In these lean times, one might think that the company’s salespeople should be focusing the majority of their time trying to capture new business. After all, with existing customers ordering less, the only way to grow overall sales numbers is to gain market share right? So doesn’t that translate to a focus mainly on new customers? Absolutely not! New business does not always come from new customers. In fact, it has been my experience that the majority of new business opportunities come from existing customers.

It is a lot harder to go out and convince a new customer to come on board than it is to keep an existing customer. And once an existing customer is lost, it is ten times harder to win that customer back than it is to go out and get a new one. Translation: it will get really tough for you if you start losing customers.

So how do we focus on keeping our existing customers while still achieving realistic goals for business growth? The answer lies in business to business partnerships. We must be more than just suppliers to our existing customers. We must be business partners.

What does this mean? First and foremost, it means that we must seek to understand our customer’s business as if it were our very own. Secondly, we must then offer product and service solutions that will enable each of our customers to outclass their competition. Remember, if our customer gains market share in his tier of the marketplace, then we also gain market share in our tier. If his business grows, our business grows. If he is successful, then we are successful. If he is successful because of us, his loyalty solidifies. If he is successful in spite of us, then he has an opportunity to be even more successful without us. If he hasn’t figured this out yet, he eventually will.

So, I will go back to the question of the salesperson’s time. It is absolutely crucial in these lean economic times, that our salespeople and sales managers spend quality time with existing customers, while also continuing to forge ahead with new relationships. If you can, get your customer out of the office, where he or she can reflect upon things without interruptions. Talk to your customer about the challenges they are facing in their specific market segment and what they feel they need to do in order to be more competitive in the marketplace. If you are talking to an operations person, it may be helpful to bring one of your plant people along. If you are talking to a product manager, bring one of your marketing people along.

You’ve know people who are talented entrepreneurs? Well, there is also such thing as an “intrapreneur.” This is someone who can make things happen within an existing organization. See if you can challenge the key people in your organization to tweak things in such a manner that it may help your customer become more successful. It might mean developing shorter lead times on key components that will help your customer achieve better delivery times with his customer base. It might mean product improvements or innovations that will help your customer offer a better product to his customer base at the same price. Or it might mean sales training to help your customer’s sales people better understand the value that your components add to his product line and just how he can leverage these advantages to gain sales.

When the market is shrinking, poor quality and poor customer service can sink the ship. Our customers are fighting harder than ever for a piece of a shrinking pie. There is no doubt, that when the smoke clears, there will be winners and losers. And there is also no doubt, that window fabricators want to align themselves with suppliers that are winners.

So, take time to understand your customer. Learn as much as you can about your customer’s business. Help your customer to succeed. Do this, and your business will be one of the winners!

2 Comments

  1. What happens to my customers that bought .35 U-Value windows in January that thought they were getting a $200.00 tax credit?

  2. Good Question! For products purchased between January 1, 2009 and February 16, 2009, the terms of the tax credit are less clear. The Internal Revenue Service will likely clarify these terms in guidance documents, which are expected to be released later this year.

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