By Ron Volper
The most profitable companies are the ones that regularly re-examine their business assumptions and change their sales and marketing strategies based on what worked and didn’t work in the previous year. Here are five resolutions and action plans to help you grow your business in the new year.
1. Become a more customer-focused company
Companies that are perceived to be customer-focused usually attract and keep more customers and are more profitable than competitors who aren’t.
— Continually communicate the importance of customer service to your staff as one way to differentiate your company.
— Only hire salespeople and other customer-contact people who have demonstrated they care about customers.
— Provide your staff with training and coaching in communication skills so they can meet customer expectations.
— Recognize and reward employees who go the extra mile to help customers.
— Give your staff guidelines and empower them to make decisions to resolve customer complaints.
— Remind your staff that when they receive a customer complaint, they need to address three things: the presenting problem, the customer and the underlying problem. If they are not in a position to fix the underlying problem, then they are responsible for bringing it to the attention of management.
2. Invest more in advertising and marketing
Unless a company is in dire financial straits, it’s a mistake to cut advertising and marketing budgets. Because customers are now more skittish, you need to appear more often both in advertising and in face-to-face meetings with them. Because many companies have cut back on advertising, your message is more likely to stand out. And because media outlets have seen a drop in demand, you can now negotiate better rates.
— Use high-tech advertising, such as Internet keywords, and high-touch traditional approaches, such as sponsoring events, to get your message across.
— Use traditional direct mail as well as e-mail to reach potential customers. While e-mail is less costly, direct mail often is more impactful.
— Do not cut your travel or communications budgets, because you’ll need more face-to-face meetings to win over customers.
3. Provide more sales training
The most successful companies offer training programs that measurably improve the knowledge and skills of veteran salespeople as well as rookies.
— Be sure that the sales training is aligned with your marketing vision and sales goals for the year.
— Conduct a needs analysis to identify strengths and weaknesses and involve your team in planning the content of the training.
— Customize the training program to reflect your company’s products and sales reality.
— Reinforce the training at regularly scheduled team meetings.
4. Protect existing customer relationships
The key to profitability is keeping your current customers. The longer you keep them, the more profitable the relationship usually becomes. An existing customer is more likely to purchase than a than a prospect is. And the key to acquiring new customers is getting referrals from current customers.
— Conduct a vulnerability analysis to identify signs that an existing customer relationship may be in jeopardy. Look for generic signs, such as identifying customers who are less prompt in returning your phone calls or less anxious to meet with you.
— Conduct annual account reviews to surface any perceived problems with regard to how well you are meeting your customers’ needs and expectations. Account reviews also can serve as a forum for learning about customers’ future plans and how you can fit into them.
5. Do not leave well-enough alone
In this fast-paced environment where customer needs and tastes rapidly change and where competitors present ongoing threats to your business, the companies that succeed are the ones willing to make major changes. So evaluate what may no longer be working for your company and have the courage to stop doing it.
— Establish a customer advisory board so senior management can tap into changes in customer perceptions and needs, and use this business intelligence to identify future opportunities and guard against risks.
— Encourage all senior managers, regardless of their functional responsibility, to go on sales calls so they can hear first-hand about emerging customer needs.
— Appoint top salespeople to a sales advisory board, as they have the most customer interaction and can report on what they are hearing from a wide array of customers.
Ron Volper is managing partner of the Ron Volper Group and author of Up Your Sales in a Down Market (Career Press, November 2011). Volper, who has trained more than 30,000 salespeople and executives during the past 25 years, also teaches at New York University.