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Time to get up close and personal

The best customers are not necessarily those who buy the most often. They can also be those that buy your most profitable products. But do you still know who they are and what keeps them buying. By Deborah Rowe

You should know your customers well at the best of times but when things are tough it’s even more important to know what makes them tick. If you don’t know who your profitable customers are then you run the risk of losing them to a competitor. You should make it your business to know their needs, and buying patterns, so that when things change you are in a position to respond quickly and keep those customers engaged.

‘Why bother?’ You might ask – and the answer is that in a recession it’s easier, and more cost-effective, to retain existing customers than to win new ones. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be out there looking for new business but the retention of existing customers should be a key part of the marketing strategy.

Your customers will be constantly evaluating how they spend their budgets and if they start to spend less you want to know why that is and how best to respond to your mutual benefit. If you can work with them they are more likely to stay loyal – and it doesn’t necessarily have to be about dropping prices, you might be able to achieve the same effect by finding other ways to add value. Take your eye off the ball and it could be whisked away by a close competitor before you know it.

So are you fully engaged with your customers? Do you understand their buying patterns? Do they still want the same things, delivered in the same way, at the same time and price? If you’re not sure then do the research and when you survey your customers make sure you act on the feedback. Don’t forget those lapsed customers. It may well be that their buying requirements have also changed in which case now would be a good time to re-engage and win them back.

Make sure your customers know how you have improved your offering to suit their changing needs. Keep them informed of new initiatives and products that might make their life easier. Help them to stay ahead in their own role by keeping them up to speed on changes that may affect how they run their organisation. It will be appreciated - and hopefully rewarded by their loyalty.

Getting up close and personal can certainly give smaller businesses the edge. That said there is no reason why the big boys can’t take a leaf out of their book for a change. Those that do will find they have better customer relationships and steady order books that extend beyond the tough times.

Just remember, staying close doesn’t mean becoming a nuisance – nobody likes a stalker.

Deborah Rowe, principal consultant of Sheba Marketing (, is a member of the organising committee for the Chartered Institute of Marketing Construction Industry Group (CIMCIG – and has never knowingly stalked anyone.