You have total control over how your business is run, but unfortunately for you, the economy is something that you have no power over. There’s basically two ways to address economic slumps, and I’m a strong advocate for one method and strongly denounce the other.
The approach that I refuse to endorse falls along the following train of thought: my customers aren’t interested in purchasing, so why waste resources peddling something with little chance of being bought by my customers? That’s the defeatist’s approach, and will only result in a decrease in sales and profits.
My preferred line of attack is controlling your response in a measured and calculated manner that makes the most of your resources. I’m talking about reaching out to your most valuable customers, and honing your selling practices.
You didn’t get into business so you could fold the first time any concern about the viability of your operation came into question. If you’re in a position of leadership in your organization, there’s a very strong chance that you head it because of your resolve, business acumen, and the ability to perform under pressure. So now it’s time for you to get crafty.
For the majority of businesses, most of your profit comes from a small percentage of your customers. This means that the significance of reaching out to your most valued clients must take a priority on your new, revised agenda. If your customers are going to be mostly frugal, why not have them be frugal toward other businesses? For sure, their spending is going to be cut down, but in no way does that mean that their spending has to be cut down at your business!
What you need to do is foster your customer relationships in a fashion that will have you at the top of their minds when they decide to make a purchase. In order to do so, you must make sure your customers are aware of all your offerings and also know that your business is indeed flourishing despite the larger economic downturn.
Are your customers aware of everything you can do for them? Are you making sure they don’t forget about you? At some point they’ll have a need for your services, and it’s your duty to make sure they come to you when that specific need surfaces.
Take a step back for moment and look at what you’re doing to ensure you’re staying fresh in your most valuable customers’ minds. Do you contact them often? How are reaching out to them? Practices to target your customers differ depending on your industry, but it’s essential that you’re staying ahead of your competitors in this facet.
It’s important to recognize that we have all sorts of different relationships within our own respective lives. It’s also important to note that sometimes our relationship with one person affects how we view our relationship with the other. So when you’re reaching out to customers, whether it’s through a newsletter, buying incentives, or other special treatment, you’re not only displaying how much you value the relationship you share with the customer, but also cheapening the customer’s relationship with your competitors.
There’s a fine line, however, between cultivating relationships and being pushy. It’s crucial that you don’t let your fear of being pushy impede on your abilities to make your clients aware of what you’re offering. Always remember if your customers don’t know about certain products and services, there’s absolutely no way they’ll buy them. And in tough economic times, that can be the difference between your business folding or prospering.
Let me also stress that there’s a strong need to have superior customer service during times of economic decline. Implement proper practices and processes if you don’t already have them. The loyal customers you hope will keep coming back to your business are the same loyal customers who will refer other business to you. Customer service that’s a cut above the competition will yield surprising results for your operation. The significance of high performance cannot be stressed enough.
Selling is both an art and a science. High achieving companies have a detailed, thorough selling process that still allow their sales team members some flexibility to drive creativity. One important part of any selling process is the interaction through which customer needs are revealed and understood by the sales professional.
Many sales persons have an agenda and are charged to “sell the special” rather than slow the process down and understand customer needs. When I say this, I’m talking about both present and potential future needs that could be met by your products and services. In my selling model, I emphasize the importance of asking appropriate questions with sincerity, in a genuine attempt to understand how to meet relevant customer needs. This resonates a lot more with a frugal customer than an effort to “sell the special”.
When times are tough, we sometimes assume that all our customers are becoming especially thrifty. This way of thinking does not allow for the possibility that the customer mat indeed want to buy. It essentially paralyzes the salesperson. If you are convinced that customers aren’t going to buy, change your thinking to: “how can I help educate my customers now so when they are ready to buy they can make a more informed decision?”
But I don’t buy into the premise that pre-qualifying is ok. I actually think it is a terrible mindset. But if you and your sales team are stuck in this insane rut, resetting the mind from selling to educating can help you get out of it. Make a list of all the products and services you provide. Alongside each product or service, create a value statement or a statement of benefit that will accrue to your customers who purchase them.
Now take the list of current customersthe best ones, who make up 80% of your business. In the last 12 months, have you or your sales team members shared the list of products and services and, most importantly, the benefits of them, with these top customers?
There is a great deal more to this process than I can fit in one article. But I can tell you that through a detailed needs-analysis approach, you can uncover customer requirements that you did not know existed. Further, you will educate your current customers on your entire product and service offering. If done well, you may even garner additional referrals that you would never have received without using this kind of process.
Charlie Fewell has over 30-years working as a trainer and management head for AC Delco and now runs his own business consulting firm Charlie Fewell & Associates that specialize in transitional leadership and business development. For more information visit www.CharlieFewell.com.