- April 27, 2006, David J. Bentley, Jr., Contributing Editor
Who are the most important people in your company? Do you think immediately of the CEO, president, or similar high-ranking people? Or perhaps someone else that toils relentlessly and gives the company many extra hours of work each week. No and no. As you might suspect from the title of this column, the most important people are your customers.
Your company would not exist without customers to purchase the products you supply. Therefore, establishing a relationship with your customers is probably your most important task. In years past, it was common to do this through lavish entertainment such as weekends at resorts, invitations to sporting events, dinners at posh restaurants, etc. But many companies have come to realize that offering these perks does not always purchase true loyalty. And such entertainment is extremely expensive.
Companies still can cater to their customers but in a more effective way at a much lower cost. The secret to success is to establish a relationship with each customer. There are many ways to do this.
Suppose you are a supplier of an adhesive to a customer who uses it to make a flexible packaging lamination. The first part of establishing a relationship with your customer is to know the people who are involved in the purchase and use of your adhesive. You should know—on a personal basis—the people in the purchasing department. You should also know the people that do the laminating, all the way from the person that specifies the use of your adhesive to the operators that use your adhesive on their equipment to prepare the final product.
What are the items of interest to the purchasing department? Obviously, price is a prime concern common to all purchasers, but you need to know all the other hot buttons having to do with delivery, containers, storage, and similar items.
Try to determine exactly why the purchasing department buys your product rather than a material from a competitor. What are the deficiencies of your product that the purchaser accepts only because your material is superior in another aspect. If they could have their wildest dream come true, what would your customer really want from your product?
The answers to these and similar questions will challenge you to improve your material and help ensure you will keep this company as a customer.
After you have established a relationship with a customer using some variation of the approaches mentioned above, you have an excellent opportunity upon which you must capitalize: You want to be involved in the development work your customer is doing. Continuing with the same example, if the flexible packaging laminator wants to find an adhesive that will allow his user to eliminate one ply from the lamination, you should know this as soon as possible. Only in this way can you be certain that the new product that results from the solution will use something that you can make. In other words, you are guaranteeing future business.
In today’s environment of limited time and money, contacts with customers don’t always have to be personal visits. Phone calls made on a regular basis can be as effective as face-to-face meetings. Everyone has had business experiences where they have established a personal relationship with someone whom they never met.
Undoubtedly there are other ways you can think of that would apply to your specific customers and niche of the industry.
David J. Bentley Jr. is a recognized industry expert in polymers, laminations, and coatings with more than 30 years of experience in R&D and technical service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.