A few articles ago I wrote of “relevancy” being a required building block of any career destined for financial security. But, again it’s one thing to be relevant and it’s another for those around you to know it and frame it in their own belief system as something useful and valuable.Offering a product or service to to the marketplace is no different. Just as your value to your employer diminishes as others are perceived to offer similar expertise, knowledge, or skill sets your value to your customer diminishes as other distributors offer similar products and services. We all just become commodities as does everything in our catalogues. Revenue and margins start falling and funny enough, the first thing that usually happens then is a reduction in relationship investments – available sales staff, literature, samples, and one-on-one contact.
Don’t kid yourself – no one wants to hang around losers. It’s in our nature, as humans, to want to associate with winners. So do your customers. They want to be proud of their associations and their business partners. They want the confidence that not only are they getting the best deal but that their best interests are being looked after. And, when they realize one of their suppliers is in scavenger mode, they know it’s about self-preservation and not customer service. Once you’ve been pegged as a threat, that message travels like a virus throughout your entire revenue supply chain (usually with the help of your competitors) and it could take more resources then you have to reposition yourself.
The solution to this is simple – survey your customers on a regular schedule to evaluate your perceived threat level. Don’t interpret your customers having a back-up supplier as a low opinion of your abilities – that’s just good business practice on their part. But, you should know what percentage of what ever they’re buying comes from your warehouse. Don’t ask for specifics because they won’t tell you. Segment your questions: 0-25%, 25-50%, 50-75%, 75%+.
Deep personal relationships with customers aren’t always useful here. They don’t want to hurt your feelings any more than you want to let them down. So, anonymous surveys are probably the better solution. SurveyMonkey.com offers a very useful service – you go in, create your survey, email out a request to your survey pool, and when it’s all over the results are summarized.
Word of advice – invest in a professional communications company to develop your surveys. There’s an art to this if you truly want insight into customer attitudes. Surveys don’t have to be long, nor do they have to be complex. Some companies spend so much time developing the questions they never get to asking them. JUST GET STARTED – five to ten questions offered to a 100 customers. You’re going to make mistakes – everything is a test. JUST DO IT!