Why Your Customer Count May Not Matter

Rather than planting new accounts, cultivate the relationships with the customers you already have.

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By Ray Silverstein

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It's both a problem and a blessing: You have one or two very large accounts that make up the bulk of your business. According to what you may have been told, such a concentration is very risky; you should never put all your eggs in one basket.

Or should you?

Most experts would advise you to get more accounts, reducing your concentration of business. But your major accounts will likely grow at a faster pace than your new ones. The concentration will remain--and thus you will remain vulnerable.

There's nothing wrong with trying to grow other business. But I'd like to suggest a different approach. Instead of reducing your business concentration, consider providing services outside your core business or activity. In doing so, you'll add value to your account.

With that in mind, ask yourself: Do I know all the key players involved in my main account? If not, get to know all the departments and personnel involved in the account.

The more you can learn about your account, the more you can help it with its endeavors. Knowing a company's internal workings allows you to move seamlessly within the business, solving more problems and taking on more projects.

Bankers believe that if they touch base with a customer five or six times, the probability of losing that account diminishes substantially. It takes a great effort for a customer to move all his or her business from a source that's providing multiple services. The same rule applies here.

Knowing your customer's business gives you the knowledge to provide extra value. This value may translate to offering any number of additional services, from packaging and markings to engineering and sub-assemblies.

But don't just fly by the seat of your pants. Create a customer marketing plan, a special plan just for that key account. Starting with your knowledge of the company, develop action plans for building relationships in unfamiliar departments.

To do this, you'll want to create an organization chart of your customer's business, including all lines of responsibility and authority that impact your product or service.

The next step is to anticipate the needs and concerns of each department through a measurement of the "pain" they likely experience.

For example, if you are supplying parts for production, you might guess that their pain includes the lost production time from equipment breakage. In response, you might offer to warehouse spare parts, so their equipment will never go down for long. Make the suggestion before it even occurs to them to ask. Or, offer to provide them with parts on a consignment basis that they can keep on the premises.

In other words, the goal is to provide meaningful solutions that not only generate additional business for you, but also creates a barrier for your competition.

Once you've defined additional products and services your account can use, determine to whom you should present your solution. Then, start preparing your presentation, initiating your marketing plan.

Having a concentration of business is a legitimate concern. But by diversifying your existing account, you can make your relationship more substantial.

Is putting all your eggs in one basket really so risky? Not if you hard-boil them first.

Ray Silverstein

Ray Silverstein is the president of PRO: President's Resource Organization , a network of peer advisory boards for small business owners. He is author of two books: The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses and the new Small Business Survival Guide: How to Survive (and Thrive) in Tough Times . He can be reached at 1-800-818-0150 or ray@propres.com .

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