How to be the best for your customers as your customers come back.
Many UK businesses are facing the same dilemma: sales are down. In order to protect themselves from the fact that the majority of their order book will have disappeared, or customers have gone away, businesses feel forced to cut costs. There is less money coming in, but operating costs have continued as normal. This has resulted in many businesses taking advantage of the government’s furlough schemes, or maybe making the difficult decision to lay people off. The focus has been on controlling the costs and protecting the P&L so that there is a business to go back to when the UK emerges from lockdown. The reason companies have found that their customers have disappeared is because their customers are doing the same thing. However, this will not last forever. Already, businesses are returning, and sales are ramping up. You might be in a more fortunate position in that you have already witnessed a spike in demand, in which case you would benefit from reading our previous blog post: ‘Dealing with Increased Demand – Quick!’ However, if you are in a situation where your customers are beginning to come back, you must consider how you can be the best supplier for those customers.
It makes complete sense why you are focusing on costs; you have to do it, everyone does. Furlough schemes, redundancies, etc. will mean you have reduced capacity to fulfill on sales’ promises (to learn how best to maintain output with reduced capacity, click here). The focus of this article is ensuring your business is in the best position possible to win more sales quickly, because you can’t focus on costs forever. Sales will come back – what are you going to do to be ahead of the game so that those sales come back to you first? How are you going to be the best supplier for your customers?
To answer these questions, you need to first consider what it is that your customers need. When they come back, they are going to want to come back quickly and make as much money as soon as possible. If their suppliers aren’t ready, they won’t be able to take advantage and make the sale – your customers will not use you as a supplier if you are not ready to deliver. So, consider your customers’ points of view: who are they? Who are they selling to? What do they need? That will tell you what you need to have in place in order to support them (a full-kit). It is important how you then sell that ‘readiness’ to make sure when they are back, these customers give you the business and not another company.
Depending on whether your company is Make-To-Stock (MTS) or Make-To-Order (MTO) you will either need to have short lead-times or have the stock ready to go. If you are a manufacturer making stock, you need to make sure you have enough of the right parts. To understand what the ‘right’ parts are, you must begin with the end in mind. Pick a ‘core’ range; the parts that are most meaningful to many big customers. Do the analysis and decide on the right quantities so that when your customers come back, you will have it available for them. Take the actions now to put that inventory in place.
In MTO environments you are not making to stock; your customers need fast response times, which means short lead-times. They need you to be able to process their order quickly. So, you need capacity in production ready to go, no queues and an internal lead-time shorter than your competitors’. Of course, if you need help uncovering additional capacity and shrinking your lead-times you can contact us.
So, you have a compelling offer: the ‘core’ range and confidence in your ability to deliver. But an offer doesn’t sell itself. You might be ready to rebound, but that’s no good if your potential customers are unaware that you are! That’s the job of Sales and Marketing. Marketing aims to get the message out there, and sales’ role is to convince these people to spend their money with you. Marketing can use both physical (brochures, catalogues, flyers, etc.) and digital (email, social media, etc.) campaigns to get your offer out there. Whilst your competitors have been protecting themselves, you have been preparing to be the best supplier for your customers. The other key consideration for marketing, in addition to the methods of distribution, should be the target markets. Namely, buyers and decision makers. Remember, a buyer’s priority is to reduce the price. They are not normally the people who will be most negatively affected should you fail to deliver the inventory on time – those directly affected by a lack of stock are also your target market.
Your offer to the customer is essentially speed; you have the goods available, the customer won’t have to wait (MTS), or you have the capacity available and our lead-times are shorter than our competitions’ (MTO). Market the offer efficiently to the right decision makers. The selling begins the minute the message has landed. Following that you need to ensure that your inside sales have plenty of good leads and increase the volume of meaningful selling interactions. It is the salesperson’s job to convince potential customers that you are the best option to come back to.
So, you absolutely must protect your costs, but immediately following those actions you should spend an equal amount of time maintaining a business to fill the remaining capacity. The best way to do that is to be the best supplier for your customers as they begin to come back.
By Phil Snelgrove, Lauren Wiles