Crisis? It's about customer focus

A crisis should be the most exciting time for an entrepreneur. You get the opportunity to show what you are able to. Finally you can show the world your entrepreneurial skills. You are the one to enable your company to flourish, even in more difficult times. Your company is there for your customers also when they have difficulties. You are the one who really helps customers, aren’t you?

Beat your first recession
A larger number of entrepreneurs never experienced a crisis before. We faced the last real difficulties during the late seventies. The smaller economical wobble during the nineties isn’t entitled to the word crisis. What does such a real crisis mean to you, being an entrepreneur?

Every so-and-so many years (have a look at the economical cycles) we face an economical slowdown. The recent recession is just a bit more severe as before. Shit happens. Now, you face a new reality and this reality isn’t that easy. So deal with it. Do not disappoint your business environment and always make two more steps than one is expecting. And foremost concentrate all your efforts towards your customers. Although innovation and inspiration are trending words, it becomes clear that sales suddenly regained its most important function within companies. Today you have to be active selling as customers are no longer standing on your doorstep. You are forced to take action and you have to make sure that your customer remains your customer. So what to do?

Remember, your world is defined by how you are looking into it. It all comes down to perception. The macro-economics do not equal your micro economics. So don’t be that scared to write ‘I don’t care about crisis’ onto a yellow piece of paper and stick it onto the screen in front of you. 'Crisis? What crisis?' There are still industries developing economically pretty well. If the pie as a whole gets smaller, you only need to conquer a larger portion. That requires unruly behaviour, creative activities, opportunities and lots of energy. Exactly those features entrepreneurs are loaded with.

Resolve yourself not to complain. Stop whining. And above all, never whine against customers, colleagues or suppliers. Never complain during sales calls, cocktail times or birthday parties. Rather talk about your activities, actions plans and ideas to become stronger as a company. You are the entrepreneur, aren’t you? You don’t occupy yourself with negativism. Let other people revolve in self-pity.

During your first recession take thrift as a key value. But never be penny-wise pound-foolish. Only cut back on your personal expenses. That gives you much more space not to cut back your customer activities.

Make a ‘stop-the-crap’ list, a list of all things which don’t belong to your key activities. All side-issues you put out to contract. Or even better, stop them immediately. It  saves time. That allows you to give a lot of attention to your customers.

Probably you already noticed it. Especially in a crisis the key word is customer

Survival equals change.
Survival of the fittest. The one who adapts to different times and the one who understands customers will survive. Survival of the fittest doesn’t mean survival of the strongest,. It simple means the one who is able to adapt to changes in environment will be fit enough to withstand bad times

Change is essential. It may be even a requisite. The key word in every process of change is creativity. To change you require ideas. Mostly in times of crisis there is no room for ideas. If there will be any idea.  Who, within your company. is actually thinking about new products, different market segments, directional strategies, and surprising customer’s benefits? Are you the only one or is it always the same bunch of people? Do you hire an outsider to wake and shake you up? And how often do you sit together with this objective in mind. Just the last 15 minutes of your monthly meeting?

So sit down, think and discuss. Give you employees a fixed amount of creativity time. All of them? Yes, all of them, even the driver, the cleaner, the receptionist, the guys and girls from production, all of them. Allocate a fixed part of the normal working hours. And let them fill in the time themselves to come up with new ideas, products and services. You have to be brave. Don’t be surprised about all the ideas which are popping up. You definitely will suffer from selecting the best ideas. And don’t forget to select those great ideas together.

Care about your customers
Your customers do order less with a reason. Also they do have customers, who are ordering less. In other words, their problems are your problems. If something is to be economized, it is you helping your customers to the max. And that is why you need to look for issues which do not cost a lot to you but do bring a lot of value to your customers. To get you going with some ideas.

  • Invite some of your best customers, who do not know each other yet, for lunch or diner. Of course you do prepare such events. So you already figured out how they may help, stimulate and strengthen each other. As what is good for them, will be good for you. But never invite too many of them. To many at the same time just will be a party.
  • Ask your customer the following question. “What else can I do for you at this moment?” And 'do' is not referring to more sales, or delivering more products and services. Everybody has his connections. Share them with your best customers.
  • When your customer indicates not having sufficient budget to buy your services, why do you not help him once in a while? Give him a free coaching, a presentation, a short business analysis, a website update, some preventive machine maintenance.  Restrict this only to your best customers. You may have a friend for life. And whenever the economical mood is getting better those customers will be back for sure. But do not give any price discounts. Discounts are not helping your customer, they only harm you.
  • Just make your best customers a proposal for clever cost reduction so you will be less expensive to them. Of course you have to keep your margins. But think in terms of different packaging, different supply, different quantities, different invoicing, different spare parts, different maintenance.
  • Share good ideas. Look inside your market or similar environments. There are always people clever at doing things. Find yourself those smart solutions and tell your customers about them. And again, restrict this sharing only to your best customers as they are precious to you. Your expertise of the market, the application of products and your best proposals will make a difference. You are the one sitting with your customer. To help them.
  • Do you ever talk to other non-competitive suppliers of your customers? Who else is supplied by those suppliers? Do you know companies where you are able to introduce them and the other way round? Companies and people sharing knowledge are more successful than those who keep it to themselves. More knowledge means a better network and possibly new customers
  • Ask your best customers for some business cards. You may use them when you are visiting a networking event where you may meet potential customers, prospects for your customers. To direct a prospect towards one of your customers will definitely do you good.

Get yourself going
Recessions are periods when creative and hardworking entrepreneurs are predestined to rise. Simply, because hard work together with lots of creativity are required to make progress. Direct all your efforts towards your customers. Focus upon your best customers and prioritize them. Be creative, surprise your customers and help them to advance.

Klaas Meekma


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