Guest blogger and trusted business associate, Bill Boyer is the President of Tidewater CEO, a consulting/coaching organization for small company CEO’s. He can be reached at bill@tidewaterceo.com or 757-233-2577.

Tidewater CEOAre you facing falling customer orders?  Slower Renewals?  Cancellations?  Demands for more price cutting?  Much longer payment terms?

You have probably initiated all the cost reductions you can.  And since you cannot or should not cut any further, you must leverage the creativity of your entire team.  Get all your employees involved in marketing and selling.  Employees motivated to contribute to the company’s success can help retain customers and identify new ones.

Believe it or not, marketing is a war.  The larger your army, the bigger your advantage is.  And to convert this to the advantage, all your people must professionally interact and communicate with your customers.   Communication is the most effective weapon.  Use it effectively and intelligently and you will win.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Increase customer contact and communications.  Unfortunately in tough times we take the customers for granted and work on cost containment and keeping the investors and/or banks satisfied.  Instead of that, all employees should be ambassadors to the customers: thanking them for their business, asking what they can do to help them do better, and finding out more about their business.  If you customers really feel that you care and really understand them, unexpected opportunities may arise.
  • If you are dependent on only a few customers, diligently seek additional uses for your products and look for simple modifications in your offerings that could yield more customers.  Look at less familiar industries or other geographic markets that you are not in.  When you find these, make more sales calls and test some of these new ideas.  While you should send people to trade shows and industry conferences that relate to your business, send some of your staff to other shows and conferences that are tangential to your business.  Especially if it is slow this is a good use of people who you want to keep in your organization.  True this does cost and if the cost is prohibitive, let them do phone or internet research.
  • Work on improving or, at least, keeping your morale high.  When morale drops, people find ways to stay out of work, there attention to customers decreases, and often quality declines.  Be honest with your employees about the situation and by doing so, you will let your employees know how important they are to your long term success.  Let them know how much you appreciate their dedication to the company.  Maybe you can show small tokens of appreciation:  company lunch, company picnic with families, or other gestures of appreciation.
  • Reward the staff when there are small or large wins.  Ask your employees for suggestions:  they often know more that you do about the operation. The lower level employees often feel that they do not have much to offer or that their ideas are too small.  If a cost reduction is successful, especially if it comes from the employees, give them some reward and more importantly recognition.  Try to develop some formal program for suggestions from the employees.
  • Be sure all your employees understand the importance of helping the customer and showing them respect and courteousness. That polite and professional answer to a phone call is very important.  Your delivery people being professional are important.
  • And probably most important of all, is to stick to your principals.  Don’t reduce quality or cut corners.  Don’t give gifts to the buyers if you never have before.  Don’t “cook the books” to keep bankers/investors happy.  Your adherence to your company values can solidify and increase the confidence that customers have in you.  Also, your employees will be proud to be associated with a company that treats all people fairly and honestly.

A true story:

In one of the companies I helped turn around our delivery person was very personable and professional.  We always had him dress very neatly in a company uniform and keep the vehicle very clean.  He developed very good relationships with many of our customers’ employees.  It was amazing how much information he found out about our competition from these people.  He looked at the other items delivered by our competitors and often came back to us with suggestions for additional products we could sell.  He even promoted our products to these companies during the delivery.  He brought us a great deal of additional business.

Remember that changing and difficult times divide the winners and losers.  A company with high quality products and/or services from engaged employees who know and care about the customers usually wins the war.

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