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Overcome the obstacles of an office visit

If you have customers all over the country, the time and money required to travel can be costly and must be part of the budget.

On a recent trip to Boston, Mike Horvath, director of sales for Original Produce Distributing, Inc. in Chicago, BB #:210491 said he spent thousands of dollars on meals, car rental, lodging, and his roundtrip flight.

Visiting shows you care, but two significant downsides are cost and time away from your own business. “I can’t constantly travel because I need time at my desk, too,” Horvath said. “There has to be a balance.”

One method both Horvath and Theo Rumble, president of Fresh Start Produce Sales, Inc. in Delray Beach, FL, BB #:155975 use to connect with their customers outside of in-person visits is to meet and talk at conferences and conventions.

Of course, the cost of attending—registration, having a booth, hotel, meals, car rentals, etc.—can be prohibitive.

Horvath said he attends shows on a rotating basis to keep costs down.

“I attend the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit every three years, and meet with my customers who are there,” said Horvath.

Rumble connects with many of his clients at the Southeast Produce Council’s conventions. And, although conventions don’t offer as many benefits as an actual customer visit, Rumble uses FaceTime when he’s on a farm and wants to show customers product in the field, so they can see the quality for themselves.

Another downside to customer visits—one that can be controlled—is how a lack of preparation can lead to negative interaction. Dropping in unannounced to pitch a new product may not go over well. Interrupting a customer’s day without a good reason, or an actual plan, can cause resentment.

Always email or call a customer after a visit, no matter how it turned out. Determining how to follow up—email or phone, short and sweet versus detailed and lengthy—depends on the client’s own preference for communication and the type of relationship.

Regardless of the type of follow up, the basics don’t go out of style. Always thank customers for their time and reiterate how much you appreciate their business. Summarize any action steps discussed and related deliverables or due dates, in other words, the usual follow up.

Then also be sure to follow through on promises—do whatever you can to keep existing customers content and not have to spend time and money to seek out replacements. New customers should always be sought, but as additions not substitutions for lost business.

Horvath likens business relationships to a marriage: the time and effort put in shouldn’t be one-sided but reciprocal. Never be complacent or simply assume everything is fine. Every relationship deserves care and can always be improved. Each and every customer matters, so make it a point to consistently show them you care and how much they are valued.