Op-Ed: Why businesses need to boost loyalty in an economic downturn

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By Caroline Petersen, Founder and Creative Director, Gallery Design Studio

The novel coronavirus has created one of the fastest economic downturns the world has ever seen. But despite many businesses suffering right now, we know the economy will eventually rebound. Businesses need to take this time to reaffirm their loyalty to customers and employees so they can come out stronger when the economy ramps back up. 

In their report called How To Market In A Downturn, John Quelch and Katherine E. Jocz argue that companies benefit from entering long-term business relationships during a recession, because during these times it is more important to strengthen your strengths which will make you more viable as the economy improves. They recommend focusing your marketing efforts in sectors where you already have a presence, producing an increase of awareness and loyalty, which means the businesses you reach will be more willing to work with you in the future if they are unable to now. 

Then the question becomes what are the different ways you can build loyalty in business to business transactions? In his explanation of how consumer and business sales are different, Das Narayandas argues in his essay Building Loyalty in Business Markets that “companies in business markets must use an approach based on benefits (‘Here’s how our product or service can help solve your specific problems’) rather than features (‘Here’s how our product is superior’).” In presentations it is important to show not just how you save your client money, but also intangibles like cost transparency, the time it will take to create a product and your capacity to innovate. Presenting your business in a visually appealing way with easy to follow explainer videos, infographics, and other eye-popping messaging continues to be the best way to share information in ways that your audience will remember.

Implementing high-end techniques like a video or having pertinent information with graphics upfront shows confidence in your ability to produce. That way once you start doing what your client wants you to do, you will build the loyalty you are looking for to create a strong relationship. Narayandas also argues in his paper that even if you decide to offer your services at a discount, that means you can get a longer-term contract out of it and that client will be more prone to promote you to its network. 

But none of this can be done unless your house is in order. Employee loyalty is just as important as your clients’ because the institutional knowledge they have will stay in the company. Ensuring employee retention will save you stress, money and time, and the value an employee brings to the company will increase the more they understand how the company operates. The best way to retain employees? Keep them happy. 

Engaged employees way outperform the unengaged. In times of economic stress, it’s critical to ensure employees feel like valued team members so they do the best work for your clients as possible. Employee engagement does not have to cost you anything. By identifying a common theme or goal of all your employees, you can bring them together to better streamline processes. Make sure everyone is involved in the project, on the same page, and feels like they are contributing. Simply put, your employees will not want to leave if they are comfortable and engaged in the work they are doing. You can also help them succeed and ensure they stay in the fold when working on multiple projects by using a digital manual that can be easily updated and accessed, in which employees can go to understand what needs to be done and how. 

In these times of uncertainty it can be easy to think only about your bottom line. But for entrepreneurs to be successful in the long-term, you must take the time now to build loyalty with your clients and your employees.