You’ve heard the naval expression before: “all hands on deck.” It neatly sums up how teams of people with a range of responsibilities unite to do one job: to keep a ship afloat in rough seas.
Business leaders sometimes have to issue that kind of call, too.
Having worked with clients who’ve had to protect their customer base in an eroding marketplace, let me share with you the best practices that—more than just keeping a business afloat—have helped them boost revenues, grow customers and become smarter organizations as a result of the experience.
Stop taking on water
Not every business operates in a market where there’s healthy growth and steady demand for their products or services. Some markets are cyclical. Some are in legacy support operations, or are servicing aging markets. Others are subject to disruptive changes.
Whatever those outside forces are, your first job is to focus on what’s immediately within your control: putting a stop to any amount loss of existing customers and sales. Those losses to a business are as dangerous as a ship taking on water in a storm.
The overarching question you need to be asking yourself is this: are we doing enough of the right things to protect our base?” Understanding what those “right things” are is a large part of how you are going to plug the holes and stop more water from coming in.
Make every part of your business a profit center
A big mistake business leaders make when trying to solve shrinking revenue is to frame the situation strictly as sales department problem. Everyone—from delivery people to folks in accounting, from executives to junior salespeople—have a role to play in transforming individual action into profit.
What do I mean by action? Salespeople are responsible for prospecting and selling your product or service, but everyone in your organization is responsible for selling your brand: the experience your customers have when they come into contact with your business.
That’s why it’s important you give all your employees the tools and initiative to: promote the values that your company stands for; ask for client referrals; build relationships; and spot new sales opportunities.
Every time an employee talks to your customer, they’re representing your company and are going to determine the health of that business relationship. I had a client in the office supply sector who learned this lesson the hard way. In trying to understand why their return sales were flagging, they discovered their product assemblers had a habit of saying very unflattering things about the product that the customer just bought…and told them this to their faces while they installed the product! This was turned around by retraining their installers and instilling in them the importance of how to communicate with customers.
Make networking all about achieving insider status
Righting your ship in rough seas and setting a course for accelerated growth happens when every member of your crew does their part in growing the company’s network. This is about far more than handing out business cards. The goal is to build insider status. I talk about this—including detailed examples—in Chapter 10 of my book Non-Stop Sales Boom: “Every conversation is a good conversation—whether it’s with a CEO or a gatekeeper. Insight comes in many forms, and each contact you make in that corporate community plays a role in the sales process.”
It’s much, much harder to lose an existing customer when you have insider status with them: you’re a known quantity to them and your network becomes more like a web and less like a telephone line. This ensures you’re better able to listen, interpret and respond to needs of many people within an organization.
I have a client in the industrial supply sector that learned how to make insider status work for them. Their team of drivers had two jobs over-and-above product delivery: listen to what the customer talks about and report back with what you hear. The sales department were then able to take that information and modify their prospecting and follow-up activity to better meet the needs of their territory.
With an all hands on deck approach, there’s a lot you can do to keep your business growing and thriving—even in a tough market. You’ll know that this approach is working for you when you’re able to answer this question: do my existing customers feel better or worse after they have any kind of interaction with our company? If they feel better, you’ve created new opportunities for sales to perform at the peak of their potential. If they feel worse, you’ve made it harder for salespeople to perform the way you expect: course corrections are in order.