by Steven R. Jamison, LEED Green Assoc.
The headquarters of one of the largest food and beverage clients in America is located a few miles south of our office. Driving past it for many years, the prospect of working for them seemed like a lofty goal. Who did we know that worked there? Did we know someone who might know someone that worked there? And, how could we ever get a lucky break to tell them our story and get a shot at working with them?
Then it happened. A key contact of ours, from a project we performed years ago, for another company, in a completely different market, was recruited to work there. The relationship that we maintained with him over time suddenly followed him to his new position. Now, we had an internal advocate. Finally, we could learn what was going on inside that organization, get to know their people, find out who made the decisions, and discover how their budgets came together.
Think you don’t have time to keep in touch with your past customers? Think maintaining existing relationships takes too much time out of your already busy day? If you can’t find time to call that past client and have lunch or a catch-up cup of coffee you had better think again. Most of us need a good reminder that business is actually transacted between two people, not two businesses.
It’s not necessary to make a major investment in sophisticated sales software to manage your existing relationships. A simple reminder in your Outlook Calendar is enough to let you know when it is time to reach out to a former customer to keep your relationship intact.
There are several reasons you should take this part of your job seriously. First, waiting for your customers to call you is not good enough to sustain a healthy pipeline of work. The mistake many people make is to allow backlog levels to drop to the point where panic sets in. Then, you are likely to begin making desperate moves like cutting prices and pursuing work outside of your area of expertise. Second, customers and their buying habits have changed. They can find the answers to many of their questions on the Internet. Don’t operate on chance (that they can find the answer themselves and don’t need to talk with you). Keep in touch with them. Let them know you are there for them as a useful source of information – it will pay off over time. Finally, and this is the heart of the matter: Learn all you can about where their business is headed, and how you can help them meet their goals. Understanding your customers is the best way to build a meaningful relationship that pays dividends.
Although the services, products, and factories vary greatly from one customer to the next, most customers think and act in similar ways. Your customers need you in a variety of ways – sometimes simply for information and sometimes for a project. And remember, they don’t always have a project when you need one. They, like you, are constantly dealing with a wide range of issues from quality to employee morale, customer focus, the environment, and safety. Let them know you care. Relationships matter. They are many times the difference in business.