Give your customers a New Year Present

Happy New Year! There may not be a tradition of New Year presents but you can get your 2008 growth plans off to a great start by giving your trade customers a present.

I’m not suggesting you "re-gift" those socks from Auntie Dot at Christmas but rather you share some knowledge, free, with no strings attached, and no proposal at the end that you want them to agree to.  After all, these are the people who stand between you and your product getting into the hands of the people who use or consume it.  Why wouldn’t you give them a present!

In days gone by their critical role in the success of your business might have been recognised by a lavish gift.  All your competitors did the same.  That sort of behaviour is no longer tolerated but there is no ban on giving knowledge "gifts" that benefit the organisation rather than the individual.  And your competitors probably aren’t doing this which means it increases the relative value of your relationship with the customer.

Most of you will have gathered all sorts of new knowledge during 2007 whether from research, attending conferences or visiting other countries (and as an aside if you haven’t then you are behind the game because everyone else in your market has!).  You will have diligently figured out how to use this to best advantage to persuade your customers that your new initiatives will transform their business.  In the process you will have carefully screened out anything that will distract from the laser beam of logic that leads towards the inescapable conclusion of your desired outcome.  Whether your customers believe you rigged the research or not will depend on their preconceptions of the initiative in question.

This is of course a huge missed opportunity. The customer thinks you are only interested in your own business.  While in reality you have lots else you could share that they might find really valuable in the development of their own business.  And of course it is no bad thing to help them grow their business because if it grows then yours probably grows too. 

The knowledge or insight is best packaged as a single digestible thought rather than a long detailed analysis or report.  The real gift is making the insight useful and easy to assimilate.  This doesn’t take a lot of time; it is more of a mindset shift.  It doesn’t need formal presentations with all the expectations that this creates, often a simple email can be more powerful.  Something that reads: Hi, we were doing x, found out y that we thought might interest you, here’s some detail, hope business is good, see you soon.  It’s short, simple and shows you care about their business

Imagine the impact of doing this over time. Instead of always struggling to get meetings you might actually get an invite when they want to know more.  It might enhance the credibility of the research and insight evidence you use when you next have an initiative you want to implement.  And they might start to ask your view on more than just your narrow product expertise.  In other words they would value the relationship more and while a valued relationship doesn’t guarantee revenue growth, one that isn’t valued certainly hinders it.

This is a goal worth pursuing so, as sales and marketing teams, why not start the New Year with a new attitude towards customers.  Think not just about what you want them to do for you, but also what you know that might help them – and start handing out those presents.