In good times when inventories are turning, costs are low and customers are buying, building strong relationships is easy. But in a challenging economy with cost and performance pressures there are few things that can be harder to build and more fleeting.
So how do you effectively preserve the relationship during tough times? You can't without the right foundation. Few strong business relationships are built quickly. Every good marketing strategy must include the long term goal of identifying key customers and prospects and building positive relationships. To start the process during tough times is too late. Here are a few suggestions:
1. In the beginning don't talk. Yeah, that's right. At the beginning of the relationship do more listening than talking. One of the greatest reasons to keep a supplier are the words, "They know our business." Knowledge and understanding can be the glue to holding the relationship together during tough times.
2. Keep the sales brochures in your briefcase. Only pull them out if they can solve a problem the customer has shared. If they don't and you leave them behind they'll be pitched.
3. Pick the right sales person for the customer. I don't mean only personality (tough to figure out and a big variable), but length of service and level of industry and company knowledge that would match the size and importance of the customer or prospect.
4. Remind the customer of your value proposition each time you meet. It could be on time performance, fulfillment rates or how much you understand their business and needs.
5. Demonstrate cost savings. If your delivery rates are higher but you deliver one day sooner, discuss the savings with the customer in terms of cost of money saved, customer satisfaction, lower inventories with JIT delivery and the implications of not delivering on time or being late.
6. Go paperless. A strong e-commerce toolbox can save a customer time, reduce labor costs, paperwork and inconvenience.
7. Build your brand's top-of-mind awareness at every opportunity with the goal of being among the first calls made when an RFP is put together. Use case study white papers, press releases, advertising, merchandising, event marketing, web site messages and email marketing.
I've only touched on a few ideas here. Much more can be said on each of the points at a later date. It can be too late when you hear, "Lets build a strong relationship with them," when no foundation has been laid.
~ Joe Deluca
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