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There have been a number of articles on how to win customers, namely, in this unsexy business of electronic document management (EDM) or electronic content management (ECM). It is, indeed, a difficult area, but most of the success stories do not have anything to do with technicalities or even money; they are directly related with the individual.

Life provides all of us with a win-win context, but one must be paying attention. Usually, in the commercial environment, there are situations that make us happy (we win) and others that allow us to learn (we lose). Losing or falling down is all part of the learning process. There is no shame in that. It is not the number of times we fall down that counts; what really counts is how fast we get up again and properly understanding the reasons that took us down in the first place.

There are a number of milestones we must achieve before we can have that new, happy customer.

1. Love what you do
It is not possible to pass on the enthusiasm we have about a product or service if we are not enthusiastic ourselves. The potential customer will never buy anything if he/she is not enthusiastic too. Forget it.

When I talk about enthusiasm, I do not mean impulse. No customer will ever install a corporate-wide EDM solution based on impulse, but they will do it if they're enthusiastic about it—if they talk to a passionate specialist who clearly shows how complex solutions can be easily installed and configured. In order to do that, you must love what you do.

2. Be the best in class
It is common to say that it is a best practice to know your competition well. For myself, I do not believe in “standard” best practices. I believe in prudent practices and knowing the tools of your trade well. If your services and attitude are different from anyone else, there is no competition; hence, there is no one to study. One of the issues we run into is having our information well-organized in order to respond promptly and properly to a request. The "best in class" will not invent answers to difficult questions; there is no shame in confessing you do not know the answer but know someone who does.

3. Go after your ideal real customer
Many years ago, someone gave me a pearl of wisdom: We have about five hours of real selling time in front of a potential customer per week. So, it is of maximum importance that we choose wisely who we are talking to, because if we spend those five hours with the wrong customers, we do not sell that week. Never fall into the trap of ignoring your real potential customers because you are going after the ideal ones.

Sooner or later, we come to the point where we must get in contact with these potential customers—from the trivial cold call to networking clubs. It is important to remember this, though: Once you enter the office of someone you have never met, you essentially have three minutes to define your future relationship with that person.

4. Yes, it is personal
Our EDM business places suppliers at the same level as customers. Customers have problems that require a supplier’s solutions. It is, indeed, a partnership and one that is supposed to last for many years, because one does not change EDM every year. Therefore, the person in the customer’s organization needs to trust the person in the supplier’s company. It is all about personal trust. This is why maintaining a personal relationship is important for business, but all within reason. There is a fine line separating a nice, personal relationship from an abusive one.

5. The solution is not the tool, but the tool matters
A solution is what allows a customer to solve his/her problems and use its intrinsic benefits. Having said this, please note that a solution and the tool, or tools, that support it are absolutely different concepts. To create a solution in EDM, one needs the ability to perform an acute analysis of what exists, to ask the correct questions in order to understand where the customer needs to go (which is different from where the customer wants to be), to have organizational knowledge in order to discuss processes and, finally, to know enough about the tools in order to configure them correctly for the purpose. It is not the solution that is dependent on the tool but the other way around; we must choose the correct tools for the best solution possible.

6. Production is just the start
The serious relationship with a customer does not end when the solution goes into production. This is when the relationship really starts. The supplier must keep the customer confident in the support available to him/her, any day, anytime. A lot of questions, doubts and requests for advice will arrive after production starts. If the supplier receives an email during the weekend, that email should be answered, if at all possible, during the weekend. This attention makes the difference and, eventually, will place the supplier in front for other solutions that the customer never before considered.

An excellent personal relationship with your customers will support you, namely, when there are different brands and products priced at different levels. Remember, a reputation takes a very long time to build, but it just takes a couple of seconds to be shattered. This is why it may be preferable to lose a particular business but never, ever betray the customer’s trust.

Joao Penha-Lopes specializes in document management since 1998. He holds two postgraduate degrees in document management from the University Lusofona (Lisbon) and a PhD from Universidad de Alcala de Henares (Madrid) in 2013, with a thesis studying the economic benefits of electronic document management (EDM). He is an ARMA collaborator for publications and professionally acts as an advisor on critical information flows mostly for private corporations. Follow him on Twitter @JoaoPL1000.

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