PVF Forum: How To Stop Boring Your Customers
Boredom. What an ugly word. Nobody goes out of his or her way to be bored. So why do you go out of your way to bore your customers? Taking customers for granted. Showing up at the same time each week. Wearing the same golf shirt. Talking about the same things.
Some argue that PVF sales are just your basic blocking and tackling. Nothing fancy. Nothing new. But doesn't the NFL playbook have several hundred pages of offensive plays, including a variety of blocking schemes?
All customers are different. Treat them all the same, and they'll lose interest. Differentiation is critical.
Customers are meeting different needs when they buy material or services from your branch, and they represent different levels of profit. Your branch will grow by making your customers more profitable. Give your customers exactly what they want by adding services rather than by reducing prices.
Here are a few more suggestions to keep your customer interest level up (and encourage you to try a new offensive play or two).
ThinkUse your head. Routine is boring. Mix things up a little. Don't be so predictable. If you are a good salesperson, you do not have time to waste. It should be embarrassing to visit a customer and not have something new to say or something new to sell. Of course, you can be sociable and caring. After all, relationships are important. But also be organized and prepared. Get in and get out. Respect your customer's time.
One industry group estimates that when you subtract weekends, holidays, sick days, vacation and administrative time there are, on average, 140 to 160 working days. How do you prioritize your time and, more important, your customer's time? How are you different and better than the next guy? What are you doing to stay fresh and on top of your game?
Hire and train the right talentHire for diversity, and train your people for the best results. Your people must grow if the business is to grow. Don't promote or hire for personal reasons. Customers are fed up with distributor politics. (One major distributor hired a VP of Government Sales who had never heard of Dodge reports.) Note to distributors: Can you really afford to take your eye off of the customer -- even for an instant?
Build long-term relationships with trust, credibility and service. It's why the Poole & Kent Company has been buying material from Pat Powers for 32 years, following him from Peninsular Supply to Hughes to Florida Industrial Products. Pat sold himself first and his employer second. From hand-delivering late-night must-haves to finding the right auto-shutoff valve on the Internet, Pat has the perfect mix of unorthodoxy and self-confidence to keep the relationship thriving.
Keep what still worksBe predictable. A contradiction? Won't this bore customers? No, because what works is your laser-like focus on the need to tailor products and services to the needs of individual customers. Each customer is different and each job is different. You recognize this and focus your efforts here. And you recognize and enhance the need for human contact at key points in the sales, marketing and customer-support cycle.
Keep doing what works, but also add to it to ensure that things continue to work. Remember that competitive advantages are like a new truck. They depreciate the moment you drive the truck off the lot.
CommunicateIt is too easy to get caught up in the crisis of the day - like every other supplier - and that is a missed opportunity. And boring. Customers don't care how busy you are. This does not mean your customers are insensitive. It means that when they call, they need something. It also means that when they need something, they need to know who to call.
What type of information should you communicate? A new or improved product. A new service. A launched or completed research project. Cost-saving opportunities. A new emergency service.
Learn how to present complicated subjects in a way that engages your customers, giving them less to think about and eliminating any fears they may have. Communicate in a variety of ways: the web, line cards, brochures, flyers, face-to-face, catalogs, press releases and more.
Narrow your focusDon't give in to the one-size-fits-all mentality. Quit trying to be all things to all people. You're not fooling anyone, and it makes you vulnerable. Think inside the box. Have some discipline. Avoid too many messages -- give customers one good reason to buy. And remember your customers are individuals, so deal with them as individuals.
You don't have to look any further than the 2001 Supply House Times Wholesaler of the Year, Lehman Pipe and Supply. Read the December 2001 issue to see how the company maximizes its commercial PVF market niche in South Florida. Lehman is a $20 million company with $3.5 million in inventory, and 99.5% fill rates. Little, if any, bad debt. Lehman buys 90% of its inventory from single vendors. And most of that is made in America.
Model and measureToo busy working the crisis of the day to measure the effectiveness of your sales and marketing efforts? Nothing gets the creative juices flowing more than cranking out new stuff -- but how smart is it to be busy working on things your customers don't care about? We know marketing managers get promoted this way, but it doesn't make any sense.
As your business grows, the management process must be less ad hoc and more formal. Have a backbone of research and information to support your efforts, and your customers won't be apathetic. Listen to your customers. Accept the fact that circumstances change. Be willing to change your mind. Review and revise your sales and marketing efforts based on the research and information gathered from talking to your customers, employees and vendors.