Seven Strategies for Growth in Tough Times

Ever worry that you’ve used up all your ideas for recruiting new customers, retaining long-time clients, or filling up the seats at your seminars? Is your business in danger of being like all the rest?  Try looking beyond your business for fresh inspiration. The following marketing strategies are drawn from techniques that corporations, small business, and “plain old students” of human psychology are using to turn the current hard times into better ones.

1. Show that your firm is aware of your customer’s problems and committed to their success. Empathy can go a long way. These days a surprising number of businesses are stretching payment due dates, forgiving payments for one or two months, and even allowing clients to develop their own payment terms as needed. Your organization may want to do the same as a means of gaining loyalty and retaining customers without incurring huge risk. For example, some gyms offers a six-month dues holiday for unemployed members.

2. Build bridges between those who are leaving the area and those who are just arriving. Consider offering a provisional membership or new customer discounts, a means through which a new person can acquire the remainder of a previous customer’s membership or take advanatge of a loyal customer discount earlier than usual. This kind of carryover can prevent disconnect while building familiarity and then loyalty.

3. Remember that keeping a current customer is cheaper than acquiring new ones time and time again. This subscription-marketing concept translates well to most all businesses. After all, industry estimates indicate that getting a new customer costs seven times as much as keeping the one that you already have. Multiyear service renewals and even discounts for renewing or purchasing early make a lot of sense these days.  Similarly, you may be aware of firms that offer prompt-payment discounts to motivate customers to pay their invoices faster. To accelerate sales and improve cash flow, your organization might consider giving 2 percent off payments received within 10 days of invoicing.

4. Meet the needs of niche markets by segmenting customer products and services. Corporate America provides endless examples of how this can work. American Express offers more than a dozen variations on its charge card. You can get it with bonus points, annual fees, or no fees. It comes in platinum, gold, green, or blue. You can also get it with the option to pay your balance in full every month or the option to stretch your payments out. How many choices do you give your customers? An obvious way to start meeting individual needs is with e-delivery of books, seminars, and other services.

5. Look for opportunities to get and give free items. Nowhere is it written that an organization has to buy all its own materials. Be alert: Firms within your industry that are downsizing probably have surplus gear, supplies, and, yes, even products they need to move. These items may make terrific incentives for signing deals early, signing up for multiyear terms, or simply enrolling for a course. Also consider how surplus items can meet customer needs. For example, do you have affiliate or vendors with goods and services that you can offer to regular customers for charity auctions, purchase incentives, and program support?

6. Always market with an eye to price sensitivity. Often we assume that our customers realize what’s included in the price of our products, services or events. We’re usually wrong. When customers get extra value from your services, spotlight that—especially if you have upstart competitors that charge lower initial fees but add on the price of other services.  Think Southwest Airlines versus the rest on baggage fees.  Make it easy for customers to compare apples to apples.

7. Learn the fine art of bundling. Does your organization offer services or special loyalty programs? Consider including the fee and materials in a bundle at a price that’s slightly lower than the total would be if everything came a la carte.  And do you have a best-selling product or service in your mix? Study purchasing patterns to see which other materials customers order with your best seller, and then market them to customers together or offer them as a bundle on your Web site.  But don’t stop there. Can you combine other services or fees as a one-price package? Is there a way to offer product updates or service renewal as part of a purchase bundle? Make no mistake—smart bundling can bring greater convenience and economy to both you and your customers.
When it comes to making the most of these seven lessons, much of it comes down to being aware of your customers’ unique circumstances—and delivering value even before you’re asked. So be flexible. Use your ingenuity. And stay alert to how learning from others’ experiences can help you find innovative solutions to your marketing problems.

2 thoughts on “Seven Strategies for Growth in Tough Times”

  1. These are all useful tactics, but they strike me less as a recipe for growth as for keeping the business alive during tough times. Associations seeking actual growth need to develop a much clearer point of view on the purpose-driven new value their stakeholders need to succeed in turbulent times and the interdependent capabilities required to deliver that value, as well as how the association will capture profitable revenue streams for itself.

    We will need incisive business model thinking within association leadership systems if we are going to build a future of growth for organizations throughout our community.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I agree. Associations need to re-think their purpose, member’s interests/needs and work to re-align their business models to reflect that new reality. There are a series of engagements essential to success including renewing association cultures, examining business models, leveraging technology, crafting strategy and igniting generational passion.

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