By Charlie Fewell. Face it; you have no control over the state of the economy or the potential loss of revenue and profits that may occur when times are tough. You do in fact have total control over your behaviors during any economic slowdown. Many companies pull back and reduce overall spending in an attempt to preserve the bottom line.
My consulting and coaching experience reveals that in many cases, reaching out to customers proactively totally stops during tough times, because “consumers aren’t buying anyway; why waste the money?”
Call me insane, but I am convinced that in tough times, your outreach program needs to kick into high gear. If people are going to exercise more frugal spending practices, then you surely need to be top of mind when they decide to purchase. Further, remember that what you do creates images in the customer’s mind of your products and services. If you “disappear” for all practical purposes, some of your customers will determine that you have gone out of business. Customers don’t typically sit around at night and discuss all the potential vendors for products and services like yours; unless they are in need. The question is, if they are in need, are you on the list? Are potential customers aware of your plethora of products and services?
So for a moment, define your current plan, the process or strategy you currently use for “staying top of mind” with current customers. How do you contact them and how often do you contact them. It is said in business that 20% of our customer list provides 80% of our sales revenues. Of course, based on the product or service and the buying cycle, this can vary. Since automotive service needs have changed, the needs/buying cycle in our industry has changed to a less frequent opportunity. Certainly the way you stay in contact with customers and the content of the information will be different based on your specialty areas.
What is consistent is that all of us have various relationships in our life. Have you helped your customers connect the dots between all of your product and service offerings and their future needs as well as the current needs of others on their relationship wheel? Are you consistently asking for referrals as part of your closing process? Do you produce a newsletter for your customers? Do you use incentives to help current customers bring you names of potential purchasers of your products and services?
Why I’ll bet you presume that your current customers are aware of all the products and services you offer…..right. My work with business leaders and sales teams has taught me that in many cases, due to the fear of being pushy, we let customers buy what they presently want or need and have no clearly defined process to follow-up and help the customer know everything we can supply to meet other current needs or future needs.
Let me emphasize that if you don’t have the processes in place to deliver excellent customer service and create advocates for your business from your current customer database, then there is no need to attempt to ask for more business from them or to ask for referrals. You must deliver whatever you sell with excellence or you will be frustrated when attempting to obtain referrals. So a pre-cursor to is knowing your customer satisfaction rating and if it is not in the “exemplary” range, fix it.
Selling is both an art and a science. Successful companies have a well defined selling process yet allow their sales team members some flexibility to drive creativity. Further, successful service centers know that everyone is in sales; not just the person assigned to write the repair order.
One important part of any selling process is the interview through which customer needs are revealed and understood by the sales professional. Many sales persons have an agenda and try to rush through the sales process instead of slowing the process down and understanding customer needs that are present now and possible 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 and the genuine attitude of attempting to understand how to meet relevant customer needs combined with identifying future service needs, instead of simply “fixing what’s broke” today.
When times are tough, we sometimes pre-qualify that all our customers are: pulling back, waiting for things to improve, not interested, don’t have the money now; and you have heard and said other things that prevent sales opportunities from being considered. Our thinking is causing us to become paralyzed. So 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?”
Hold it; I don’t buy into the premise that pre-qualifying is ok. I think it is a terrible mindset. But if you and all your sales team members are stuck in this insane rut, resetting the mind from selling to educating can help you get out of it. In the last 12 months, has your sales team member responsible for developing and maintaining a relationship those customers who make up 80% of your business contacted them proactively and asked for possible service opportunities by providing some education about how to protect their investment?
In this short message, I cannot describe the entire process, but I can tell you that through a detailed needs analysis approach, you can uncover needs that you did not know existed. Further, you will educate your current customers regarding your entire offering. If done well, you may even garner referrals that you would never have received without using this kind of process.