Part II: Building Customer Relationships When Business is Slow

In response to the slow times, many organizations try to diversify their goods and services, or drop their prices to build volume. These strategies may work in the short term, but they pose problems over time. Adding new products and services may obscure your brand in the market, and decreasing prices may not do much to change your bottom line.

The most effective and least costly means of achieving growth is to expand your current accounts. It costs six times more to acquire a new customer than it does to keep an existing one. Difficult times call for businesses to step up to the plate and listen more than ever to their customers, understand their problems and offer them support. There are many strategies to reach old customers in new ways, and ensure their loyalty.

  • Cultivate relationships.  If you find yourself with time on your hands, use it wisely. This is a good time to get to know your customers’ needs and understand their goals in a tough market. Choose your larger accounts and go the extra mile to prove that you care about their success. This can come from a formal business survey, or from an occasional phone call to check in and keep yourself updated on their progress.

It is always helpful to get to know something about your clients, so they feel you are interested not only in their business, but in them as people. If, for example, you know your client has children, ask how they are doing, or if you know they came back from a recent vacation, inquire about it.

  • Stay on top of the competition.  In today’s market, businesses are fighting for a smaller piece of the pie. Your competitors may seek out your customers and offer tantalizing deals to peak their interest. Make sure you do your research regularly, and know about any changes to your competitors’ strategies to attract new customers.  This will help you decide how to best target your precious marketing dollars.
  • Create pricing options. Instead of simply lowering your prices, look into options that enable customers to save more as they spend more. Offer added value in any way that you can. You may also be able to use partnerships with other businesses to meet more of your customers’ needs.
  • Instill confidence.  According to a recent CNN poll, three quarters of Americans believe we are in a recession. In a down market, your customers will assume you are struggling and anticipate less from you. Instead, you must take the opposite approach, and be clear with them about it. It is more than worth your time to call each of your most important clients to tell them that your company is taking it up a notch, and that you will do whatever you can to make sure your clients get what they need. This kind of positive approach amid the gloom and doom of the economy will refresh your clients and instill their confidence in you.

In the Chinese language, the symbol for crisis also means opportunity. The current market trends aren’t easy to handle, but instead of doing less – do more. See the lull as a great opportunity to build relationships and get stronger. Make yourself and your business stand out. This will take you through and well beyond the recession.