One of the first casualties in a slow economy is the restaurant business. I recently heard of a food service company that lost over 100 of their restaurant customers in the last year. This kind of revenue loss is fatal to any business, no matter what your industry.
The truth of the matter is that a large percentage of small businesses are companies you may never have heard of, but use all the time. These small to medium businesses supply raw materials, components, packaging and services that make the products you use every day what they are. Just think about how some of these little parts improve the overall quality of our lives; rubber check valves that regulate the flow of water in your ice maker or toilet, rubber strips that insulate your car doors, and myriad other seemingly insignificant parts and services that keep most of our country employed.
I’ve spent the last 25 years working with these companies, and one thing that consistently amazed me was how dependent huge multi-national corporations like pharmaceutical companies, auto makers and appliance manufacturers were on our comparatively small company. If our “insignificant” part wasn’t working properly, their operations shut down. On the other hand, these huge customers also comprised upwards of 20% of our revenue, so when demand for their products declined, our business suffered.
Hence, the smartest think any small business can do is make it their mission to keep their customers in business. You might be thinking “How can I influence a huge company?” Well, you would be surprised at how much control you have in making your customers’ lives easier. But it will require a difference kind of conversation. Here is a sample discussion guide you might use to help you keep your customers in business.
- What are your (your customer’s) highest priorities right now? They might say something like, cutting costs or increasing sales. Dig deeper and get specifics such as where they see the biggest opportunities for cutting cost or increasing sales.
- What are your biggest obstacles to achieving your goals?
- Can we talk about ways in which we can help you in any of these areas? Open the discussion into a brainstorming session. Chances are good that they may not understand all the elements that you control in your process that might help.
- What are some things you wished we did for you that we currently don’t ?(that would help you achieve your goal)
This short list should get you started on the road to opening up new opportunities for yourself and for your customers. This is a different conversation and you currently may not even have the right contact at the company who can answer these questions. So call those customers today and start finding the right people to talk to about this.
The worst thing that can happen is that they will rebuff you and want to keep the relationship the same. The most likely thing that will happen is that you will increase your contact base at your most important customers. You will set yourself apart from other suppliers who are only thinking about themselves right now. Your customer will perceive you as a partner and a creative participant in helping them succeed.
And the most amazing thing that will happen is that you will uncover new opportunities for your customer AND yourself that will keep you both in business and their customers happy.