I keep hearing how business is so terrible and how there are no customers. And then I run into retailers like Taylor Flooring and Homevalue who tell me there are fewer customers but they’re doing good business and are seeing new ones.
Of course during this time you have to trim down your costs but you still have to have a plan for attracting new customers. As I recall, when times were good you didn’t need a strategy to attract customers; there were so many customers coming in the door that you didn’t even have to be a good salesperson to get these customers to buy. You just had to be there. You know the old "build it and they will come" saying. Well, it was true. They just came.
Now they aren’t coming, and for lots of reasons. Maybe it's a lack of trust in the "system" or less money and more re-prioritizing of their lives and financing. If you didn’t have a plan before, you’re in a pickle. Those who are doing well or getting through this recession without losing their shirts have always had a plan. Plans have to be altered but your plan should have the basics of what’s necessary.
So let’s talk about your "brand plan."
You’ve relied on your brand and others' brands to get you through but has the message changed? The customer sure has, so your brand must change if you’re going to connect. Customers are worried, and certainly see trusted brands as a safe bet. They're comforting in times when everyone’s all wondering, who can I trust? For those of you who have taken sales training classes you all know that "empathy" is the most important trait of a good salesperson or anyone or anything who’s trying to sell a product.
Reducing quality, changing prices, taking away "value" that you have always given the customer will not increase your brand value. These empathetic messages must say to the customer, we understand, I’m with you. The message "you should buy because things are cheap" or "we’re the only game in town" just makes you look like you don’t care about what your customer is experiencing. Don’t take out your frustrations on the customers.
Tactics such as rewarding only big time spenders or reducing quality so customers get to play less won’t build trust. Expanding your product offering at lesser prices is still value added. But reducing quality on items when you know they need better is not a good strategy. Quality is still quality and value is still value, always keep that in mind.
Educate your customers on how to shop your products. Tell them warranties do matter and installation standards certainly make a difference. It’s time to go back to those values. Old time, new customer service. In my book, Red Hot Customer Service, I talk about things most people have forgotten but that can still impact your sales and bottom line.
Remind your customers that buying the brand certainly does matter because it can be trusted. Don’t forget in times like these, your brand and your connection is what really matters. What are you doing to support your brand?
- Look at your warranties, do you remember to give them to your customers after the sale?
- Do you explain to customers how to take care of the products they’ve purchased?
- Do you call them after the job to say hello and make sure the job is perfect?
Do you do small things like show up on the job and talk with the customer? If the customer isn’t home do you go to the job and video the rooms that are complete and send it to the customer while they are at work? (This is a very creative move on retailer’s part.)
Realize that consumers have changed and this shift may be long term. Customers are very unhappy and untrusting and may insist that you prove who you are. Customers tired of the greed and lack of company ethics will demand accountability. I saw an interesting ad for insurance company RM Global. They wrote about the tornado that tore through Atlanta in 2005, leveling everything including the Atlanta Motor Speedway. Three-and-a half months later the fall race weekend opened as plan. How? Because of the partnership between the Atlanta Motor Speedway and RM Global. More and more ads are showing connections. Oil companies talk about how they can reduce carbon footprints; Men’s Warehouse is offering to let the customer "keep the suit" if they lose their jobs, and most car companies are willing to take the car back if you lose your job — or help make the payments for you.
Will the recession end some day? Yes it will. The longer it takes the more damage it will do in the customer's mind. According to John A. Quelch, a professor at Harvard Business School, "During the recession of 2001, there was no decline in overall spending, although many cut back. It should be noted that this recession shows consumers being very frightened, which means that they will carry the sting for many years."
In other words, during the last recession we had, in 2001, consumers didn't change their spending habits! It's different this time, so it's time to get in step with your customer. We may be doing this dance for a while.
- Age of Conversation 2 – Why Don't They Get It on Amazon?
- Harvard Business Review, How to Market in a Downturn
- Get to the Point: Small Business
Lis Calandrino is a sales trainer and marketing consultant who speaks around the country on topics ranging from retail sales to online marketing and social media trends. She can be reached at [email protected] or 518 495-5380.