At Kirby Puckett’s Hall of Fame induction, he said, “Don’t take anything for granted. Tomorrow is not promised to any of us.” Now I am sure #34 wasn’t the first person to provide that insight, but I’m a big Twins fan and my dog is named after Puckett, so I give him his due. It’s simple advice. We are often reminded in theory or practice to not take things for granted. In business, this is especially true with customer relationships. If you’ve been in business for many years, undoubtedly, you’ve developed strong relationships. There is trust between customer and vendor. As a result, the customer is confident their needs will be met. And the vendor is assured more business is coming.
Underneath the surface of that relationship is a constant fragility that needs to be taken seriously. 2020 was a great reminder of that – people lost their jobs, the supply chain failed, business models changed. Consistent return customers are important to the growth of any business, but it is our responsibility to make sure that relationship continues to be nurtured and developed. As soon as things feel “comfortable” is the time to dig deeper – meet a new contact, ask some more questions, go to the facility.
Go The Extra Mile
In April, My wife and I welcomed our 2nd child to the world. Through two pregnancies, we have really enjoyed our OBGYN physician and we couldn’t pinpoint the differentiating factor until our last follow-up visit. Our pregnancies have gone well, our babies have thrived post-delivery…all is good. We tell her things are going well, and she continues to ask questions. There are no devices in front of her and she continues to ask about various things. Tell me about this…How is this going…how are you feeling about this…And though we think things are going well, she can pry information out of us to evolve the conversation and improve our situation. She is a doctor – not a salesperson or engineer, but her approach is a methodology we need to take with our customer base. Things may be great, but what else can we help with, what are the growth objectives, where are the pain points, how else can our company provide value. It’s our job to keep asking questions.
We recently had a legacy customer choose another supplier for a complicated automation project. Throughout the proposal process, we assumed we were the lead contender because of the strength of the relationship. The feedback was that we didn’t bring all the information to the table – we didn’t ask enough questions to build their confidence. It’s a project we could’ve knocked out of the park – but we faltered early in the discovery process and that was enough. We will have other opportunities – they will continue to send us business, but we missed this opportunity. It was a good reminder to never rest on our laurels. Dig deeper – even with existing relationships, all new opportunities should be treated as such.
The 80/20 rule has a variety of quality applications. I’d venture to guess most small businesses generate 80% of their business from their top 20% of customers. Well in the spirit of not taking things for granted, I suggest sales teams spend 80% of their time with that upper 20% echelon of customers. Don’t rely on the relationship, drive the evolution of the relationship.