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Marketing to Post-Recession Customers

Can you see the light, the one at the end of the tunnel? For the first time in a long time, we’re listening to encouraging stories in the media about the uptick in the economy. Consumer confidence is rebounding as construction spending has increased; upward arrows on the stock market have more occurrences than downward arrows as of late; and banks are reporting profits.

Still, no one knows for sure if we’ve reached the rhetorical bottom, but now is the time for marketers to get a grip and lead their companies to solid prosperity as we climb this recovery hill.

As a result of this recession, an interesting dynamic has begun to transform our customers in the plastics industry.

I wrote the preliminary abstract for one of the breakout sessions for the upcoming Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors Benchmarking Conference [Oct. 29-30 in Indianapolis] to reflect this phenomenon, stating that customers today do not interact, respond or behave with suppliers [the same way] they did a decade ago.

Many of us think the recession has automatically resulted in less customer-centricity, but truthfully, the dynamics of the customer/ supplier relationship have changed in areas of terms and conditions, payment terms (parts and tooling), unilateral price discounts, unilateral penalties, product liability requirements, liquidated damages, production part approval process/quality requirements, etc.

The big question, then, is how do processors leverage themselves with authority but maintain the business?

Business owners are certainly operating their businesses differently. Many decisions being made today are ones that would not have been considered in the recent past, exposing proprietary information as well as conforming to unique customer expectations.

These changes are being seen on the service side of the organization — but what about the growth driver of the organization? Marketers are witnessing this new dynamic, too.

Because times are different, marketers have to be proactive. Here are a few things to consider in post-recession marketing to help your organization and keep your sales pipeline filled with qualified leads:

  • Adjust your marketing plan. Don’t continue using the same techniques you did before the recession. The behavior of customers has changed; your marketing plan should too. Keep in mind that the marketing plan is only as good as the implementation. Stay focused on the expected results.
  • Expand your market segmentation. Segmenting your market affords a greater understanding of your customers — but more importantly, provides a path for precise targeting. Make sure your marketing plan places a profound importance on diversifying customer base: It’s necessary to think outside the box. Marketers, in conjunction with the sales team, should think: Sell elsewhere, sell farther and new opportunities.
  • Modify your marketing mix. Once key markets and customers have been identified, the next challenge becomes reaching them in the most cost-effective manner. If your audience is used to hearing from you via direct mail or e-mail, make your cameo appearance on social networks, where you’ll discover ways to keep prospects engaged online through the entire sales cycle.
  • Know your customers. One way to satisfy customers is to know what they want. Another way is to figure out what they need. Knowing what is important to them and their true area of focus, while bringing them timely solutions, intensifies the buyer/ supplier relationship.

This process will help you identify which customers you can afford to continue doing business with and those you shouldn’t. The swing in this focus should provide strategies in identifying and retaining your most profitable customers.

We will exit this economic downturn. The winners will be those companies that use this time to strengthen customer relationships and to invest in technologies that allow the business to grow, while being prepared for the pent-up demand that’s on the horizon.

Successful companies will a- dapt quickly to both the positive and negative changes — while remaining cognizant that although the economy will rebound, it will look considerably different.

For those that are aggressively preparing to confront these differences, much prosperity a- waits.

For those who ignore, fate will be their only chance at success.

Teresa Schell is marketing manager for Germantown, Wis.-based injection molder Plastic Components Inc., winner of the Plastics News Processor of the Year Award for 2008.

Originally published in the Plastic News.

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