Business advice: Keeping your clients

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By Bill Caswell

Special to Ontario Construction News

Some salespeople are good at securing new clients but often weak in holding onto those newly won customers. This creates a costly sales program of having to replace lost prospects who should have been retained in the first place. Ideally, the salesperson wants to have its pool of clients built up to a size that is a pleasurable challenge to manage. Here’s how it can be done.

Why change?

Changing anything is a pain in butt, so when clients make a decision to change from you to another supplier, it is only because a good solid reason has been presented to them. Your challenge as a supplier is to avoid giving your clients a reason to change. Let’s look at some of those.

Vulnerable salespeople

By and large, the best salespeople carry the PV characteristics, namely, they are aggressive (P) and adaptable risk takers (V). At the same time, they usually lack the A characteristic which means they are rotten with details. Expecting your PV salesperson to suddenly sprout the discipline to engage in all the necessary details associated with the selling process is like expecting a submarine to fly. Therefore, equip your sales team with sales support personnel.

One support person might be able to assist two, three, or even four salespersons – it depends on the nature of the business. (But be sure to make this a full-time job; don’t burden the support person with other tasks.) If you want to save money, raise the moral of your sales team, and keep more clients, you cannot afford to pass up the opportunity to hire support individuals for your sales department.

Price

Some clients are always attracted to the lowest price. These are the sort of clients you do not need. Besides crippling your margin, such clients are never faithful and will abandon you as quickly as they joined you in favor of the supplier offering a product at a few dollars less. Forget about these guys.  Let your competitors keep busy with, and suffer through, their lower margins and lack of faithfulness.

Then there are the regular clients who engage you because they view your product and services as meeting their everyday needs. They will not be so price conscious. However, they are not fools, and if your price is significantly higher than the competition, you will be in trouble. The point is: you need to offset your higher price with comparable values such as quality and services and some of the other points listed below.

Quality

The obvious point is that quality earns you the reward of faithful clients. Make sure that every item shipped out your door has impeccable quality. Quickly repair and don’t fret over costs related to fixing any slippages caused by your errors. Ensure your production staff understands that it is quality that helps you hold onto clients (and for those workers to hold onto their jobs).

Innovation

You have to be up to date. Ideally, you will be making every effort to lead the pack with the latest and greatest product or service.

Timely delivery

If you promise a delivery on Wednesday, you have to deliver on Wednesday. If you don’t, you need to investigate what held you back and correct the slack area or item – fast.

Make the client’s job easy

When the client is trying to reach you to express a need or a change, you must ensure it is simple for the client. You must avoid defending your position but, rather, take up a sympathetic response to the client’s cry for help. Ensure that your company has enough phone lines to make you always reachable.

Avoid complex ordering or re-ordering schemes. If the client doesn’t want to fill out a form, take a verbal order willingly (and send a written confirmation back to the client right away). Be ready to fill out the order form for the client (but begin an investigation of why it seemed so difficult for that person).

Personal connection

Despite our paper and online business world, nothing is as powerful as the personal connection. The salesperson must develop a schedule of making personal contact monthly with the client by phone for face-to-face – and a call to touch base, not just to solicit an order.

To assist some of our own subscribers, CCCC has instituted a program of the client CEO’s personal visit to his or her 10 largest customers.  The message of the CEO is that “I’m just dropping in to see how things are going between us.” I suggest one visit per month by this CEO over the year to each of their leading customers.  The result of our program has been sales increases every time – much to the astonishment of the visiting CEO. Once instituted, the visit program should be repeated every year.

Both of the above suggestions mean that you must set up and maintain visit schedules.

That personal touch not only has your clients want to hold onto you, but the continuous contact also makes them willing to advise you if you are slipping up in some area long before they decide to cut the link.

Summary

We summarize the keeping-the-client-happy concept with a checklist. Make a duplicate and fill one out monthly for each client or as often as you can.

I have:
An admin person assisting me as a sales team member
The price of my product or service within the realm of my competitors
Top quality of product or service
Ensured our product is up to date
Met the delivery date
Made my client’s ordering job easy
Never ever used the recording “Due to heavier than usual phone traffic……”
Contacted my client once a month (without selling directly)
Checked that my CEO has, or will, visit my largest clients at least once this year.

Good luck!

Bill Caswell leads the Caswell Corporate Coaching Company (CCCC) in Ottawa, www.caswellccc.com or email bill@caswellccc.com.

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