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Keeping your best customers

By Bill Johnson

Bill Johnson
President
WordWizards

In a crowded b-to-b marketplace, how do you prevent your best customers from defecting to the competition? Recognizing that 20% of its customers generate 80% of its revenue, hearing aid manufacturer Unitron US developed a far-reaching approach to rewarding, nurturing and retaining best customers. Following are six key elements of this strategy.

Reward — don’t ignore — loyalty. Companies often lure new customers through special incentives, while ignoring longtime customers. Unitron instead launched a program that rewards loyal audiologists and hearing aid dispensers with volume-based discounts and perks including free shipping and extended warranties.

Enrich their minds, pamper their egos. Unitron offers free online continuing education opportunities to help hearing healthcare professionals stay current with evolving best practices. The professionals also earn CEUs. The company holds all-expense-paid, preferred customer events at its headquarters. Customers meet their inside sales team and attend informational sessions. The emphasis is on strengthening relationships and instilling goodwill.

Provide local marketing support. Many Unitron customers are small, hearing-healthcare providers who lack the resources to hire a marketing staff or ad agency. Unitron gives them access to a local marketing toolbox, as well as timesaving turnkey ad campaigns. The company’s best customers take advantage of free marketing support and participate in other marketing programs at reduced prices.

Link to third-party services. The expertise of small business owners often is limited to core competencies. Unitron helps to fill the expertise voids by linking customers to service providers, such as industry-focused website developers. Customers may apply business development fund accruals to these services. Top customers receive additional discounts.

Give them a voice. An advisory board made up of 10 top customers meets twice a year. Unitron uses these opportunities to share product roadmaps and solicit opinions. Besides garnering a wealth of frontline intelligence, the company conveys an unmistakable message to its cream-of-the-crop customers: “We keep you and your needs at the forefront of our strategic decision making.” Unitron also surveys customers periodically, asking them about a broad range of topics, such as how they’d like to receive communications or which product features they’d like to see.

Resist the temptation to pinch pennies. It may be difficult to justify certain perks from a purely financial perspective. However your best customers may continue to do business with you, in part, because of these perks. If you’re not sure, ask them. Listen, learn and apply their feedback.

While Unitron acknowledges the need to grow its customer base, the company devotes substantial time and resources to strengthening relationships with its best customers. The wisdom of this philosophy has been validated by a number of surveys. In one poll, hearing healthcare professionals ranked Unitron No. 1 in service among all hearing aid manufacturers. More importantly, the company is holding onto its best customers and has documented significant revenue growth from its existing customer base.

Certain Unitron best customer initiatives don’t appear to fall under the marketing umbrella. However, the marketing team is involved with all initiatives, either in a lead or support role. Regardless of who owns the project, marketing makes sure the messaging stays on brand and customer communications are consistent with corporate standards. In addition, marketing and sales teams hold joint strategic meetings. “We have to know what the sales team is doing,” said the marketing director. “There has to be uniformity in how we work together.”

Bill Johnson is president and chief copywriter at WordWizards, an agency specializing in b-to-b healthcare marketing. He can be reached at Bill.Johnson@healthcarewordwiz.com. Dan Lindhorst, marketing director at Unitron US, contributed to this article.

 
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