Let’s face it, the projects getting funded faster than any others in marketing, operations, and service are focused on more fixing big complex problems than they are on getting to know customers more individually. Trying to bring order to chaos right now is important; yet more critical is taking the time to define customer-by-customer strategies for enriching, adding value to, and ultimately getting your customers to their goals.
Being a major contributor to getting your customers to their goals right now is more important than any low-price leader strategy or doing bundling of services. What customers need more than anything else right now is results.
Time to Start Leading Your Customers’ Results Revolution
It’s not easy for a director, VP or even a CEO to not panic and start spending on the areas of their companies that dissatisfy customers. From the case studies completed for courses taught in International Marketing and International Business however, this is exactly the wring thing to do. In the panic of troubled strategies, company leaders lose track of why their customers trusted them in the first place.
If there is a strong, resonating lesson to be learned from the case studies completed of General Electric, IBM, Proctor & Gamble and Schindler it is this: transforming marketing, selling and service strategies to over-deliver results and guidance to customers in difficult times is a matter of the company doing the serving surviving. Here are the lessons learned:
- Create webinars, seminars, and conferences aimed at giving your customers insights into their industry. Taking this step, even if it is small and a webinar which can be inexpensively done is critical. It signals that a strategy of helping your customers get to their goals is what’s on your agenda. Bring in an industry expert if you can afford it and give your customers insights into how they can be more efficient. Think of this as an investment in staying more relevant and valued by your customers.
- Sales need a new mission, and it involves creating account-by-account retention plans that concentrate on their unmet needs. Instead of just sending your sales reps in to buy lunches and schmooze just to keep your company’s name in front of clients, take the time and make productive use of it instead. Start by mapping out where clients’ goals are relative to additional services, knowledge, and expertise your company can provide. If incremental services revenue gets generated, that’s excellent. The point of this is to develop retention work-out plans on an account-by-account basis so your company stays in the role of serving your clients. Making contributions, even if they are over and above what is paid for, is what needs to happen on these account-by-account retention plans.
- Develop service, product and development strategies that align with account-by-account retention plan needs. Taking this approach groups the top priorities by account so that when a single strategy, say for example creating programs for enabling them to take better advantage of your products to generate new business, so it can be done once and delivered many times over your customer base. Taking this a step further, consider how important of a time it is right now to get the knowledge in your company organized so it can be delivered to customers needing to get more from your products.
- Staying on target with retention plans is even more important than being tactically efficient right now. In the case studies we’ve gone through in my classes this is the hard part, the area where company cultures really get tested on their commitment to be focused on retention and not fire-fighting. What needs to happen in this step is to concentrate on retention plans, aggregating together plan requirements and executing on them fast.
- Customer-defined outcomes are all that really matter in retention plans, so stay clear of overcomitting. This is one of the lessons learned from P&G and their turn-around several years ago. Retention plans involving their channel worked because they focused not on the internally-derived project plans but on the timeline that made the most sense for their customers, despite the challenge this put P&G through. It was worth it however. P&G held onto their channels in the midst of a major re-organization and also had the ability to launch products globally at the same time with greater accuracy than ever before.
- Transaction-driven sales reps must embrace the role of teaching over selling for customer retention to work. This is the really hard part of any customer retention strategy. Good sales reps are wired to exceed quotas and spend every waking second thinking about how to accomplish this. Retention plans need to be rolled out so that sales reps see the long-term value of holding onto these customers. Only then will the hard work and little immediate gratification of commission earned work. Also, there needs to be a VP Sales-level ownership and support of the program to make such a big cultural shift in a sales organization.
Bottom line: Retaining customers isn’t about pricing, bundling or gimmicks. It’s about getting your company so engrained into their unmet needs through the use of retention plans and the excellent execution that your company becomes essential to their success. As rewarding as companies at times find firefighting because of the “quick fix” satisfaction it provides, does nothing to actually hold onto customers. Investing time in tailoring specific retention plans that deliver results does.