Joe Gidard earned himself the title of Guinness Book of Records “best salesman in the world” for 12 years running, selling more than 13,000 cars during his career at a Chevrolet dealership in Eastpointe, Michigan. Gidard’s sales technique was a typical example of a “small town mentality” when it came to customer relationships. He put time into building individual relationships with each new client and painstakingly maintained them to make sure they didn’t stray. And that was all before the internet, client databases and CRM systems were there to help.

Nowadays, the business landscape is very different, but the importance of customer relationship tasks remains the same. In this article we will show that the principles for achieving customer loyalty remain the same, but have been made considerably easier for SMBs due to technological advances.

1. Never forget an important date

According to Entrepreneur Magazine, one of the most important lessons that an SMB can learn is to make contact with a customer as soon as a client steps foot out the door. One of Gidard’s trade secrets was the almost obsessive level of contact he kept with his clients. Gidard allegedly sent 13 cards to each of his clients every year. A card for every month of the year, plus one for their birthday.

Gidard’s checklist for contacting clients went as follows:

  • Keep in touch with people regularly (every month or two months)

  • Send them “Thank you” notes.

  • Send them season’s greetings.

  • Send them news and information that will be beneficial to them.

  • Send them promotional gifts or free goodies.

Considering that Gidard worked by appointment only and during the pre-computer age, and still would sell on average 6 cars per day (the national average stands at 10 per month), his level of dedication and record keeping is incredible.

Fast forward to now. New tools are automating some of the all-time great ways to build loyal customers. Instead of sending a message every month, SMBs can use their client databases and CRM software to record special dates such as the 6 month and year anniversary since the first purchase, along with birthdays and other special occasions.

Recognizing anniversaries and other milestones creates an emotional experience with a brand, yet companies must be careful that messages and gifts appear personal, rather than sent by a computer. Whenever possible, add individualized touches based on your interactions with the client or personal information you have about them.

2. Keep your ear to the ground

In the past, salesmen like Gidard relied on the gift of the gab and a great memory to chit-chat with confidence with each client that walked through the door. Finding out the word on the street about new competition, or whose clients were happy or unhappy, was only achieved by probing for information or listening to the gossip in the local bar.

Now, rather than relying on the local busybody, we can do the majority of our customer interaction and information gathering from the safety of our computer screens.

While social media is a great way to connect with customers, it can require a lot of extra work to manage multiple accounts. Rather than bombard clients with offers and photos on Facebook, SMBs can use social media to keep an eye on what competitors are up to, what people are saying about them, what’s working and what’s not.

Nowadays, we have a range of social media monitoring tools like hootsuite or sproutsocial at our disposal. Looking inwards, companies can use these tools to target vocal customers, monitor what is being said about their company, and see how clients respond to deals and promotions.

Looking outwards, these tools can monitor keywords, follow the social media campaigns of competitors, and use hard data to see whose advertisements are getting more hits.

When it comes to providing the best service, deals and offers in today’s modern world, it is wise to keep to the “small town mentality”: Focus on your own customer’s opinions and keep up with your main competitors’ progress.

3. Make it a two-way street

Successful companies know the importance of customer feedback. They don’t just collect it, they also use it in real time to make improvements and strengthen relationships. Moreover, customers like to feel important and appreciate being asked for their opinions.

Taking a leaf out of “small town mentality” sales tactics, the golden rule remains, “when is doubt, ask your customers.” Chances are that you don’t have time to ask every customer for their individual opinions, but once again, technology has your back.

SMBs can use a range of customer feedback apps, along with survey pop-ups integrated into company websites. SMBs whose businesses are primarily brick-and-mortar rather than online can use apps like uservoice or surveymonkey to send surveys directly to a client’s email after a purchase, and surveys can also be sent on a 6 month basis to maintain relationships. Make sure to keep surveys short, sweet and to the point.

While the sales playing field has changed dramatically since the onset of computers, the essence of the game remains the same. However, earning long-term clients is more difficult today than in ages past because there is more competition. That said, with the lessons from successful businessmen of the past combined with the helping hand of new technologies, there is still hope for businesses of all shapes and sizes to create quality relationships with clients.