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NorCal Wine Blog

How to Turn Your Customers into Fans for Life

Today, most of us who use social media know Guy Kawasaki from his non-stop, helpful tweets and for his website Alltop. But my first interactions with him were in the 1980’s when he was at Apple Computer. Eventually, he became their Chief Evangelist. As he says in the sales lead in for his book Selling the Dream, “If you do one thing right in your career, you can live off your reputation for a long time. The thing I did right is evangelize Macintosh, and though I am nothing compared to Jesus and the disciples, I did put secular evangelism on the map.”

In those days of yore, Guy not only had to evangelize Apple. He had to explain what “secular” evangelism was. How does it work? Why is it important? How can you do it in your business? Guy was talking about “turning customers into fans for life” two decades before Facebook fan pages existed. And what he said made sense and made a difference. It helped a lot of companies, both fledgling and established, thrive.

I bring all this up now because of something I read today and something I observed yesterday. A few minutes ago, I read an online interview with Paul Mabray of VinTank which bills itself as “a digital think tank for the wine industry.” He provided a lot of useful advice in that article, but I think that the most important may have been this simple phrase toward the end, “create a customer centric strategy.”

He was directing that comment toward wineries, but it’s just as applicable to distributors, retail shops, restaurants, websites and almost any other business. It’s also reminiscent of advice Guy Kawasaki used to give for turning customers into fans for life. Your customers are your business. To paraphrase Sandra Bernhard, without them you’re nothing.

Nurturing customers is essential and takes more than a “the customer is always right” attitude. One of the best ways to do it, to turn a customer into both a fan and an evangelist for you, is to treat your customers like people. This sounds obvious, but it’s rarely a company focus. Customers are usually treated like... customers. But if you treat a person like a customer, they’re likely to act like one. When they want something only you have, they’ll pay you for it. When they want something a lot of people have, they’ll shop around to find the most affordable or convenient option.

In the 21st century, that’s a dangerous situation for businesses. Cut your price as much as you can, there will always be another company cheaper. And there will always be a competitor with  broader inventory or a unique way to sweeten the deal. Fans don’t shop around, they go directly to you. Evangelists not only go straight to you, they bring their friends.

What I observed yesterday was the final phase of a winery turning customers into fans for life. I was standing in the club member tasting room at V. Sattui Winery when in walked a couple in their late-50’s. It turns out that they had had a memorable conversation with one of V. Sattui’s telemarketers. The lady had talked to him for 45 minutes. They probably talked about wine too, but all she mentioned was that they’d talked about her losing her house in Katrina and about her cats. And about how her husband had then gotten on the phone and talked to the V. Sattui rep for another 45 minutes. At the end of the conversation, the rep told them to stop in and say “hello” if they were in the area.

So, here they were in California on a vacation from their home in Florida, asking for the rep by name. This wasn’t a “we’re in the area, I guess we’ll stop by” visit. These people were really excited to be there. I’m positive they planned their itinerary around a stop at V. Sattui. The rep came down to the tasting room to meet them. Hugs and conversation ensued.

You don’t need to spend 90 minutes on the phone to make a sale. That would get telemarketers at most companies fired. But treating customers like people, learning about them, building genuine and meaningful rapport, can take that long. Creating that kind of personal bond is an excellent way to turn customers into fans. I’m sure that couple will be buying the lion’s share of their wine from V. Sattui in the future and talking up the company and its wine to their friends for years to come.

I suspect V. Sattui knows a lot about creating fans and evangelists. They built their business by thinking about what potential customers would want, where they’d want it, etc. It’s also the only winery I’ve seen [there are probably others I’m not aware of] that has a Hall of Fame for customers. A lot of places put up Polaroids of customers. How many take the time to write a paragraph about the people in the photo and explain why they’re on the wall? I can guarantee that everyone on that wall is more than a customer, they’re a fan for life and an evangelist.

V. Sattui’s business success speaks to both their successes in customer interaction. 100% of V. Sattui’s wine is sold direct, either at the winery or shipped direct to consumers. They sell more wine direct to consumers than any other winery in the world. And V. Sattui doesn’t have an ad agency. They rely on customer word of mouth. If Dario Sattui was able to build a castle with the money made from customers who became fans, it can probably help your company too.

Business used to be entirely the result of face-to-face interaction between people. Today, there are a lot of places to interact with customers as people and many opportunities to turn them into fans. You can still do it face-toface in your tasting room or shop, or when you call on them in their office. You can also do it on your website or using social media. Remember though, it’s fairly easy to get someone to call themselves a “fan” of your company on Facebook. It’s much harder to turn them into a genuine fan and evangelist.

If you’re not sure how to get started, the first step is to consciously work to create a customer centric strategy. If you need guidance on doing that, you might read a couple of Guy Kawasaki’s books. You might read more of Paul Mabray’s articles. Or you can spend some time studying V. Sattui. Doing all three would be excellent.

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This article is original to Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved. The banner photo is an edited version of this one by barcoder96 and used under Creative Commons terms.