Exhibiting at trade shows – Why do it?

Should we go to every trade show every year? Some of these shows cost us well over $7000. The one show that we want to skip this year is part of an association. They have about 300 members. We know just about all of them and know what they are using. Of course, a bunch of them use our product.

Anyone who has attended a trade show knows why this question is being asked.

Avoid the knee jerk

Our thoughts first jump to the time, trouble and expense of trade show travel, time away from “real work”, conference center shipping and logistics, being on your feet all day for three to five days, skipping meals and sleep as you work 6:00 am to midnight while your friends, family and co-workers think you are “vacationing” in Orlando or Las Vegas, much less the general aggravation of things like paying $300 to rent a 10′ x 10′ piece of cheaply-made, unpadded carpet.

Trade shows can be a hassle. They require a sizable investment in time, money and people to participate, so the natural response might be “Let’s think of reasons not to go.

Don’t do that.

Why go when you own the market?

If you don’t go to a show or association meeting because you feel you own the market, what message does it send?

Here are a few possibilities:

This vendor doesn’t care enough to show up and talk to us.

This vendor only shows up when they think they can close a bunch of deals.

This vendor takes us for granted.

If your competitors are there – these are some of the ways they might position your decision not to attend, or they might simply say “Think about why Company A wouldn’t show up.

Think about the show from the point of view of the attendees who invested in your products and services. Will your absence tell them you’re taking them for granted? Remember, these people helped you gain your dominant market position by investing in what you sell. By attending these events, they’re identifying themselves as the ones who care enough about their business and their industry to step away from the office, learn what’s new, learn what is (and isn’t) working in their industry and brainstorm with peers and vendors about solutions.

Do you prefer to listen to the ones never involve themselves in such things?

Seth calls these people your tribe. Dan calls them your herd. The concepts are different, but their needs are similar. Herds require attention and care. Your clientele does too.

Herds? Really?

I don’t refer to “herd” with the mindset that your clientele is a mindless bunch of cattle. Instead, consider “herd” from the viewpoint of a rancher. How do they attend to their care, oversight and feeding?

Do they let the herd eat what they want? Deal with the weather without concern?  If a predator appears, do they simply let that predator kill off a few of the herd? If someone shows up to rustle part of the herd, do they sit back and let it happen?

Ranchers provide the right forage and plenty of fresh, unfrozen water, while protecting the herd from predators, rustlers and other threats.

They care for the members of the herd because they know each member of the herd is returning a ROI. They know what it costs to lose a head. Do you?

While members of a cattle herd don’t choose to be there, clients can choose to leave, as can tribe members. The care and attention you provide has a great influence on their choices.

What opportunities will exhibiting at a trade show present?

Find out what concerns your market today – from the current perspective of the leaders in your market, rather than from insights and perceptions that may have been formed years ago.

It’s an opportunity to talk with someone who uses another vendor’s product. If they won’t switch to yours – isn’t it important to know why? A face-to-face, eye-to-eye discussion may yield critical insight, or it’ll confirm that those people aren’t your ideal clients. Either way, it’s valuable info.

What will you gain from a stronger relationships with your clients and other vendors in your market?

Trade shows are unique gatherings of the best clients, prospects and vendors. They’re a big opportunity – if you work shows strategically and execute them with a plan.

The shortcut to easier sales

One of the more common questions I get is “How do we find a shortcut to easier sales?” The shortcut starts with a few questions…

Who is the ideal person for your product/service and what is the specific situation your products and services solve for them? You’ll know it’s them if they would look at your “menu” of available products and services and say “That’s exactly what Ive been looking for.

If you are thinking things like “I’ve been a little frustrated with sales lately.” or “I’m frustrated with my website. I’ve been having trouble figuring out what the site should look like, how the sales process should look, etc.” then this is quite likely the source of the problem.

The reason this is a problem is that the conversation your sales process and / or your website engage in isn’t the conversation going on in the minds of your potential customers. It’s not what keeps them up at night. It’s not what’s on their mind when trying to make payroll, much less when trying to figure out how to pay themselves AND the bills.

To have that conversation, you have to have a much narrower focus on each type of person that you’re selling to.

Who is your target market?

Is the answer a single word or phrase? Is it a paragraph describing what you sell? Or is it a description of the people and/or business AND the situations those people are trying to address by using your products and services?

Is the answer “I don’t really know?” or “I thought I knew but now I’m not so sure.

Imagine that you are taking one of these people under your wing. Who would be the perfect person for you to do that for? Can you describe them and their situation in detail?

Example: They’re a couple in their early ’60s. The husband is about 10 years older than his wife. He’s retired. They’re both from Brazil but are naturalized U.S. citizens. The wife’s employer is closing down, so she’s looking for a way to supplement her income. Try to describe people in their situation.

The accurate but not useful answer is: “People who need an income“. A better start is “retired people who need an income” and “retired expats who need an income“. These are two different groups. For someone who is looking to serve people with these kinds of problems, there are probably dozens of similar groups with important, yet subtle differences.

