Nearly every business is dependent on a constant flow of new accounts. It’s easy to ignore this because most businesses earn most of their revenue from old, established customers. The problem is that a certain percentage of old customers will drift away or change their focus every year. They’ll change their buying habits, often for reasons that you can’t influence.
So you need to continually market to recruit new customers, establish them, and start promoting them up your customer ladder, so that one day they’ll be part of your staple business clientele. It’s easy to forget to do this - you’re so busy making money that you have no time to market. But then one day you wake up and find that several of your major customers have defected and you’re left with a gaping hole in your revenue and you have no easy means to fill it.
So you need to be systematic. Think like a commercial fisherman. You go out every day, invest and organise. Commercial fishermen never tell tall tales about the ones that got away. They don’t have to. Their livelihood depends on keeping every bit of their catch and therefore the focus is always on retention.
Step one in this systematic approach is to identify the sort of customer you’re looking for. You can use a range of criteria, including:
This way you make up a profile of the sort of customer that is likely to be of value to you in the long-term. Then you go out and prospect for them. This doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money. You can do a lot of research merely by surfing internet directories and Yellow Pages, selecting likely candidates and doing some online or other research on them. You can also get information from the directories of trade associations, clubs, chambers of commerce and trade magazines.
Once you’ve got a list of likely candidates, go into more depth. You might want to check out their credit records. Use your industry contacts to see what the ‘buzz’ is about them. Once you’ve done that, you start to make your pitch, whether that involves cold calling, sending out brochures or networking. The main thing is that, at the beginning of your sales process, you’re focused on your final goal, which is to develop a long-term relationship with a valuable customer.
Of course, you’ve still only cast your hooks into the water at this stage. There are other stages to the process. If you want more information, see your accountant and discuss how they can help you segment your customer base and design a new customer acquisition marketing programme.