Keeping those barges coming

Back in the good old days of the industrial revolution in England something extraordinary was happening with the canal system that has enormous benefits today in wooing and nurturing clients. In fact, I adopted it in my last three businesses.

Let me quickly set the scene. In England (as in many parts of Europe) since medieval times there has been a network of water canals (much like a road network) which allowed farmers, manufacturers and businesses to move goods from the coast to their villages and workshops. Imagine if you were in charge of one of these facilities during the 1800’s. The problem you faced was how to get a consistent supply of raw materials to keep you and your workers productive.

When a shipload of materials arrived on the coast the temptation was to send all of it at once up the canal to your factory. You would then be inundated with supplies and your workers were inundated with pressure to process it all.  Result being “everything at once overwhelm”. But then another major issue reared its head. Once all the supplies had been used there was nothing until the next shipment. Which could be months away. Massive downtime.

The solution was to stagger the supply of materials over a period of time. With a bit of planning it then became a matter of keeping a consistent flow of barges. Not an onslaught but small consistent shipments, meaning when they arrived they were more easily handled on site and when supplies started to dwindle the next barge would arrive. Reduced downtime, reduced stress, better productivity and because of all that, arguably better quality.

It was a much better decision to keep the barges coming.

For me and my team it is a metaphor for nurturing clients. Rather than overwhelm them from the first call, let’s just give them what they need now and then something else later. It’s a about drip feeding your clients with an email newsletter every so often, or a blog post, or sending an information pack or thank you gift, rather than bombarding them with everything at once. For us “Keep the barges coming” is a reminder to keep in touch, bit by bit, inch by inch.

I first learned of this years back when reading about advertising giant Saatchi and Saatchi who had a slightly different slant because they viewed the barge as being the customer themselves and that you need to keep the barge moving up the canal. They are attributed to inventing the modern sales and marketing funnel based on just this. In their book Chutzpah & Chutzpah” Simon Goode, Richard Myers and Nick Darke note that Saatchi & Saatchi referred to it as “The Canal System…once a client (or barge) with money (coal) is put into the system (the canal) at one end, sooner or later they have to arrive at the port (Saatchi & Saatchi)”. The premise being that you need to nurture and prod and help them move along the sales and marketing funnel, bit by bit, and not just give them one massive shove at the start and hope all ends well.

Here’s the thing. “Keep the barges coming” means you don’t have to spend zillions on marketing or create the next super bowl ad, or immerse your industry on a one-off mega campaign. You just need to take small consistent steps, and as a side benefit, it takes the pressure off your people, your finances, your time and ultimately leads to stronger relationships.

Nigel Collin, Business Coach and author of “Game of Inches”

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