If you tell me your clients are “lawyers”, I would suggest that is an incomplete answer. What kind of lawyer are they? Personal injury? Family law? Transactional? Estate? Tax? Each of them have different conversations, potentially different clients and they’ll each have different conversations with their clients.

The most expensive marketing mistake

The most expensive marketing mistake you can make is trying to have the same conversation with each of these groups. The “…with important, yet subtle differences” part is what changes the conversation with each group.

You need to narrow things down so you can have a conversation with one person (even if there are 100,000 of them) rather than 100 different people who have a related issue that this product will solve for each of them.

Pick one, do that one. Pick the next one. Do that one. You can only grab one person’s attention at a time and encourage them to solve this situation. Who will it be? Be specific.

Introduce me to your market

There are two pretty common ways to get to the bottom of this.

One is to role play introducing this person to someone who knows nothing about them, but will be immediately expected to be effective selling product or service that the salesperson is familiar with to the expat couple once your introduction is complete. I think you can imagine that to go from knowing nothing to being effective selling to them is going to require more than insight than “This is Joe and Mary and they need an income“.

What would you say?

The second method is to identify a familiar / famous person who fits the mold, if one exists. Introducing them might be a bit easier since you likely know something about this person and will be able to dig into quickly.

The shortcut to easier sales starts with knowing your audience better than anyone.

How to make a good upsell

Thanks to cloud services, my hardware needs have shrunk substantially in recent years. This makes it easy to pace and plan hardware upgrades for what little hardware I have left.

However, reality sometimes gets in the way. Yesterday, my wife’s laptop died so I had to take immediate action.

It was a lesson in fulfillment, point of sale retail and how to make a good upsell, or not.

Bad upsells undermine trust

Every time I update Java, the Oracle-owned technology’s installer offers to install the “Ask Toolbar” as an option.

The default is “Yes, install the Ask Toolbar” and may also ask to change your home page to the Ask search engine page. My guess is that Doug Leeds (CEO of Ask) doesn’t even use Ask as his home page.

According to three different independent references in Wikipedia, the Ask Toolbar is considered malware: “Ask.com is noted for a malware toolbar that can be surreptitiously bundled in with legitimate program installations, and which generally cannot be easily removed from most common browsers once installed.

Every time I update Adobe Flash Player, the Adobe-installer offers to install McAfee anti-virus. Naturally, the default is “Yes, install MacAfee.”

Since Microsoft bought Skype, the Skype installer now asks to switch your default browser, switch your default search engine and install a browser plugin that changes what happens when you click on a phone number. Of course, “Yes, please make all those changes.” is the default.

In all three cases, these defaults are the last thing you want to do.

The point is that these actions give the impression that these companies are willing to damage their reputations (and our computers) and undermine any trust we might have in them by injecting these out-of-context (or damaging) upsells into the process of using their products.

Why bad upsells annoy us

As long as we’re paying attention, these things are easy to bypass and only take a moment to do so. Anytime we’re installing software on a computer, the prudent user should be paying attention. We should not be clicking through the install to “just get it over with”, yet many do exactly that and find themselves victims of these unscrupulous install processes.

They amount to bad upsells.

These situations annoy us because they change our experience with the vendor’s product and make us be on our guard at a time when the vendor’s trust should be assumed – when we allow them to take brief control of our machines so their software can be updated.

It’s the worst possible time to do something to undermine trust, yet that’s exactly what these and other vendors do. It’s the worst kind of upsell, even though we aren’t being asked to open our wallets.

So how does that relate to a new laptop?

Good upsells are helpful

Deciding what to upsell is as important as the act of asking about it. When someone asks me how to make a good upsell, I suggest that they focus on being helpful.

If someone brings a couple of cases of canned drinks to the checkout stand, a helpful suggestion is “Do you need any ice?

If they bring five quarts of motor oil to the checkout, it makes sense to ask about the kind of vehicle they have so you can help them select an oil filter.

Even though we buy gifts for people all year, only jewelry stores tend to ask if if we’d like complimentary gift wrap for a purchase made January through October. Gift wrap is an upsell, even if it’s free.

We get distracted or forgetful in these situations by thinking beyond the moment, so the right kind of upsell can save us time, fuel, frustration and embarrassment by reminding us about important but briefly forgotten items.

As with any marketing, you should test your upsell to see what works so you can stop doing what doesn’t. A better ice question might be “Do you have enough ice to keep these cold all day?“, but you won’t know this unless you test different questions and measure the results.

Does the upsell help the customer remember something that compliments their purchase? Does it help them make the purchase more effective, more productive, more valuable to them?  Does the upsell build trust or undermine it?

Bottom line: Does it help them?

Reinvigorate your business on a budget

While I suspect you’ve already done your strategic business planning for 2015, you might still be wondering what else you could do to “turn the knob” on all or part of your business.

