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Marketing Musings: Are you the last to know what your customers are doing?

Keeping up with customers is a bigger challenge (and slightly more important) than keeping up with the Kardashians! But how well do you stay up on what your customers are doing? A number of years ago when I was a contributing editor of a plastics industry trade weekly, I saw in the Wall Street Journal (which I read religiously every day) that a large OEM had announced it was closing its U.S. operations and moving the work to Mexico. 

 
I happened to know a rather large molder that did a lot of the molding work for this OEM, so I thought I’d call the owner and get his take on what appeared to be this rather abrupt move. When I asked him what impact this move would have on his business, he said he didn’t know. In fact, he hadn’t even heard that his customer—one of his primary clients—was moving!

So here’s today’s question: Do you know what your customers are doing?

Just recently, Medtronic announced that it will lay off 1000 employees, 250 of those from their Mounds View, MN facility, which makes cardiac management products (pacemakers and defibrillators). According to news reports, sluggish sales seem to be putting a damper on the company’s production. How will that impact Medtronic’s suppliers?
 
OEMs come and go, they move plants, they close plants, they start buying molding machines to bring their molding in-house. There’s always movement among a molder’s customer base, but often no one notices until the orders quit coming in or a truck pulls up to the back door to pick up the molds.
 
Being involved with your customers means knowing their business. There are a number of ways to find out. If your customers are large publicly traded companies, the information is out there and easily found. Most have good news or "media" sections on their web sites, so it might behoove you to get in there and just peruse the press releases or the investor news. Another way to get information is to buy some stock in your publicly traded customers.
 
Read the business journals such as the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg’s BusinessWeek or any of the other many publications that focus on business and industry. These publications—paper or online—contain a wealth of information about companies, and you just might find out what your customers are doing.

If your customers are privately held companies, you can still get information. Check out the local newspapers in the cities or towns where you customers are located. Keeping up with the local economy is a big deal in these publications. They often offer information such as who’s moving a plant into town or who’s moving out. They also track who’s laying people off and who’s hiring. That kind of information is important to the people in these communities, so it’s usually covered quite well.
 
Don’t be caught off guard by your customers’ plans. You need to know your customers intimately! Your business depends on it.

TAGS: Business
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