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Sun, Sep

Putting loyalty back on the cards

Consultant Matthew Parker provides his top tips on how to retain valuable customers and build business on the back of their loyalty. 

The humble PDF is often seen as a saviour of the print industry. It has eliminated the need for traditional artwork. New files can now be transmitted easily, cheaply and instantaneously. But the advantages of the PDF have also been a major threat to the print industry. The PDF has reduced customer loyalty. As a buyer, it is now very easy for me to send my artwork to a new supplier. All I have to do is to send one quick email. There are no barriers to changing suppliers. It’s tempting for a buyer to do this even if there is saving of as little as £10.

As every print job becomes more keenly fought for, it is vital that printers do everything they can to keep clients. Many sales people are focused primarily on winning new clients. Winning new customers is a lot of work. It is also costly. Research shows that it is between seven and 12 times more expensive to win a new client than to upsell a current client.

Perhaps print companies need an action plan to keep the customers they already have.

Those that focus on creating loyal clients will have more control over their sales pipeline. They are more likely to achieve the sales figures that they require. However, there is also a less obvious benefit apart. Such printers are more likely to create powerful relationships with their customers. Because they will be in contact more frequently, they will be more aware of their customers' needs, giving them a great opportunity to upsell new products/services.

So here are seven strategies for creating loyal clients:

Ask for feedback

While it is good practice to ask for feedback, it may not seem an obvious way to keep your clients. However, many customers who experience poor service don't say anything about it. They simply move to a new supplier. Not only does this mean you have lost a customer. You also have no knowledge of why they left or how to prevent other customers leaving for the same reason. That's why asking for feedback on a regular basis is vital. If your customer has experienced any problems, they have a chance to talk about it. And you have a chance to put things right. You have a chance to show why things went go wrong again.

Putting things right is an incredibly effective way of gaining customer loyalty (go to http://bit.ly/129nDJ4 for an example). Here's another way:

Ask for testimonials

Again, this may not seem an obvious way to keep your customers. Goods testimonials can be highly effective, but they are normally used to win new customers. However, they can have a powerful psychological effect on the person who gives them. They are publicly declaring their loyalty to your company. Therefore, they feel compelled to demonstrate this loyalty. They are far less likely to move to a new supplier. (More information on effective testimonials can be seen at http://bit.ly/x41NU0 )

Ask what you can do for them

Many print companies have a passive sales approach. They do what the customer asks them to. They may deliver excellent service and print but this on its own is not enough. Companies should be actively asking their clients about their business issues. They should be finding out about their customers' challenges. They should be trying to solve these challenges.

By doing this they may well win opportunities to carry out more work. However, it's not just about print. I like to think of myself as pain relief for my clients. If they have a business headache, I like to be able to solve it for them. Even if I am just making an introduction to someone else who can help them, I am still helping myself. The customer is more likely to view me as an essential business associate. If they move their business from me they lose far more than the services of my company.

This strategy also allows me to understand my customers' businesses better. That means that I can put the next strategy into practice.

Have a calendar of business events

I have found this calendar to be a powerful way of winning business. I used to do a lot of work with a bike company. They regularly exhibited their products at trade shows. I made sure that I kept a note of all the shows they were due to attend. As a show came nearer, I would contact the customer to remind them of all the items they needed for the event. Naturally, that included print.

Not only did I save the client a lot of organisational headaches, I also won a lot of print work! Best of all, I would win it before any other company had a chance to quote on it.

To create an effective calendar, you will also find the next strategy useful.

Hold regular review meetings

Review meetings are a great way to sit down and plan strategically with your client. You can do this away from the pressures of day-to-day operations. With the right relationship, there is a good opportunity to talk openly about both your companies. There is an opportunity to be honest about what would make a relationship even better for you both.

Review meetings are also a splendid opportunity to brainstorm. As a result of this, I have seen some review meetings create very profitable business opportunities for both sides. If you want to make the most of review meetings, you need to use the next strategy.

Supply case studies

At review meetings there is often an opportunity to suggest new ways of doing things for your clients. However, clients like hard facts before committing cash to new ideas. That's where the case study comes in.

It may be that you are trying to persuade a client to try personalisation. Or a new style of signage. If this is the case, a case study will make your sales pitch much more effective. It will prove that your theories work in real life for other businesses. (Go to http://bit.ly/SykSv9 for an example of how to create an effective case study) 

A good case study doesn’t just persuade a client to buy more print. It shows that you are a business partner. It shows that you are focused on growing your clients' businesses.

Review meetings and case studies can also really help you with the final strategy.

Create sticky customers

At the beginning of this article I explained how easy it is for a customer to move supplier. This is true if all they are doing is supplying a PDF file for a simple print job. However, it is much more complicated if they are a sticky customer.

Sticky customers are clients who have integrated you into their business processes. In other words, you are no longer a commodity supplier. Instead you supply more than print. Examples of sticky solutions for instance are Web-to-print, design, fulfilment and data services. If a client is purchasing any services like these, they will find it far more difficult to move supplier.

Take Web-to-print. If I’m using a printer for this and I want to switch supplier I have to move all my artwork files to a new system. I may need to train staff in the new system. This expense and effort means that there has to be a very powerful reason for me to be suppliers. I am not going to change from my current supplier for the sake of a £10 saving on a simple print job.

Creating sticky clients is the ultimate way to create a loyal customer. However, its takes time to persuade clients to buy into sticky solutions. Some print sales people see a big problem with strategies such as these – see below.

Focus and phone

We live in a busy business environment. Nobody wants phone calls or meetings for the sake of it but if you can persuade your client that you have some new business ideas you may win their time. Start with a short phone call and focus on the issues they have, not the solution you want to sell. As clients see that you have their interests at heart, they are likely to trust you with more time. If you can solve their problems, you’ll get more than the sale, you’ll get loyalty.

Action stations

If you want to create a loyal client, you need to act on these strategies. Here are three action points to get you going:

  • Create a customer loyalty strategy. Set out three action points that you will carry out this week. Set out the three action point is that you will carry out this month. Finally, set out three action points that you will carry out this quarter.
  • Brief your sales and customer services teams on your loyalty strategy.
  • Make sure that you are getting constant tips on customer loyalty.

 

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