Strategic Relations Journal

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Issue #69 -- January 27, 2003

More Recessionary Relationship Tactics

Today in "14 Strategies to Retain Key Accounts in Recessionary Times," you will learn how to keep customers close, while addressing customer concerns. This lesson will also teach you how to improve the relationship and stabilize income during client financial concerns. Do you have any strategies to add to the list?

Last week's lesson we talked about focusing on your core competencies, and using outsourcing to reduce costs. I have seen many a good business try to do everything, and provide no real value to customers. I am encouraging clients to pick a single service area and specialize in it; everything else they do should support that one area. This strategy opens doors because your specialty brings expert status, making it difficult for others to compete with you in that area.

Next week in the Strategic Relations Journal, I will share with you some strategic management techniques to reduce costs in a recession. I am rounding out "recession busting" articles with a few more articles. Let me know if you are finding this topic useful, I may produce a small book about it -- I am of the strong opinion that tight market places are good for the competitive business. What do you think? Send me your feedback on writing a book with recession busting techniques or my opinion on the value of periodic recessions; write to feedback-strategic-relations (a)

Warmly and sincerely,

Justin Hitt
Strategic Relations Consultant, Author & Speaker

Ps. I am inviting a few senior executives subscribers (most of you are) to share your strategies for getting through tough times. I will compile your feedback along with the articles and other materials I have one the topic for at least a report (most likely a book). For your time I will give you, the product free, no matter its selling price.

14 Strategies to Retain Key Accounts in Recessionary Times

By Justin Hitt, Strategic Relations Consultant,

Is a weak economy challenging your business growth? Are your aggressive competitors putting your key accounts at risk? With strong business relationships, you stand a better chance of keeping those accounts. If you have not already invested in building the relationships you need, here are a few strategies keep key accounts during recessionary times:

  1. Engage in regular two-way communications with clients,

    Keep your customers aware of current project status, changes in account or service arrangements, and anything that helps them become aware of progress. Listen for changes in project objectives, scheduling, or resource availability.

  2. Carefully understand and consider customer needs,

    Go beyond just asking for feedback to actually studying your customer to gain a clearer picture of their needs. Once you see a need, take efforts to fill it in a positive way for your customer.

  3. Reduce delays in serving customer requests,

    When a customer has a concern, make sure it is address quickly. If you can bring project deliverables to completion sooner than requested, make sure the customer is aware of your efforts.

  4. Do not over staff contracts for personal gain,

    Frequently contractors load contracts which have extra space for direct labor, just to gain the extra billable hours. This helps the contractor, but hurts the relationships. Only assign the staff necessary to produce the results a customer desires.

  5. Ask for feedback on your strengths and listen to what customers say,

    Make sure customers have a clear understanding of the benefits you provide as they see them from their own perspective. The best way to gather this feedback is to ask for it. Listen to what they say, and what they are not saying.

  6. Maintain a cash reserve on income gained from each account for its own service,

    Too many budget conscious program managers borrow money from one contract to do work on another, only to put themselves in jeopardy when the original funds are needed. Maintaining a reserve amount of cash for serving individual contracts, this insures funds are available to support customer efforts.

  7. Extend existing contracts where appropriate for the customer,

    Look for other ways you can serve your existing customers; could you reduce time constraints with more staff, improve quality with additional testing. Determine where else you can help a customer succeed then offer your services.

  8. Seek referrals through your customer's social networks,

    Ask for referrals from each key account; it is very likely they know someone who needs what you provide. Always make sure you have earned the right to ask for referrals by verifying customer satisfaction first.

  9. Encourage regular and prompt payments for accounts receivable,

    If you do not receive payments on time, you cannot continue to service a customer. Develop alternative payment options, vendor financing, or anything, but do not let accounts go overdue in recessionary times.

  10. Concentrate marketing efforts on those most likely to become paying customers,

    Instead of looking for new customers, help your existing customers become more aware of what you can do for them. If possible, help your key accounts consolidate work related to your services. Seek to do more work for those to whom you have some kind of relationship.

  11. Develop measures to understand customer desires,

    Improve your customer service by developing ways to measure, monitor, and understand customer desires. Simple surveys, feedback cards, product evaluations, and other low cost methods can automate this strategy.

  12. Verify your understanding of customer expectations,

    Avoid assumptions about customers expectations, ask them What do you expect?�, Did we live up to your expectations?�, and How can we meet your expectations? Make sure you really understand what your key accounts expect.

  13. Extend your points of contact inside each customer's organization,

    The worst thing that can happen to a company is to have their only point of contact laid off. Make an effort to know (and be known by) everyone who works with, for, or supervisors every decision maker among your key accounts.

  14. Address customer concerns promptly and verify their satisfaction,

    If a customer expresses a concern about something, take care of it as soon as possible. Go beyond expectation by acknowledging the problem, then asking the customer if it was addressed in a satisfactory manner.

These strategies will go a long way to build relationships during recessionary times, but also stabilize your income when spending reduces for the services you provide. Try each strategy with your accounts. In addition, never forget the Customer Service Basics:

When your clients experience financial concerns, it may make them more conscious of price. Demonstrate your value to help them through trying times and you will reduce price resistance. Always work towards a mutual success and you key accounts will remain loyal.

During a recession it is more critical than every to keep your key accounts coming back. With these strategies, relationships will continue to grow and your reward will come when the economy improves. What can you do today to retain your key accounts?

© 2003 Justin Hitt, All rights reserved.
/ recession-busting | profitable-customers /

Justin Hitt is a strategic relations consultant and the author of "How to Get more Profits by Cultivating Your Best Customers". Clients include business owners and executives of medium to large companies worldwide. He can be reached at

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