“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1
American folk singer Pete Seeger put the Bible verse above to music in his 1959 song “Turn, Turn, Turn”, which became an international hit in 1965 after being recorded by The Byrds. The verse points out the inconsistency of life, that the only constant in this world is change and we must learn to adapt if we are to grow as humans.
From the day we enter this world until we take our last breath, the scenery is constantly changing. From childhood to adulthood to parenthood, jobs, friends, hobbies, pets, homes, cities and all things big and small in our lives, they all have a season. That season may be a few days, weeks, months, or years. Or it may be for a lifetime. If you’re in sales, your customers too have a season in your sales life.
I was blessed to work in sales on the distributor and supplier side of the promotional products business for 34 years. There were some customers I had for a decade or more, but the majority were with me for a much shorter period of time. Given the economic times we’re living in now, none of us can take any of our clients for granted.
Post pandemic, our world, in almost all aspects, is a different place. Millions of us were laid off, businesses closed their doors, mandates kept people home, and work became remote. Others retired, changed jobs, or left the workforce entirely. Zoom and Teams became a new thing, meetings and trade shows ceased to exist, and businesses drastically cut back their marketing dollars. Customer churn increased dramatically due to all these changes, and yet the quotas salespeople live under only seems to increase.
How then do we continue to grow our business when everything around us has changed? Not only must we work harder, but we must work smarter as well. These ideas may help in keeping customers and opportunities flowing into your sales pipeline:
- Friends: Don’t be afraid to ask your friends if their company has need of your services. Friends can also be a great source of referrals to people they know. Be respectful and don’t go to this well too often though because friends typically have a much longer season than customers.
- Call on Former Customers: Everything old can be new again, including former customers. These people thought you brought value at one time and, depending on why they are no longer a client, you may be able to win them back. Contact customers you haven’t heard from in six months or a year to see what their circumstances are. Even if they aren’t in a position to help, maybe they can refer you to others who can use your expertise.
- Get Deeper with Current Customers: You may work with a company’s HR department, but your services may be a great fit for the sales, marketing, manufacturing, purchasing or other departments. Ask your internal customers if they can give you the names of others in their company you can contact.
- Social Media: Join Linkedin and use it to research people and companies with whom you want to form a partnership. You’d be surprised at who your contacts may know. Be careful though to bring value to this site and the other sites you use because those who only push themselves get “unfollowed” quickly.
- Prospecting: Always be on the lookout for companies you want to work with. Maybe you pass them every day driving to the office or you’ve seen their TV commercials or newspaper ads. Do some research to find a name or two you can start with and look for ways to contact them and show your expertise. Our industry is the perfect medium to generate interest by delivering samples that are relevant to their business and marketing goals.
- Referrals: Notice that almost all of the above ideas also include referrals to new customers? The warm leads from people you know are the best introductions you can get. I’ll bet you have countless customers who are pleased with the results you’ve helped them achieve. Now is the time to ask for referrals from these customers, to get the names of people they know who may be able to use the services you provide. When a client is happy, chances are they will provide you with names of people you can contact. Create a process for follow-up after the sale and, at the same time, ask for that referral. Some people like offering incentives for referrals, but you’ll find the most qualified referrals come from the relationships you’ve built with your customers, not the incentive being offered.
- Create a Target List: Develop a list of 50 companies you would like to work with and believe your expertise lends itself to. In your spare time research these companies and find a person or department you can start with and when you have a few minutes, make the contact.
Keeping your current customers happy is certainly the best way to continue growing your business! But life happens and customers move on. Even our best customers have a season in our life and whether it's a move to a new area, a job or industry change, retirement or even death, today’s customer list won’t look the same in a year or two.
These are just a few of the many ways you can generate new customers to replace those who have moved on. Always provide value and customer service above and beyond what your customers need while also working to acquire new customers, and your pipeline will be full and rewarding.
Keeping customers is more than just selling them a product or service as Truett Cathy, founder of Chick fil-A knew when he said, “We should be about more than just selling chicken: we should be a part of our customers' lives and the communities in which we serve.” Learning how to stay close to your customers will, in the long run, improve your bottom line and keep them coming back for many more seasons.