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It’s the Little Things That Count

MarketWatch by Mike Whalen

A few years back I joined a manufacturing business in a marketing capacity. My original call to them was answered, “Good Afternoon, how can I help you?” I waited for the expected prompt: ‘If you know the extension of the person… ’. After a few moments a live voice asked if I was still there.
This was a fairly large company and a live receptionist was not the norm. As it turned out, the company had an understanding of the value of a first impression. We all know the frustration of trying to navigate an automated reception. After I joined the company, and completed a customer satisfaction survey, I found that the ‘live receptionist’ was at the top of the list of answers to the question, ‘What do you like about the company?’ Having a live person answering the phone made you feel welcome and that your call was appreciated.
In this issue we’ll talk a little about marketing for small to medium sized OEM’s and work truck up-fitters. The suggestions can also apply to OED’s, Independent Distributors and Service Providers.
Marketing budgets for smaller companies are usually not able to cover the high costs of print or visual advertising. The use of social media – FaceBook, YouTube, Twitter, etc., for very low cost is a very effective way to reach your markets.
However, there are also other ways to raise your company’s profile in a crowded market.
It is well documented that ‘Ease of doing business with your company’ is the most important driver.
To make Ease of doing business with the driver, it might be necessary to re-think your business model. From first contact forward, you need to make sure your customer feels welcome and does not ever feel frustrated during their relationship with your company. The objective is to make your customer’s life easier and keep them doing business with you – starting with first contact.
The live reception!
Develop a customer interaction map.
Plot all points of customer interaction, from first contact on to the end of the relationship – if there ever is an end. Focus on developing a long-term relationship that stands the test of ‘making life easier’ for your customer.
A simple generic plan can be as follows:
1. Meet with customer to determine product service needs and acquisition cost.
2. Explain all component warranties and return policies. Make sure before the sale that the customer understands the warranties so there are no surprises in the future that could damage the relationship.
Use Warranties as a sales tool. Base warranty length and coverage on a Corporate Warranty Budget that includes a percentage of manufacturing cost and a percentage of the Marketing Budget.
3. Take responsibility for delivery and operational training (if appropriate). Make sure your product is understood by the buyer and that there are no ‘bugs’ that would show up after the customer takes delivery.
4. After-sale inventory plan. If a maintenance program/service plan is to be followed and service parts are required, put together a plan that supports the product purchased. An insured parts consignment program can cement a long term relationship and also be instrumental in securing inventory support for the customer’s entire fleet.
5. After-sale follow-up, service and performance review. Proactive regular contact to make sure your product satisfies the customer’s expectations. If it does not, you need to have a plan to fix or replace.
6. Use Credit and Collection as a sales tool. Example: If your customer is behind due to short term circumstances, develop a plan of repayment that is tied to new business. Working with your customer to fix the problem works much better, in the long run, then being hard-nosed about collecting the debt.
7. Newsletter. Customer product experience reviews. Customers in the news, etc.
8. Support customer trade events. Play an active role in local trade associations.
9. Use your company website to promote your customers’ sales programs… do not compete with your customer. (More on this in future columns.)
Although large promotional budgets are hard for small to medium sized companies to compete with, it’s important to understand that the most effective promotional program is one that gets up close and personal.
Example: Discussing the value of Huck bolts versus welding or riveting directly with the end-user beats any other way of presenting the product. Expensive videos do not have the impact of a hands-on demonstration.
A marketing program focused on customer interaction will do a better job, at a much lower cost, than a high-cost media.
No matter what your business does, always look at your company as a marketing company. From first contact to collections, each function is part of your marketing program. And your customer relationship is affected by every point of contact.

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