The key to profitability lies within your existing customer base

Every company, no matter how big or small, has customers that are critical to their profitability and in today's competitive environment businesses must be aware that their most vital asset is their existing customer base. Protecting and maintaining strong relationships with these key customers should be a critical component in your sales and marketing strategy because it represents the key driver of future profitability and it is a reliable source of sustainable growth.

Developing and maintaining customer relationships with a company's biggest revenue-generators has long been a focus for senior executives however successful organisations have recognised that they must move beyond this narrow scope to ensure their efforts also focus on the customers that are most likely to provide profitable returns over the long term.

The following simple steps will help to ensure that your vital corporate assets are in good health:

Identify the accounts that are most critical to your business

Every company has good, better and best customers but in order to protect your most vital accounts you need to be confident that you know which accounts they are. This requires a thorough evaluation of your existing client base and although the analysis may be a lengthy process, busy marketing and sales reps must take the time to complete it. The process will assist you to divide your customer accounts into groups based on their value, thereby allowing you to decide where your efforts should be focused.

Understanding which accounts are most important to your business will form the basis of a sound risk management program and help to ensure that your future profitability is protected.

Identify your most promising customers

Customer acquisition can be a costly and time consuming process - sales people often yield better results by focusing on the customers that have the most potential.

A good place to start to identify this potential is corporate ownership. With an understanding of who your current customers are related to in corporate family trees you can uncover valuable business opportunities. This is an easy sell and many companies miss out on this profit making opportunity.

Focus on the customer's needs not your own

Your perception of a product is never the same as the customer's - ensure your account strategy focuses on the customer's needs and expectations, not the company's.

To ensure your sales strategy is on track, senior executives need to ask themselves some important questions:

  • Is our current account strategy focused on our needs and expectations or on the needs and expectations of our customers? 
  • How does our position look from our point of view, compared with how our customers perceive us? 
  • Does our strategic plan focus on what we want to sell or what the customer wants to buy?

Develop a culture where the "customer is king"

Customer satisfaction is of paramount importance, particularly if you hope to achieve repeat business from your client base. Adopting a customer focused environment must start at the top -involving the entire executive team, not just the sales team, will help to ensure success.

Many successful companies have already moved in this direction, with research indicating that CEOs now spend between 25-35 per cent of their time directly on sales. This level of sales input from senior management improves the customer experience and helps to drive sales performance. This is a powerful marketing tool and helps to deliver long-term value from each customer.

Build partnerships with your customers

Customers are not shopping for products, they are shopping for solutions. One of the first steps in staying ahead of the sales game is understanding the problems your customers face as well as they do, if not better.

Successful firms don't just sell products and services, they help their clients to run their business. The overall goal of any good strategic account management process is to ensure better business returns for the targeted key account. This means keeping the focus on your customer and, on your customer's customers. To achieve this goal sales and marketing people need to assess how a given sales initiative ties in to the strategic account's overall business strategy.

In effect, the goal should be to become a business partner with your customer. This is the most powerful differentiator from your competitors.

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