Per Edward McQuarrie, professor of marketing at Santa Clara University, if you want to be a market leader today, you need to make regular, carefully structured customer site visits a standard practice. Professor McQuarrie reminds us that a customer visit is not a source of hard data. Instead, it should give your client access to a rich lode of vivid and credible insights into your business situation that can clarify your product definition process. It is your time to distinguish your business/vendor status among others your client may be doing business with.
The first step to a successful customer visit is being proactive and extending the invitation. Think about when you are invited to a friend’s home as opposed to just dropping in. Your client will be more comfortable in participating in a site visit if they are invited rather than having to request one. As the inviting host, you can establish the agenda.
The second step is providing an advance letter of confirmation and simple agenda. Customer schedules and workloads can be very full; providing a brief agenda will provide reasons why the customer should visit your facility and what they can accomplish in doing so. It’s ideal to mention in the agenda who you are extending the invitation to. Perhaps you have a few select areas you would like to focus on during the visit (i.e., engineering, production, and quality). Set the visit as a time for exchange between colleagues of the two companies and be sure to invite those in specific areas who perhaps would not participate in a site visit. Doing so builds confidence and relationships that have a positive impact on the overall business relationship.
The third step is preparation. Notify your colleagues of the customer visit as much in advance as possible. This allows them to prepare and present their segment of the company as best as possible. A site visit is, in part, a physical inspection supported by meeting content. If offices are in disarray, the manufacturing floor disorganized and chaotic, and colleagues unaware of the visit, the impression you were hoping for could be lost.
The fourth step is to assign roles to team members. Let one person serve as moderator, another to conduct the tour in the facility, another to review the client’s projects, and another to offer a company overview and path forward. The moderator can be the one who conducts the greeting and closing. It is also ideal for the moderator to ask if there are any specific areas the client would like to review or see.
The fifth step is the most overlooked when businesses conduct a customer visit: debrief immediately. This is your opportunity as a group to review client comments regarding facilities, staffing, organization, best impressions, and areas they viewed as not favorable while they are still fresh. It would be a shame if a guest shared with one colleague that they were going to begin a new project you could pursue, but it never gets shared with the sales team.
During a site visit, it is important to remember you’re selling both your team and facility. Failing to prepare will lead to a missed opportunity to highlight who you are and why you are your clients’ best vendor. A successful site visit will leave your client feeling confident and desiring to increase their business with you going forward.