MAY 2020 ANSWER TO THE QUESTION OF THE MONTH: Call one customer before our May meeting and ask, “What is your biggest challenge today or what is your greatest unmet need?

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Call one customer before our May meeting and ask,
“What is your biggest challenge today or
what is your greatest unmet need?”

When talking to customers, I haven’t learned anything new, but it has been validating.

Amazon makes it easy to return items, so when customers have issues they don’t understand, they just send the item back saying it didn’t.  They just don’t know how to figure out what the issue is.

My customers need help in diagnosing problems.  We need to educate customers on how to figure out if it’s the battery or their cart (which has probably been sitting for a year not being used.)

It’s also tough to know if they actually believe us when we help them.  We must learn to communicate tactfully, not blaming them or their stuff. Customers can buy batteries anywhere; we have to stand out with exceptional service.

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A customer comes in claiming we damaged his car when we towed it.  He wasn’t asking us to fix the damage, just to give him his money back on the tow.  I asked him to bring the car in so we could see it.  There was prior damage to the front end, but we determined nothing we did damage the car.

If we damage a car, I want to make it right, but I don’t want the reputation of always giving money back when pushed.  In the end, he was reasonably okay with it, but it’s a tough call.

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One of my clients needs eight more employees and was wondering why we weren’t meeting this need.  In our discussion, I learned they start at 5 am, which could be an obstacle.  We worked through the issue using different solutions.  I was candid about what could work and what doesn’t work in today’s workplace.  Their order volume has greatly increased as a result.  (Throwing money at something doesn’t always solve the problem.)

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This is our busy season.  I’ve been so caught up in what we have to do to comply with pandemic regulations, I haven’t had a chance to make any calls to customers.  That being said, we’re constantly visiting with customers, evaluating how they use our services and products.

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I had an interesting, hour-long conversation with a client who does staff training and presentations for universities. The coronavirus has completely wiped their calendars clean.  He’s been trying to gauge the future with the university, but it’s unclear if the schools will even open in the fall.

We’re helping him explore simulcast presentations and other options.  His biggest challenge is to stay upbeat and positive.

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I reached out to one of our bigger accounts in Michigan.  His biggest challenge is trying to determine the “new normal” in dealing with the government shutdown.

People want more than graveside visitation and a drive-by funeral.  At present, they are staggering visitations and funerals: family only for the first hour, 10 in the next 30 minutes and then another 10 and so on.  That can go on for three or four hours.  The pallbearers all wear masks.

They are also arranging virtual funerals with the only family at gravesite; the rest of the family and friends can remain in cars.

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I called a client who’s closed down right now and asked what her greatest need is.  She said “Information.  Every time I believe I’m doing what I’m supposed to do (apply for IDL AND PPP) information seems to change, and now it comes out that you can’t have both”.  She’s scared of dire consequences if she misuses funds.  Every bank and every SBDC seems to be doing things differently.  That’s her struggle.  Now she’s trying to figure out if the loans will be considered taxable income or will be tax-deductible.

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I spoke to 3 or 4 clients.  I am helping one close her business – she is a hairstylist and her partner has medical issues. She doesn’t want to go it alone.

In the next case, businesses located around the client have closed.  He has a plan to grow slowly, but judging from the closures, he could hire 25 employees quickly.  He doesn’t want to expand that fast. He knows how many he can handle and is putting on the brakes.

Another client is working hard and is feeling pressure to sell more and keep all his staff on board.  However, the more staffing, the more risk.  He also plans to stick to his original growth plan.

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I’ve talked to a couple of people.  I was greeted with bad news.  One of our major sources for clients is shutting their doors.  They have had many cases of COVID 19 and are closing.  It was a good conversation.  I felt like I was able to speak openly about my own concerns. This situation has been going on for three months and it’s hit us hard.

Treatment centers are in a waiting game.  If they choose to follow all the rules, I could suffer.  But we are staying healthy and I’m grateful.  We’re contacting social workers in counties I work with, letting them know we’re still open.  If we got a case, I would be very honest about it.  We’re navigating this minefield and must be smart.

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I called each client I had worked with – they were all in the fitness industry.  Each was wondering what they can and can’t do and some are filing for bankruptcy.

One individual’s biggest challenge was PPP.  He previously had a DWI and could not get the PPP loan.  He hired an attorney and finally got the money.  Then he wanted me to manipulate the numbers and I turned him down.  Some businesses always want to find a loophole.

I did have one small client in California; I was hired to do a financial statement and some marketing work.

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I called a prospect who is the CEO of a big hospital.  She’s been on the job for less than a year.  She is trying to keep her head above water and the thought of doing anything beyond just getting through the day is out of the question.  They’ve had to furlough people, and some aren’t coming in. It’s challenging to figure out what can work and what won’t work.  She said, “Work is crazy, and everything is work.”

It’s been hard to get ahold of our customers.  They’ve been working from home and seem disconnected.  There’s so much uncertainty, they don’t know what their next 6 months look like.  Some have been shut down.

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I’ve talked to a few – one, in particular, is growing their medical business and still trying to cope with it.  Another customer works in the motorcycle industry and this is their busiest time.  They have a lot more orders but are having a hard time filling them.

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This question created a situation for me. I have a big customer who has grown quickly; that created big cash flow issues for them.  Much of their operating capital comes from pre-season orders which are down 40%.  They are very short on cash and, since I was on the phone, asked for extended payment terms.

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It was such a good idea I gave our salespeople the task of making calls.

Much of the work we do is in optical and we’re screwed.  Doctors’ offices are closed. Eye doctors cannot see people.  However, that’s starting to change now. Optical is starting to breathe again, but I think it will take months to come back in a significant way.  We were at 70% production and last month it increased to 80%.  It looks to be higher in May.

The amount of pain you find on these calls depends on who you talk to in the organization.  The pain point in sales will be different than in production, or if you talk to the president.

At our other company, there is a feverish activity in new business that requires the knowledge to communicate technically and get the right information to the customer.  It boils down to better training and mentorships.

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I called our biggest customer and it was obvious what their issue was going to be.  While they are open, their customer is closed down and not taking delivery.  We have worked very hard to make this account profitable and now they can’t afford to pay us because their customer won’t pay them or accept any product!

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We sell a lot of products at farmer’s markets.  Their biggest challenges are masking, cleaning requirements and working within the regulations.  Most of our customers are weary of the quarantine and just want to be with friends and have things back to normal.

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My market is childcare professionals.  Their biggest challenges are staying open and providing safe childcare for parents who have essential jobs.  There is such upheaval in the industry.  Everyone wonders if other childcare professionals received financial help.  Most did not because the bureaucracy of filling out the forms was so frustrating, they gave up.

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We’re still doing business, but the number of people coming through the door has slowed down.  Some insurance companies are allowing us to do virtual estimates from photos.

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I got a really interesting response to this question.  A customer I’m working with had a business plan all worked out and was on track to make his goals.  However, when the virus hit, they decided to pivot and started making different products.  He stepped back from his original plan.  Now he’s re-evaluating and has decided that he would have been further ahead if he had stayed the course with his original plan, rather than trying to reassess the market and create a new plan.  He discovered most of his customers would have come back and he would have been more successful.  They are feeling hopeful that things will normalize.

The road is easier together,

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