Change or die

There’s no denying it; change is all around us, and now it’s a simple matter of survival. Most of us were brought up to plan: “where do you want to be 5 years from now”, and “what are your financial goals”. For most of us, sheer momentum and unexpected opportunities led us somewhere else, via the path of least resistance. For a number of years those have been the major forces driving this business, but did you notice that things have started to slow down? There aren’t enough business closures, retirements, or client vacations to account for it any more.

Unfortunately our industry has become complacent, with more reliance on order-taking than order-making. It’s easier to wait for that phone call to come in, than to go out and knock on doors. There’s expanding reliance on “networking”, but it’s not very reliable without follow-up and continuity. Customers aren’t known for leaping out of the woodwork, so while handing someone your card at a luncheon might get your name into his pocket, it won’t go much further. When I gave out over 50 business cards to companies at the Toronto Graphics show recently, I only received 4 follow-ups.

There is no question that marketing is a science and with today’s technology there are a plethora of tools you can use. You have your choices of email, telemarketing, direct mail, radio, promotional products, magazine advertising, the list is long. Your goal is to use those tools to promote the fact that your company’s unique skill set can absolutely be relied upon to meet the unique needs of your customers, hence the emergence of Customer Relationship Management/Marketing (C.R.M.) and Employee Relationship Management (E.R.M.).

Firstly, all your employees – not just your sales staff – are your front line when dealing with customers and building your reputation. From the receptionist (or voice mail), to the shippers and receivers on your dock, contact with the customer shapes his experience, so it’s important to keep your staff onside.

Providing employees with company logo wear, like shirts and caps, is a good idea. Most employees like to proclaim the team name, and it presents a team image to the customer, boosting confidence in the company.

One company I worked with had a problem keeping their operators alert on the phones in the early morning. They didn’t allow coffee at work stations for fear of it spilling on the orders. But once I provided them with spill-proof drink ware for their coffee, the number of unanswered calls, as well as response time, was happily reduced by more than 60%. It’s simple: give your workers a boost, and they’ll pass it on.

The premise of CRM is give the customer what he wants, when he wants it, the way he wants it, in order to garner his business, and keep it. You might have customers ordering letterhead, envelopes, even brochures, but the big question is, what percentage of their print budget are you getting? Could you be getting more?

Do they know everything you can do for them, and do they have a sample kit or current brochure of your full service range? How do you keep your name in front of them? There are over 1 million promotional items available to keep your name in front of customers every day. Choose something appropos, and make something with your name on it an important part of their day. Pens, calendars, writing pads, any practical item, will remind them that you are there to make their life easier. Make your promotional gift appropos to the client’s stature: you don’t want to give a $.99 plastic pen to a customer that spends tens of thousands of dollars with you, but a guy buying a few business cards might appreciate it.

Marketing is an art, a science, and a great tool. You need sales people to sell, but you also need a plan. Remember – if you don’t know where you are going – how will you know when you get there?