Tips For Struggling Businesses, Continued

Last month I introduced several concepts put forth by John Chidsey, president and chief executive officer of Burger King, to help struggling firms. The first two points were to focus on two or three major drivers that will make the biggest impact on the business, namely revenue generation, cost and expense control, and cash management.

His second point was to maintain a sense of urgency and risk taking to get things done. This involves effective communication and involvement with both employees and customers. Soliciting ideas from both groups may well yield positive results.

This month I present two of the three remaining topics in Chidsey’s “Five Tips.” They are: “Know your customers” and “Great relationships are key in this business.”

Knowing your customers is easily stated but hard to do. It’s one thing if you’re a single-store operator. Even then, you likely have sales personnel who deal with “your” customers. If you’re a multi-store operation and have more than 15 to 20 employees, you’re in a whole different world. You are, in the second case, managing a human resource function. Your connection with customers becomes more distant as you’ve become more of a manager dealing with big issues.

In either case, it’s time to get back on the sales floor and talk to customers and prospects. Greeting customers as they enter the store is a warm fuzzy. Have you ever noticed that several of the big box stores have someone at the door to welcome and thank visitors for coming into Home Depot, Kmart, and even Wal-Mart?

Collecting information on customers is important. Like it or not, getting e-mail addresses is critical to knowing your customers and easily communicating with them. Every client’s e-mail address should be part of your database. This is especially true with the Internet-savvy generations. Over time, communication via e-mail will become even more important.

Making sure your master database has every salesperson’s client list is also critical. You should consider having confidentiality agreements with your staff to assure that if they leave your employ they won’t carry with them your cus-tomers’ names, e-mail addresses, and other confidential data relating to your business.

The customer data-base is the proverbial little black book. The book can be mined to develop sales opportunities for anniversaries, birthdays, and other key dates in your customers’ lives. Originally, the mailing list was a way to collect basic information on clients and prospects. Updating the database periodically will enable you to keep in touch with clients for no other rea-son than to say hello and to request verification of the information you already have. You might also ask a question about your firm, the products you offer for sale, and how you stack up from a customer-service perspective. It goes to answer the question, How are we doing? Knowing the answer will go a long way toward developing a great relationship with your clients.