Growing Customer Share

"If your focus is growth, the gold is in the business you don’t have from the customers you already serve."


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My friend Ted Steinberg is a sales guru and is always a great guy to talk with about growing business because he spends a lot of time thinking about this topic. Ted reminded me that most companies leave so much business on the table that if they just focused on capturing a portion of it, they would grow tremendously. He pointed out that in the 40 years he has been in sales, he has seen countless companies double their sales in 3 years or less (after being flat for the last 5 years) just by focusing on increasing their customer share.
Share of customer, or share of wallet as it is often called, is simply a measure of how much of the customer’s business you have versus how much you could have if you had it all. “All” is defined as the business your shop could do with the capabilities you have, not all the work that could be remotely defined as something shops like yours might be able to perform.
In a tough economy, like the one we have been experiencing, it is difficult to capture new customers, so if you want to grow, one critical way is to increase your customer share. The first step is to know how much business is available to you for a given customer. Don’t start by suggesting you won’t get it all because they won’t give 100 percent of it to anyone. Fine, but do you have 80 percent? Two vendors do not mean a 50/50 split. The idea is to get more business than you have now. Unless you have 100 percent, there is more available—maybe. 
Do you want to know how much business you could have with a customer? Here’s the sophisticated question you need to ask: “If we had all your business, how much would that be?” Most customers will tell you, and don’t be shocked to find out it is a lot more than you thought. Some will say, “Gee, I don’t know.” In that case, pause and then ask, “I understand, but if you did know, how much would it be?” Again, you will be stunned at the answers, and most people will give you an answer. In Ted’s and my experience there is often a lot more business available than you thought. That’s what allows you to grow.
You have probably always prioritized your customers by how much they buy from you today. There’s nothing wrong with that, unless you want to grow. Then you need to reprioritize your customers by how much they could buy, not just how much they do buy. (This is not to suggest that you ignore your good customers who already give you most, if not all, of their business. It is to say that growth will come from capturing additional share from the other customers, while maintaining your current business with your customers from whom you already have a high share of customer.) It’s all about focus. And if your focus is growth, the gold is in the business you don’t have from the customers you already serve.
Once you have reprioritized your customers based on how much they could buy, it is time to figure out what it is going to take (other than massive discounts) to get more of their business. This is going to require conversations with the customer to understand why they give so much of their business to someone else. Then you’re going to have to think about what it will take for you to overcome those obstacles. What offer can you make (other than a price concession) to earn more of the customer’s business? They already give you some of their business, why not more? You must be doing something right to get what you have. Why not more? This is the only hard part of this entire process. But, the payoff is usually huge.
Are you being pigeon-holed for certain kinds of business, while the bulk of their business goes to someone else? How can you change that perception? One of our clients only gets the “tough” business because they can do it and, it turns out, their customers thought they would be too high priced for the “easier” stuff. They weren’t. When they asked their customer for the opportunity to consider if they would like the other business, the customer not only showed it to them, but told them where they needed to be to get it. They won it, and it is quite profitable, too.
The economy is likely to stay tough for the next 18 months or longer. As such, if you don’t believe that “flat is the new up,” then you’d better focus on maximizing customer share as a key to growth. If you don’t, one of your competitors who does not choose to believe that flat is OK, may eat your lunch.