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In a Recession Adapt to Customers' and Partners' Shifting Needs
(Marketing Memo, December, 2008)
Anticipating the recession, John Quelch observed in the March 3, 2008,
Harvard Business School Working Knowledge ezine, "The key…is to understand
how the needs of your customers and partners change, and adapt your
strategies to the new reality." ("Marketing
Your Way Through a Recession")
From pencils to fuel, businesses are looking for ways to reduce expenses.
In difficult times it is more important than ever to talk with customers
and prospects and find out how their situations and needs have shifted
so that you can adapt to these changes.
- Watch the business press for news about customers and partners.
Knowing when customers or partners are about to be acquired is critical
as the acquirer will scrutinize all pending purchase decisions and
other major decisions. You need to know if the company's center of
gravity has shifted from Boston to St. Paul. Ask for the name of the
new decision maker. Then redirect marketing material and sales calls
and outflank competitors.
- Study customer behavior. External changes have affected how customers
purchase and use goods and services. Businesses reschedule deliveries
to fill trucks and substitute electronic document delivery for delivery
by Federal Express. Businesses also manage with older products. Adding
a few nice-to-have features to your product will no longer lead to
sales. Make an airtight case about the value of new offerings based
on the customer's changing circumstances and behavior.
- Identify "the why behind the why." An interviewer asked a plant
manager if his company would buy software that monitored large rotating
equipment. The manager replied, "No, because it wouldn't work." Further
probing revealed fears that automating equipment inspection would
lead to elimination of the plant manager's position. The software
company learned it had to demonstrate that the product would help
plant managers work more effectively. Online interviews would not
have provided this insight.
- Note new trends that are affecting customers and prospects. Some
customer service agents now work in their homes in the US rather than
in overseas call centers. Homeshoring and other new trends represent
new challenges and new opportunities, such as equipping those home-based
agents. If you train customer support personnel, consider offering
online courses for home-based customer service representatives.
- Repackage products and services. If prospects say they want a less
robust version of your offering, consider such a strategy. However,
instead of lowering prices, repackage offerings. Sell separate modules
of your product, or bundle products with free product support, but
for a shorter time than before, for instance 18 months, not three
- Monitor competitors. Besides tracking product introductions, notice
whether competitors are succeeding with new types of marketing, such
as social media marketing. This means marketing through the use of
wikis, blogs, podcasts, and social networking sites. Investigate whether
these new outlets are cost-effective for your organization.
We can help you gain a better understanding of your customers' and
partners' shifting needs. When you understand these needs, you can help
your customers and partners navigate through turbulent times. They will
become more loyal to your company and will be more likely to recommend
your company to their partners.
Copyright © Ruth Winett. All rights reserved.
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