In tough markets, the most successful companies thrive by maintaining existing customers and winning new business through connecting their products and offerings to what their customers really want.

The global pandemic and resultant shutdowns have dramatically impacted the chemical industry in 2020. While some markets have seen a boost from increased usage of cleaning products and single-use plastics, many others have been negatively impacted by dramatic declines in end-use markets (automotive, aerospace and many others). Business leaders are working to maintain, pivot and succeed.

This is not the first down-cycle we’ve experienced. Just recall the 2014 oil price crash or the 2008/9 housing crisis and the impacts they had. In these down-cycles, some businesses thrive and others will stumble. Applying successful lessons and strategies from prior tough markets can help you win business in today’s markets.

This is the first of several deep-dives into Maintaining and Winning Business in Tough Markets that kicked off with this article.

One of the keys to maintaining and winning business in tough markets is understanding and responding to your customers’ current reality.

It’s easy to assume you know what’s important to your customer. After all, you’ve been doing business together for years, have deep relationships, talk regularly and you understand their customers and end-use markets. But, do you know what they really need today? What are their current business imperatives? Which of their markets are doing well and which are struggling?

Now, more than ever, its critical to get more connected with your customer, their why and their current reality.

How do you do that?

Rest your assumptions and ask more questions.

Listen with interest and intent.

Test and hypothesize to create options and priorities

Rest your assumptions: What you think you know about the customers wants, needs and interests. Chances are that their priorities and concerns have changed and are not what you assume.

Instead, ask questions (even those with answers you think know!) to gauge what matters most to your customer and their company today.

Some of these questions could include:

  • What are your biggest drivers and concerns today?
  • What is your management team interested in?
  • How are your customers and markets? Which ones are having difficulty?
  • Is your company concerned about… supply chain, location, payment terms, cashflow, getting enough product, getting too much product, managing working capital, predictability of demand?
  • How are your other suppliers doing? What are they doing well or not so well?
  • What are we doing well today? Where do we need to improve?

By the way, one of the key assumptions that you need to rest: Assuming that non-customers are getting their needs met by their existing suppliers. I can assure you that they’re not! At least not fully. Now is a great time to go back to prior customers or customers on your prospect list and have the same questioning conversation with them… you are likely to find opportunities that you can meet better than your competitors.

Listen with interest and intent:

Be an active listener… listen to learn rather than waiting for your opportunity to speak. Research shows that only 10% of us listen effectively. Work to be in that 10%.

Listen to what your customer says… and does not say.

Listen without judgement.

Listen to the silences and gaps.

Listen to the emotion behind their words.

Together, these give you clues about what is really on their mind and where their biggest concerns, priorities and opportunities lie.

Test and hypothesize:

Test and recheck what you heard. Ask clarifying questions. Restate and reframe what you’ve heard. “That’s interesting… you’re looking to shift production from Plant A to Plant B to improve customer access, is that right?”

Restating does 3 things:

1. It tells your customer that you were listening;

2. It ensure that you’ve captured their response correctly;

3. It allows you to create a shared vision of their pain points / interests / needs.

And, test some hypotheses with your customer as a means of building options and validating where their biggest priorities are. “If we could (extend payment terms, deliver from an alternate location, swap product A for product B), would that be useful to you?” And, as you test those hypotheses, listen.. really listen… to their response.

Using the Rest-Listen-Test sequence to build a new and updated picture of your customer’s current reality will help you develop value propositions to meet their needs today, helping you to maintain existing and even to maintain new business.

Progressio Global helps chemical companies win deals and achieve profitable growth by understanding their customers’ why.Looking for help in today’s difficult markets? Let’s talk about the proven strategies to help your company and your team win deals faster and achieve more profits.