John-Paul Narowski is the founder of karmaCRM, a simple Web-based CRM software focused on small businesses.


The days of high-pressured sales pitches by suave looking salespeople are over. You can thank the Internet for that. Nowadays, sales competition is fierce across industries, and a popular way to get ahead is through customer service-driven business models.

You can generate sales via customer service in a variety ways – from transforming customers into evangelists to converting users into channel partners – but the way to get there is tricky.

Selling through customer service requires a lot of homework. You need to listen and study customers to provide them with answers to their challenges (before they ask questions). Forget psychological sales tactics, this how-to guide will provide the tips necessary to forge game-changing customer relationships.

Selling through evangelists

Zappos is the poster child when it comes to selling through customer service. In a risky and ingenious move, the company closed down the most profitable division of their company; ending the days of shipping directly from its vendors inventory.

Zappos knew it wanted to be a customer service-driven company. So, in order to provide the worlds best customer service, it needed to fully control the order lifecycle. By deciding to warehouse everything themselves, it reduced errors, provided lighting fast shipments, and was able to offer free shipping to and from customers.

By focusing on customer service instead of just making money, Zappos created a passionate, recurring customer base. Many of these customers not only became customers for life, but also ardent evangelists, practically selling the shoes for Zappos.

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Studies show that consumers trust recommendations from their loved ones above all else. In a 2012 study, Nielsen reports that 92 percent of people globally trust word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family.

To give an idea of how effective referrals can be, one of our karmaCRM customer evangelists has referred seven accounts to us. Of those seven, six have signed up for a paid package – all having upgraded within two weeks of their trial, and all still paying subscribers today. It goes without saying, but that blows our typical trial-to-activation percentage out of the water.

Selling through listening

You don’t sell through customer service by pitching features and selling solutions, you do it by listening. Put the customer in the driver seat by being their ally, learning about who they are and what problems they need to solve. The customer should feel in control of the process. The best thing about selling through customer service is that it’s not selling at all.

The less you focus on selling and the more you focus on simply supporting your customer, the more likely they are to trust and purchase from you. During the onboarding process, one of our customers first interactions with us was a suggestion. We promptly responded to the ticket, but instead of just saying thanks for the suggestion, we asked him for more detailed information, emphasizing our value of his opinion.

This one little additional question lead to a phone call, which lead to multiple conference calls, and a strong relationship between our companies.

This relationship hasn’t simply helped us address a few minor issues, it helped us mold an entire section. Asking for someone’s opinion, and being genuinely interested in what they have to say is powerful.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to actually live by it: 1) build a system to gather and organize feedback like uservoice.com; 2) make it a point to implement customer suggestions; and 3) establish a process for notifying customers when their feedback has been addressed.

Selling through complaints

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When handled the right way, a customer complaint can often be a better sales opportunity than a highly qualified new business lead. Upset customers often have an apprehensive mindset about the outcome of their dilemma. This is the perfect opportunity to listen, react quickly and show them that they matter. People no longer expect companies to be perfect, they expect humility.

Surprisingly, when complaints are properly handled, you can gain a far more loyal customer than if there were no issues at all. Now, don’t go causing issues simply to solve them, but understand this is a delicate part of the sales process. You have the opportunity to make yourself and your company look like a hero.

A real world example

A few months ago, we had a short service outage. During this time, the support team was fielding support tickets, calls and live chat pertaining to the outage. One of our customers contacted us about a non-related problem, and it would have been easy to tell her we had bigger issues at the moment, but the support team felt like this was an important issue to address and helped investigate.

It turned out that the woman’s issue was a quick fix, and she was going to be presenting our product to a very large audience the next day (hence, why she was looking for prompt assistance). She was blown away at how invested we were in helping her out during a stressful time, she wrote us an unsolicited a customer testimonial!

The next day, she presented our product to a large group of real estate agents. Within days, we had an influx of real estate agents sign up. In addition to this presentation, she hosts at least six presentations a year, all of which we’ve been featured at, and all of which have helped us generate great leads.

Conclusion

Bringing it back to Zappos, the company is proof that selling through customer service works. Don’t take my word for it; ask Amazon, who acquired Zappos in 2009 for $807 million dollars. It didn’t buy Zappos so to leverage channel partners, it bought Zappos because of its culture and alignment on customer service values.

This alignment and mutual respect allowed Amazon to leave Zappos largely intact and autonomous, instead of a controlled subsidiary.

When done right, this practice is a clear win-win. Not only does it help you directly grow your revenue, it is incredibly rewarding to be able to focus your energy on supporting instead of selling to your prospects.

We share customer successes, feedback, and shout-outs daily in our meetings. Each word is equivalent to pouring gasoline on our fire, inspiring us to work harder, make more people happy, and build a better company. Even though we’re a sales tool ourselves, we don’t ever plan to have a sales team. We can do this because we have everything we need to grow within our customer success team.

I encourage you to try it! Start simple by focusing on creating a single evangelist, go above and beyond one time and see how it spreads like wildfire.