The best customers are not necessarily those who buy the most often. They can also be those that buy your most profitable products. But, as the business grows, do you still know who they are and what keeps them buying from you?
You should know your customers well at the best of times but when things are tough it’s even more important to know what makes them tick. If you don’t know who your profitable customers are then you run the risk of neglecting them and losing them to a competitor. Make it your business to know their needs, and buying patterns, so that when things change you are in a position to respond quickly and keep those customers engaged and buying.
A bird in the hand…
‘Why bother?’ You might ask – and the answer is that in a difficult economic climate it’s easier, and more cost-effective, to retain existing customers than to win new ones. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be out there looking for new business but the retention of existing customers should be a key part of the marketing strategy.
Your customers will be constantly evaluating how they spend their budgets and if they start to spend less you want to know why that is and how best to respond to everyone’s mutual benefit. If you can work with them they are more likely to stay loyal – and it doesn’t necessarily have to be about dropping prices, you might be able to achieve the same effect by finding other ways to add value. For example, how does your customer care and after sales services shape up against the competition? At a time when many businesses are struggling to balance their budgets customers want to know that their suppliers are willing to go the extra mile for them. Take your eye off the ball and it could be whisked away by a close competitor before you know it.
It’s good to talk
So are you fully engaged with your customers? Do you understand their buying patterns? Do they still want the same things, delivered in the same way, at the same time and price? If you’re not sure, ask them. Do the research and, when you survey your customers, make sure you act on the feedback they give you. If it makes good reading work it into a blog or good news article and share it. People are encouraged by the success stories of others, particularly at times like this, and it will help to reinforce the decision-making process for them.
Also, when considering research, don’t forget those lapsed customers. They can tell you a lot about their customer experience and you can let them know how things are improving. If the timing is right, it may well be that their buying requirements have also changed in which case there may be an opportunity to re-engage and win them back.
There’s no point in doing the research if you are not going to act on it, and if you are acting on it you might as well tell people. Make sure your customers know how you have improved your offering to suit their changing needs. Keep them informed of new initiatives and products that might make their life or work easier. It will be appreciated – and hopefully rewarded by their loyalty.
Getting up close and personal can certainly give smaller businesses the edge. Whatever the size of the company, those that take the time to know their customers will find they have better customer relationships and steady order books that extend beyond the tough times.
Just remember, staying close doesn’t mean becoming a nuisance – nobody likes a stalker.
About the author: Deborah Rowe, Consultant, Sheba Marketing
Deborah is a chartered marketer, member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, and fellow of both the Institute of Direct Marketing and the RSA. She has more than 20 years of solid marketing and communications experience which she puts to good use as principal consultant of Sheba Marketing. Sheba Marketing provides no-nonsense business-to-business marketing support to small and medium-sized organisations that want to achieve great things. www.shebamarketing.co.uk