06/07/2010

By Julian Morris, Business Development Director, LBM Direct Marketing Ltd

Just when we thought we’d seen light at the end of the long, dark recession tunnel, we’re told to expect even harder times ahead as the new coalition government make steps towards reducing the national deficit. We’ve all witnessed the impact of the recession within our individual sectors — competitors going into administrations, large scale redundancies, clients changing suppliers and so on. So how can companies safeguard against the downturn and how has the economic climate changed the expectations of all of our clients?

A strong, clear, client centric strategy is a key way to help you navigate your business through recession. Senior business leaders are beginning to realise the truth that has always been there — clients, both internal and external, are the only people who have a vote in a business and ultimately that business’s success or failure. Within the outsourcing industry two major players, Garlands and Telegen, recently went into administration. Whilst there are likely to have been several mitigating factors, the simple fact is that their clients moved to other providers, casting their vote over the future of those two companies.

But does a ‘strong’ strategy mean? It is easy enough to use such adjectives without an explanation of what they actually mean. To me, a strong strategy suggests a plan of action which is simple to execute. It needs to be applicable to staff at all levels and they need to see how it relates not just to them as individuals, but to the business as a whole. This is where some business fall at the first hurdle — board level strategists need to understand their audience before delivering a company strategy so full of business jargon it is alien to their workforce it can never be successfully implemented.

There also needs to be a clear focus on the client. This focus will strengthen the strategy, make it easy for staff to relate to as there is a tangible end goal or focus, as it were, of these actions. Working towards delighting clients, going the extra mile, making your business the go to company, are all easily understood and can be bespoke to each individual department. Combining this focus, with simple, plain English immediately strengthens your strategy, helping your business focus on the challenges ahead.

Once you have developed your strategy, you need to begin communicating it both internally and externally. This is the only way you will actually be able to make your strategy a reality, which again is key to actually achieving the objectives you have set.

Internal communication can often be overshadowed by the perception that external communication is more valuable and therefore should be the focus of your marketing communication. While it is undeniably important — your business would fail if no-one knew you existed — having a workforce who are all working in unison towards a shared goal is incredibly powerful. Every single one of your employees has the potential to become an ambassador. In the contact centre sector, as in many other sectors, we have thousands of advisors who are on the front line, making contact with clients’ customers every day. Without them we wouldn’t have a business, so taking the time to ensure that our business strategy is filtered all the way through to them and that they understand the strategy, the implications it has on them and how they contribute towards its execution, is essential.

The focus on internal communications should not distract from external communications, but support it. Word of mouth marketing, such as recommendations from existing clients, can become an integral part of your marketing campaigns and collateral. This form of marketing, often referred to as influencer marketing, has been proven to be an incredibly successful model as prospective clients are far more likely to believe an independent advocate rather than your internal marketing department, who are paid to say good things about your business. Just look at the popularity of B2C sites such as Trip Advisor for the effect influencers can have on an individual’s decision making.

Another reason to externally communicate your strategy is to demonstrate your values and beliefs to existing and prospective clients. In the B2B arena, especially, clients will be scrutinising your business to assess whether or not you are aligned with their business ethos and also to assess your staying power. As I mentioned earlier, clients are voting with their feet and should they feel you are lacking in either area chance are they will make a decision to take their business elsewhere. Clients need to have faith in your strategy, believe that it has their best interests at heart and is achievable. By communicating this with them you are not only answering the questions they will no doubt be asking, but are positioning yourself as solid, client centric, reliable and here to stay — all qualities a long term client is looking for.

From the development of a strong, client centric strategy, other aspects of a business will begin to develop too. Look at Tesco, for example. They are no longer just a supermarket. They offer clothing, electricals, opticians, pharmacies, insurance, mobile phones, broadband — practically everything a modern day shopper could require, all under one roof. And should the physical stores not be to your taste, don’t worry, everything is replicated online. This is an excellent example on focusing on their customers and trying to go the extra mile, offering everything they could want and more.

On a smaller scale LBM have reacted similarly. Initially a data business, we realised that our clients also needed analytical services to understand their requirements and purchase more intelligently. This then led to a diversification into contact centres for clients to execute their campaigns using the data we had supplied. All of these services combined equals our strategy of Intelligent Contact, Being the Best and Managed Account.

So to summarise — a business needs a strategy to clearly focus on the undoubtedly difficult road ahead. This strategy needs to be simple, easy to execute and resonate with your employees. It then needs communicating, both internally and externally to turn a written document into a living and breathing culture, one which your clients will be proud to associate themselves with, leading to them becoming advocates to your prospects. So if you have not yet got a clear, client centric strategy in place, now is the time to reassess your direction and clearly map out where you want to be. Good luck!

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