Though he has a full-time job – he and his father run their own growing medical distribution business – and he no longer races, he spends 10 to 15 hours a week on his bike and hours more participating in online forums and reading biking books, magazines, catalogs, blogs and tweets. He lives and dreams cycling.

But Jason had never purchased a bike from Velovie, and the call from the company seemingly came from out of the blue. It turns out that the bike manufacturer recently signed a sponsorship deal with Spinervals, which makes cycling DVDs for indoor training, a number of which we own.

“Mostly, it seemed like they were interested in who they were connecting with through this sponsorship,” Jason explained. “One of the cool things about it was that he didn’t ask me a bunch of questions, he just introduced himself, and we started chatting about bikes, equipment and technology, things like that. It wasn’t like a sales call. But in the end, the product ended up being the focus because they’re so passionate about it.”

Now, if I were a betting person, I would put my money on a Velovie as Jason’s next bike. While he had heard of the brand previously, it wasn’t really on his radar screen. But it’s all he’s been talking about since then. After years of researching other bike brands, all this small bike company did to win him over was take a sincere interest in him and his experience.

The lesson I take from this comes back to the power of sharing our own passion for the lifestyle with boating enthusiasts. It’s easy when times are good to take a moment out of your day to chat with a customer about their latest boat trip or the newest piece of marine technology. But perhaps it’s even more important to make that time today. By taking a sincere interest in your customer’s boating experience and sharing your own, rather than a sales pitch, you make it easier for your customer to identify with you, to let their guard down and get excited about something you have in common: a love of boating. Given the strain that economic conditions are putting on many of us, you may find that by feeding their passion for being on the water, you’re reminding them of the importance of a much needed escape from it all. The key is to be honest. Make it authentic.

As my husband said: “It’s nice to talk to someone who doesn’t agree with everything you say, who isn’t trying to give you the answer you want to hear.”

The trust and loyalty you get in return may surprise you.

Are you taking the time to make genuine connections with your customers outside the sales process? How are you making those connections? On the phone? At events? Online? Tell us about it.

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