How to protect your prized possessions – your customers
I was talking with a colleague the other day and they described the current business landscape as ‘unchartered territory’. The events that have unfolded over the last few months have indeed been dramatic. Sizeable, high profile businesses have announced difficulties, governments have been forced to intervene and all this has painted a picture of the unthinkable fast becoming a reality. History is certainly unfolding in front of our eyes and who knows what the next few months might bring?
As humans, we hate uncertainty. We like to know what’s around the corner and when things look unsure or risky we desperately crave security. That often means protecting what we have. For many businesses this involves cost-cutting, detailed planning, exploring new revenue streams and desperately trying to win new business.
In contrast, fewer businesses plan to protect their prized possessions – their existing customers – and yet this band of loyal followers are a fantastic asset. They can really help you weather an economic storm. So how do you protect them? How do you create such a great offer that your customers repeatedly resist your competitors and keep coming back to you for more? Here are 5 theme tunes to help:
1. Don’t know why
If you are going to protect your customers and stimulate new and repeat buys from them, you need to understand why they chose or continue to choose your products or services. What needs do they have that your business satisfies? How do you meet their expectations? You probably know this, but if you don’t, it’s certainly worth asking. The information you uncover reveals the vital components of your offer. These components are the ones that you must continue to deliver on and deliver well. Get these right and the customers will remain happy and satisfied. Start changing or altering them for the worse and your customers may start to get itchy feet.
2. Tell me what you want – what you really, really want
Knowing why customers choose you is one thing, keeping up with their changing needs and expectations can give you real competitive advantage. As the current economy evolves, so will your customers’ requirements. By keeping in regular dialogue with them, you can spot changes as they occur. You can then repackage or add in new services or products that respond to these new needs. For some customers, they may want you to strip out the ‘frillies’ and provide them with a more fundamental or basic offer. For others, they may need extra ‘bells and whistles’ to help them meet the challenges of this new economy. By being more flexible in your approach and adapting to changing demands, you will soon become an invaluable supplier to your customers. And you can do this profitably. Rethink your business model, consider outsourcing or utilising different means of production to help you create a more competitive offer in the current climate.
3. The long and winding road
And while you are in dialogue with your customers exploring their current issues, cast your eye on the future. What are their plans? What obstacles will they face? What opportunities will they want to capitalise on? Your service or product offering may be able to help, but also, you may have contacts who could be useful for them. By supporting them in their ambitions you will become more than a supplier – you will transform into a ‘valued’ supplier, perhaps even a trusted adviser and one whose relationship with them will be difficult for a competitor to penetrate. The idea here is not to explore their future in order to launch into a sales pitch of your products and services. Instead, try to find out how you can genuinely help. You need to demonstrate that you are interested in what they are trying to achieve and want to support them. That support can take different forms – it may be advice, it could be your products and services, it may be access to your contact base. Your knowledge of that customer will guide you on how best to add value.
4. Knowing me. Knowing you
Your competitors’ actions are probably on your radar and you may be tempted, if they start discounting, to offer similar reductions. But have confidence. If you launch into a discounting strategy without changing the components of your products/services, it will be difficult to regain ground when times improve. If you are tempted to reduce your price then change the nature of your offer to reflect it. Also, consider calculating the added benefits or value that your:
- after sales support
- way of doing things
brings in comparison to the competition. You may find that your ‘added value‘ features can command a stronger price and you can explore creating different packages to suit different pockets. Whatever value you bring you, do communicate it. Keep a log of the additional benefits you generate and make sure your customers realise all the good stuff you do – even if it’s in the background. If you give something away for free, make sure the customer knows its typical value.
5. Can’t get you out of my head
Some businesses treat talking to customers as a one-off activity – something that takes place in the selling process. Those that continually revisit how their customers are doing, what changes they are experiencing and how their requirements and needs are evolving often build greater customer loyalty. They can spot change when it occurs and create a different solution that responds to the new set of circumstances. So diarise regular points when you check out how your customers are doing. The economy is changing so fast at the moment that an annual assessment is likely to leave things too late. Talk with your customers and agree how frequently they’d like you to keep in touch. If they value your interactions with them, they’ll be happy for regular communication. In doing so, you’ll also keep your business at the front of their minds – a good place to be when greedy competitors start coming to call.
About the author: Michelle Daniels, Managing Director – Extended Thinking
An experienced and effective business development and marketing strategist, Michelle has built a successful career increasing top line growth for service businesses and organisations. She helps her clients turn their marketing, business development and thought leadership plans into reality with her ‘hands on’ support and practical advice. A prolific writer, Michelle also combines creative flair with business nous to produce highly effective results. She has written (and ghostwritten) for many professional and business publications and is a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and professional services marketing group.
Extended Thinking is a hands-on marketing and business development consultancy. Bringing together great minds and great ‘doers’, we help our clients devise and implement plans that achieve real business growth. Our clients come from a wide variety of backgrounds and sectors, but invariably are those who are too busy or lack the resources to action their marketing and business development plans. We roll our sleeves up and muck in to free them up to do what they really want to do and are good at doing.