Running an SME is a tough world and there are competitors at every turn, so it’s vital to always consider what you can do to make your company stand out from the pack.
For a business-to-business company like mine, you need to constantly make sure that clients are aware that their custom is valued. Of course, the best way to do this is to ensure that you continually offer them a top-notch service or product, but there are small gestures that businesses can make that can really set them apart from their rivals.
Here are five ways we’ve found that making a small amount of added effort costs very little, but can be priceless to the people you work with and for:
1. Get to know your clients
It’s one thing to understand the services of the companies you work with, but how well do you know the people behind them? Do you know their interests, and what they like and don’t like? Perhaps they have an interest in skiing, a regular holiday spot, a favourite football team or a talent for arts and crafts?
Whatever it might be, taking an interest in these matters makes for a pleasant ice-breaker. Before launching into talk of projects and business packages, a gentle chat about something they might be interested in can make all the difference to settling nerves and humanising the discussion.
Obviously, the more clients you have, the harder it becomes to keep track of all the characteristics of the people you work with, so consider how software can help you. Adding personality traits and personal interests to spreadsheets isn’t being trivial – it’s being thorough and making sure you have something to jog your memory before you meet or speak to a business associate.
We even keep a record of how our clients like their hot drinks, so that they have the right beverage with just the right amount of milk and sugar waiting for them every time they arrive. We use content management tools like Solve 360 to keep a record of our conversations and anything else we need to know about our clients. These are all small measures, but they make a statement in letting clients know that you appreciate your working relationship with them.
2. Combine marketing with gift giving
Your clients are your livelihood, but to them you might be just one of several suppliers they use, so always make sure that you keep your company name fresh in their minds without being overbearing and irritating.
It’s one thing to swamp them with marketing material, but reams of leaflets and brochures are probably going to end up in the bin, often unread, and might even annoy your clients into stopping working with you. Try giving them something they can use while still providing a gentle reminder of your company.
One of the first things we do when welcoming a new client on board is offer them a branded mug. Stationery items like pens and pencils are always good too, though of course you should consider your clients’ lines of business. Items like mouse mats and staplers might be useful visual reminders for an office-based company, but probably less so for a business that spends most of its time outdoors.
3. Call just to check everything is OK
The last thing you want to do is become the voice of doom. If a client begins to associate your voice with the chasing of invoices or the bearing of bad news, it won’t be long before they consider speaking to you a chore and possibly sever ties, no matter how good the work you do for them might be.
I’m by no means suggesting you should ignore the essentials but, at the risk of sounding like a twee relationship counsellor, make sure that some of your phone calls are made “just because”. Nothing shows you are a proactive company like scheduling in monthly catchups with your clients. If they have a specific reason to get in touch with you, they will, but there might be a smaller matter on their mind that can be easily smoothed over with an informal chat.
4. Send seasonal gifts
Yes, I went there. It’s December now and time to have a think about how to mark the occasion while still promoting your business.
A simple Christmas card can make a big impression. Get your team to sign it and choose a straightforward but stylish theme, perhaps featuring your company logo with a festive makeover. For obvious reasons, avoid anything too irreverent or religious.
Don’t forget your employees as well. Tokens like a Christmas meal or small presents needn’t set you back much, but act as a welcome recognition of their hard work over the course of the year.
At this time of goodwill, it’s always worth remembering that it costs eight times as much to attract a new customer as to keep an existing one. That’s why gratitude is about more than simply “being nice” – it’s an inexpensive way to maintain a happy group of customers and clients who will keep on using your company.
Image: Gift by shutterstock