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How Helpfulness Wins Hearts and Sales

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Taxi Mike, Geek Squad and Vanderbilt University Medical Center take the same successful approach to stand out from their competition, and you can too. Like you, they realize that traditional selling is dead in our digital world. Potential buyers can quickly compare products, as Daniel Pink eloquently suggests in To Sell is Human. Yet, unlike these three very different organizations, surprisingly few others have turned this truth into an opportunity to become the top-of-mind choice for their kind of customers.

What's their secret? They understand that extremely relevant helpfulness is not only the most human way to attract customers but it is also the best way to keep them loyal as Jay Baer demonstrates in his new book, Youtility. As Baer suggests, "Sell something, and you make a customer. Help someone, and you make a customer for life."

Stand out by adapting one of these partnership-based ways to be more helpful than your competition, on-line and in-person:

1. Coddle Your Biggest-Spending Customers
Offer a gift with the purchase of a "bundled" collection of your services or products. Your gift is provided by your partnering business. Your clients can receive it by taking the gift card you give them to the partner's outlet. You reciprocate providing a gift of equal value to your partner's clients who walk in your door to receive it. Of course, you can replicate this method online. With this approach, you give customers more reason to buy more at one time and you get introduced to your partner's biggest spenders.

2. Serve Those in Difficult Situation Better Together
After watching her mother staining clothes while taking her dialysis treatments several times a week, Megan Stengel and her partners began designing functional yet attractive clothing with hidden zippers and other alterations. Their firm, Libre Clothing, now partners with grateful dialysis clinics, hospitals and the National Kidney Foundation to make it easier and more comfortable for their "mutual market" of patients to undergo chemotherapy, dialysis or other treatments requiring intravenous lines, catheters or infusion tubes. Hint: when you provide a first-of-a-kind combined service you are often a magnet for media coverage, especially if your helpfulness supports those in a dire situation.

3. Reduce Hassle
From plumbing to painting and landscaping, many home buyers want to quickly spruce up the place. Realtors who've carefully vetted the best fix-up service professionals can make those tasks more seamless for the new owners. Plus, setting the bar high for quality work in serving the same kind of customer or situation can spur trusted cross-referrals among those service providers. It can also deepen the trust among those they serve and boost the possibility that their customers will also refer others. How can you reduce the number of steps that your kind of customer must take, related to your kind of product or service, and increase their comfort in taking those steps?

4. Add an Unexpected Delight
What if a hotel chain created tastefully-designed "wall stores" in their lobbies, featuring locally-made art and packaged food for guests to buy? Guests could view the items, with brief descriptions and prices, and have the front desk add their purchases to the hotel bill. The hotel could email the purchase record both to a local UPS or similar service that would mail the package, and to an accountant who would track purchases and make payments to the partners in this service, plus prepare tax records for them. But that's just the start of this helpfulness service. The hotel chain could also provide an online store where anyone could choose from any of these unique, local specialties, tied to a locale and the hotel in it, thus creating:
• A new profit center for the hotel
• Heightened interest in the locale, thus providing another reason for guests to visit the area and stay at their hotel
• A reason for the creators of the featured products and their fans and friends to recommend the wall store and the hotel

What added feature could your walk-in business provide, via partners, to be more helpful or customer-delighting? How could you grow the value and visibility of that feature online?

5. Co-Locate to Better Serve Your Mutual Market

In a time-pressed world, literally getting closer to those who serve your kind of customers creates a stronger customer magnet. Naturally, you can then co-locate and cross-link online and via situational and location-based mobile apps. To prime the pump of your thinking, here are some real life examples:

• Find Hawa Sidibe's hair salon inside the Great American Laundromat in the Bronx.

• The Great Outpost now sells outdoor gear at a store that is right next to the Great Smoky Mountains State Park.

• Several restaurants operate within a hospitals and hotels.

• A post office and bank lease space within a supermarket.

• An accessories store leases space next to a clothing store, joined by internal doors.

• A college leases space to a travel agency.

As Baer wrote, "Your customers don't want the science of silly." Instead, he suggests, "focus on hyper-relevance and communicating to customers in context." Isn't that what we all want as customers?