Have you ever been woken up by cold water splashed in your face? That was what happened to me when I read a blog post on another site the other day. To paraphrase (because I failed to bookmark the site and can’t find it again–drat) he said that those in the printing business should not hold expectations that 2010 was going to improve the state of the market. Furthermore he said that there were only two things companies could do to remain viable during the coming year. The first, was concentrate on customer retention. In this market losing customers is like losing blood. Do whatever you have to do to stop the loss. The second thing was steal customers from the competition. Honest to goodness, steal was the exact word used. It wasn’t attract new customers, it was steal customers.
Part of me understands his point while another part of me is revolted. In a down economy new customers are rare. Prudent people rarely start new businesses during hard times. Banks are loath to loan and entrepreneurs are careful. So if new customers aren’t springing up that only leaves current customers. If they aren’t your customer, then they are someone else’s. There is something very distasteful to me about targeting some other company’s livelihood knowing that if you win you may be causing their demise. That is what the emotional side of me says.
The pragmatic side says that you have to face reality. If it takes stealing a customer to keep your company afloat, and allow your employees to put food on their tables, that’s what you have to do. Strike first before they strike you.
Is that cutthroat? Maybe, but business is a jungle and it is survival of the fittest. Don’t we benefit as a society if those moving the bar up are the ones surviving? Don’t we get better goods and services? For the sake of all shouldn’t those weaker companies be weeded out? For the good of the garden thinning has to take place. OK, I’ve managed to mix at least three metaphors in the previous sentences, but you get my point–right?
Stealing customers might be a correct term even though it’s hard to swallow (yet another metaphor). I remember talking to a travel agency some years ago about their marketing. They got tired of fighting for position in the middle of the pack and decided to break out by being unique. What they did is identify ten commercial accounts who did large volumes in travel. Then they determined how much they were already spending on newspaper and magazine ads. They totaled their radio expense. In short they added all of their marketing costs and put it into an imaginary pot. Then they looked at those ten prospects again and divvied up the pot ten ways. During the next year they focused all of their energies on the golden ten. All they had to do was get three and their business would increase. When the dust settled, and the year was over they had six out of ten, and business more than doubled for them.
Those ten golden commercial accounts had been buying travel services from someone else. In effect, the upstart travel agency stole their customers. Or as I like to think of it they won the business. Because they were focused on only ten, they could service the businesses like they had never been serviced before. It wasn’t theft, is was a reward for a job well done. To not reward them with business after this effort would be criminal.
To stay afloat, and even improve during an economic downturn find a way to earn more business. Whinning all day long that business is bad won’t do it. No that won’t do at all.