Connecting to customers

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Any change, any loss, does not make us victims. Others can shake you, surprise you, disappoint you, but they can't prevent you from acting, from taking the situation you're presented with and moving on. No matter where you are in life, no matter what your situation, you can always do something. You always have a choice, and the choice can be power.” –Blaine Lee, The Power Principle

There’s a famous quote by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche from his work Twilight of the Idols penned in 1888 that I am sure everyone in trucking is familiar with, even if you’ve never heard it before: “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.”

(If that’s even half true, then some serious trucking powerhouses are being forged as we speak.)

One thing business coaches of all stripes are emphatically re-emphasizing in these tough times is to make sure companies make stronger connections with customers. That’s an even greater challenge in trucking (and elsewhere in business) as there are fewer employees to do it; and maybe some of them being tagged to forge those relationships with customers are new to the game.

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Jim Walton – president & CEO of Brand Acceleration, a full-service advertising, brand management and public relations firm operating from Indianapolis, IN, and Charlotte, NC – discussed this very subject the other day in one of his email newsletters.

His contention is that connecting with customers isn’t anything new; rather, it’s a tried and true necessity that becomes absolutely critical when economic hard times come round. When things are rosy, attention paid to customer relationships tend to slide and that makes firing them up in rough patches – when everyone is desperate for business – all the tougher to accomplish.

“The other day, I was pondering the fact that many non-marketing people are now having to take on marketing roles, forcing them to polish their sales and marketing skills,” Walton said. “With leaner marketing staffs, company owners and managers are now faced with moving into the very uncomfortable marketing abyss.”

He noted that, several years ago, management guru Tom Peters introduced the world to the idea of “MBWA,” a clever acronym for “Management by Wandering Around” (a principle truck maintenance guru Darry Stuart lives by, let it be known).

Essentially, Walton explained that Peters – an alumnus of management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company – stressed that many managers are remote and out of touch with their people and their customers. “Today, I contend that many business owners are finding out just how out of touch they are,” Walton said. “A slower economy may require non-marketing people to leave their offices, get their proverbial boots dirty and get focused on brining business through the door. Maybe it's time for a new version of ‘MBWA’ – ‘Marketing by Wandering Around.’”

[Here's a quick snippet of what a Tom Peters presentation on his decidedly unique perspective of the business world is like.]

The logical place to start getting one's boots dirty is with people who have been paying your salaries for years, Walton pointed out – and they would be current customers. “A phone call, a visit, and maybe lunch or coffee would be a good beginning,” he stressed. “Show ‘em some love, get reacquainted and explore potential opportunities. If they have more than one decision maker or influencer, it might be worth your while to cater lunch to their office as a way of thanking them for their many years of business.”

On another front, the idea that prospective customers haven’t seen one of your company’s managers or owners in years is one that should make anyone in business cringe. “When business is good, it’s easy to become complacent, assuming that the marketing folks have the situation covered,” Walton said. “Well, it may be time to reevaluate.”

He noted as an example that a good friend of his – a business owner in his particular market for nearly 30 years – relegated himself to the role of “ambassador.” His primary job, as Walton explained, is to connect with both his staff and customers each day, showing deep appreciation and listening to their opinions, problems and needs. Since he’s not “selling,” per se, Walton pointed out that he is much more effective at establishing personal relationships that result in business opportunities.

In short, Walton believes it’s time to get out there, see customers, motivate the troops and hit the road with confidence and enthusiasm. Not easy to suggest in a down market when money is tight, but if you are doing it when no one else is, the resulting connections forged with customers may result in some valuable business being thrown your way when things start improving. It’s a thought to consider, though, at the very least.

What's Trucks at Work?

Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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