The changes started innocently enough. A few years ago, I noticed that personal meetings with certain clients became harder to arrange. More and more communications happened by email, and some by text.
My salespeople have complained for several years now that it is more difficult than ever to get initial appointments with prospects. Not only have physical barriers to sales and marketing efforts increased in recent years, but the Millennial Generation and Generation Z seem to genuinely prefer electronic communication to personal contact. And the list goes on.
What does it all mean?
Well, the combination of the internet based communications revolution and the Great Recession has resulted in a new economy, one which is demand driven, literally. Internet based communications mean that people can reach you in two seconds flat, and the Great Recession and its aftermath ensured that most companies operate with more efficiency and less fat than a one man band. In short, many businesses pay less heed to personal relationships with vendors than in the past, and instead, make contact only when they need a product or a service. Again, the net result of these changes is that some companies have no contact with you until the second they need you.
What is the big deal you ask? Why do you need a constant flow on information with your business partners when they are telling you with their actions that they don’t need you until they NEED you?
It turns out that this is a REALLY BIG DEAL because that constant flow of information you seek is your lifeline to your customers. Without some give and take, how do you know that your customer will come back the next time they need you, especially if you haven’t heard from them in a while? Just as important, how are you ever going to grow your business and establish new relationships without in person meetings?
5 Steps your business can take to thrive in this economy:
1. Make your incoming lines of communications as open and flexible as possible. Be willing to answer emails after hours when needed and employ text messaging to communicate with clients who request it. Always confirm receipt of emails in writing to ensure good work flow. Use Facebook and LinkedIn contacts when necessary to locate hard to reach clients in a pinch. And never, ever forget about answering an email. (You wouldn’t hang up on a client, would you?)
2. Turn the internet to your advantage. Be sure your website is not just OK, but a true representation of your business’ image. Make the site state-of-the-art, easy to use, and be sure your site encourages e-commerce. Be certain it is the very best it can be. Your website is the portal to your business for many of your prospects and customers, and it can either impress visitors or create the impression that your image is not important to you.
3. Use both the internet and social media to quickly research new business opportunities. The amount of publicly available information online is astonishing today and gaining knowledge this way needs to be a key element in your sales effort. This information can be the key to getting past numerous locked doors in the way of new sales development, and it increases the odds of success from the in person sales opportunities you do get.
4. Take every relevant sales lead seriously, until it becomes clear it is not a good opportunity for your business. Sales leads may come from farther away than in the past, and if you aren’t fully invested in following through on these leads, you may be missing out. One of my companies recently had an opportunity which originated in California and led to product shipping out to Vancouver. At the same time, be sure to politely decline to work on estimates for prospects who incorrectly think their work is a good fit for your business. Your time is worth more than ever, so use it wisely!
5. Don’t give up on in-person meetings. Be sure to take your best clients to lunch regularly and to follow up after big orders go out. Use estimates as opportunities to meet with hard to meet VIP’s. When appropriate, hand out promotional items or give gifts at holiday time in person. The lack of in person efforts from your competition means that your personal efforts will get noticed. Go above and beyond in your service efforts whenever you can.
If you follow these simple steps, you can grow your company. It is your job to show your prospects and clients why your personal service will enhance their business!