OK so you’ve got a valuable customer or client. They’re one you don’t want to lose. So how do you protect the relationship and ensure you they keep coming to you? Here are 5 tips to help you build a plan.
Take a snapshot
Jot down what the customer relationship looks like now. This summary should cover which people you currently deal with in the customer, what they buy from you and any purchasing behaviour issues. Also reflect on what they like about doing business with you and any suggestions/feedback they’ve given you regarding improvements.
Look through their eyes
Consider what’s going on in the customer’s business or life. Will they still need your products/services in say 6months time? Is anything on their horizon which may have an impact on their relationship with you? If in doubt ask, but do so in a supportive rather than a blatantly self-interested way. For example, “How’s things going?”, “What are you currently working towards?”, “How do you think you’ll do as the economy picks up” will help to start the conversation.
Gaze into the future
Having looked through their eyes, think about how you could develop this relationship. What other products or services could they buy from you? What enhancements would secure more loyalty from them? Which of their people do you need to get to know to retain this customer? (If you have a relationship with one person, will you retain this account if they move on or get made redundant?) Set yourself a target that describes the new-look client relationship in say 1-2 years time. Be specific about how it will be different and the expectations you have.
Define small steps
With your big picture target in mind now break down the actions that will lead up to it. Set yourself a number of small short term goals and the dates you’ll complete them by. You’ll find these make the implementation process easier to complete. Whilst mapping out the steps, identify any additional resources you’ll need to complete them.
Examples of small steps include, having a coffee with the Director of Purchasing to gauge their involvement and preferences in decisions relating to our business, giving a sample of our (ABC) product range for the client to try out, finding out more about the client’s seasonal pressures etc. Collectively these will help you forge fairly regular (but not intrusive) contact with the customer. If each ‘touchpoint’ helps them in some way, you’ll plant yourself firmly and positively in their mind. Just the place to be when an additional requirement crops up or they need help.
Once a month see how many of the small steps you’ve completed and set the next ones. Don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t manage to complete as many as planned. Just be clear with yourself about the cause of this and, if needs be redefine, the steps and timeframe you are setting yourself. Once a quarter evaluate progress towards that ‘big picture’ goal you set. Don’t be afraid to adjust it if events have necessitated a change.
And finally, the more you can find out about your customers, the more you’ll be able to offer help and create business for yourself. Please don’t regard the ‘looking through their eyes’ as a one-off activity. The more you know, the more valuable a supplier you’ll become (and the harder it’ll be for a competitor to replace you).
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 ghost-written) for many professional and business publications and is a chartered marketer and member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.
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.