Relationships are curious things at the best of times and more and more these days our businesses
and companies rely on the strength of the relationships it has with its' clients, customers and suppliers alike.
They have always been important in the business world but with advertising becoming easier and marketing becoming cheaper and more widespread, your customers have more and more choice in which service provider they use.
Gone are the old days where in one town or city you had… "the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker". Nowadays, metaphorically speaking of course, you don't just have the candlestick maker, you have the candlestick maker, the organic wax burning company, super candles in the next suburb with a range of 4 million candles at discounted prices and then you have seventeen different online candle stores sending you email updates with the latest long burning wicks and pastel colours to choose from and a loyalty card to give you cheap petrol…
OK a bit of stretch but I think you'll agree, in any business whether it be a retail store or a service based business competition is more prevalent in numbers than ever before. The worst thing is, it seems that the more competition there is the less the relationships between companies are nurtured; surely it should be the other way around.
Now relationships are a two way street so let's take a brief look at both sides of the fence.
Our company and our marketing…
So much time is spent trying to find new customers that the art of customer retention seems to be dying off. If you pick up ten new customers this month how many customers did you lose… customers that already knew and loved your product or service but were simply lured away by your competitors because of the lack of attention you paid them just because they weren't buying right here and now.
When was the last time you went through you sales history and called some of the clients you did business with previously and tried to win their business back. Find out why they left? Is it possible to fix the issue? Chances are there was no issue other than the fact that you did not give them the attention they required to keep them on board. How much easier is it to talk to a prospective client that already knows how good your service is rather than making all those cold calls?
Our company and the suppliers we use…
Let's turn the tables back on us for a second and see how this is happening how many times have we changed suppliers purely based on financial savings, because we can buy a ream of paper for $2.00 cheaper or are charged $4.75 less per hour for our cleaning service.
It might not even be savings that are so small. I changed my accountant of five years some time back because the new supplier offered lower rates and they were closer to my offices. I worked out that it would save me over $1500.00 per year in fees and in travel. After about 6 months I realized that rather than saving me $1500.00 it was probably going to cost me about $2000.00 more! Because the relationship was new, I had to explain what we did as a company, how it worked and our history. For every bit of work they did there were extra questions and complications, extra meetings that weren't there with my old accountant because he already knew my business.
I believe in this instance we were both at fault, there was me running away to save myself a few dollars and realistically if my old accountant had just called me occasionally and built more of a rapport then I don't think I would have made the move.
I think we can all agree that in most cases repeat business is the key to being successful. I think it is taught in nearly every business class around the world, but realistically, what steps do we have in place to keep getting that repeat business. It tends to be that if it is not here and now and it's been a little while between drinks with that client then we drop the ball a little.
This article would be a few hundred pages long if we were to talk about all the good business tips for keeping relationships strong, but what things can you do? What systems can you put in place to ensure that the percentage of repeat business you are getting is the best it can be?
Do you have a regular call sheet where you contact past and present clients on a regular basis? Did you used to have one but you got too busy to keep following it up? Maybe now is the time to reinstate it. I don't mean phoning your clients everyday or even every week, you are looking to woo them not bore them death… but perhaps once a month, once every six weeks, I don't think the timescale matters too much as long as it is on a regular basis.
What about holding a lunch for your suppliers, that's right, your suppliers not your clients… loyal suppliers are as important as loyal clients. Again it doesn't have to be the EKA or anything like that, a simple social function where people can relax and feel a little appreciated. Perhaps a few nibbles at the office and a glass of wine. Maybe avoid full on alcohol fueled evenings, they could cause more problems than they are worth!
When was the last time you phoned a client to offer them something for free? Most of the time our clients only hear from us when we want to make money out of them. What about a quick phone call offering them a business referral or a lead or letting them know you have recommended them to one of your friends or colleagues… I think you'll find it will go a heck of a way further to build a solid relationship with them, than that bottle of wine you sent them at Christmas.
If you provide a great service which I'm sure we all believe we do, then at some point you will receive a referral from a client. Perhaps you already have. Did you take the time to phone the referring client back and thank them? Perhaps a bunch of flowers or tickets to the theatre would be a nice gesture, but what about a return lead, giving business back to them.
I certainly don't have all the answers, but hopefully the few hundred words you have just read have got you thinking a little bit more about the business relationships you have. You may be running a very successful business but that doesn't mean that everything we do is perfect. Continual improvement, another key to successful longevity, don't you think?
Relationships… what a mine field!
Peter Martin - www.glimmermc.com.au