It’s a natural thought process at this time of year. In the words of Saturday Night Live… you think your business needs more cowbell.

Here’s a checklist of baby steps you can take that will help you reinvigorate your business without spending a ton of money.

Marketing

The best way to not spend a ton of money on marketing is to track the response you get. You can do this with tools ranging from a yellow pad and a pen, to a spreadsheet, to sophisticated software. The key isn’t the tool you’ve chosen as much as it is that you actually track response and make future marketing decisions based on what those responses tell you.

For example, if you advertise on the radio, on cable TV, in a newspaper, email, web advertising and via direct mail, you need to be able to tell which of those are making the phone ring AND making sales happen. It may not be one of them, it might be all of them or a subset of them.

You need to know which media work for you and which don’t. It doesn’t matter if one works for someone else if it doesn’t work for you.

Likewise, sales copy that works on the radio may not work on one or more of those other media.

You need to know which campaigns work on which media.

Ultimately, you need to know what works so you can stop spending money on what doesn’t.

Accounting

Do whatever it takes to make this as easy as possible. Without a clear view into your numbers, you might be making decisions that are taking your business in the wrong direction.

If this means getting help, find a way – even if you have to use temporary help or an online service. If it means changing the tools you use, do it.

Even though accounting is not particularly sexy or fun, it’s the only scoreboard you have.

Sales

Close the sales prevention department.

The “sales prevention department” includes all of those things that make prospects shrug their shoulders and walk away.

Among other things, it’s the sign that they can’t read, the phone that wasn’t answered, the salesperson who didn’t attend to them, the cashier who barely looked up from the register except to look at their phone, the website they can’t use to do business with you, the process that made buying not worth the trouble, and the inane, repetitious paperwork that wore them out before they could give you their money.

Customer service

If your customers bought something in the last 90 days, have you followed up with them simply to check that their purchase did what they wanted? What if it didn’t? What did they do? Was your staff of any help?

Follow up.

Back office and Infrastructure

What costs your business time and money every day? If you asked each staff member what would help them do their work more effectively and efficiently, what would they say?

Ask them. You might learn something.

Cover your assets

If you can’t find instructions that would help someone restore your data if computers were stolen or burned up, your business is at risk. What are you going to do about it?

Do you care if your business outlives you? If you do, ask yourself this: “What would happen to my business over the next month or so if I died in a terrible accident today?

Communications

Can you reach all of your customers with a message personalized to them?

Can you reach all of your customers without placing an ad on TV, radio and in the newspaper?

In both situations above, can you do so by the end of the day today? How about the end of next week?

Website

I could discuss this topic in great detail and suggest lots of changes, but remember, we’re talking about reinvigorating your business website on the cheap.

Does your site have your phone number on it? Does it have a map on it? Does it have your physical address on it, where appropriate? Little, easy to forget things make all the difference.

 

 

Defending your business

Business is not easy and we (business owners) make it harder by making what will later seem like silly mistakes. Hopefully, we learn lessons from those mistakes, much less a bit more often.

That isn’t necessarily the hard part.

Sometimes, business gets tougher because we get the wrong kind of help. The kind of help I’m speaking of includes things that your clientele and staff might do or say, things that get published in the news, or even changes to regulations that don’t affect your business directly, but affect how your clients run theirs.

One of your jobs as owner is to anticipate and build defenses against situations that could threaten or even destroy your business.  You should anticipate these things, defuse them, prepare for them, and work around them.

Anticipating these situations is what allows you the time to defuse, prepare for and work around them – that’s really what defending your business is all about. Most of these situations will present themselves whether you like it or not. The secret is being prepared for them in advance.

Clients and Prospects

Most client and prospect related situations can be avoided with proper sales and service training. A number of these will come to you in the form of sales objections, misinformation, price shopping and other things that your marketing is designed to deal with.

Reacting to these situations in the moment will often produce a solution that hasn’t been well thought out – and usually hits profit first, while setting precedent you don’t want to set. Anticipating and training for these things will prevent the need to react rashly in most cases.

Media, Industry and Gurus

It’s easy to place the blame on the media – particularly today when some news outlets act more like news creators and take part in less than authentic clickbait campaigns to get your attention.

Media includes far more than the local or even national papers. It includes the trade organizations and industry groups that affect your market, and the “guru” types who command attention of your market.

The key is to be monitoring everything you can that relates to your business, your clients, your clients’ business and any external entities that affect them. There are plenty of automated tools out there to make this easy.

Monitoring isn’t enough. You have to lead the market by taking a position on what’s going on. Some will follow, some will not.

Regulatory Changes

There are a couple of angles to consider.

One is for the business that simplifies the act of dealing with government agencies of any kind, at any level. These businesses also live and die by the frequency and volume of changes in those regulations.  It can be a bit of a roller coaster ride.

Ideally, you need to make sure that these regs aren’t the sole reason your clients do business with you. If your model is designed and totally depends on the ability to help those who need to work within the regs and nothing else, you’re at risk. Rather than depend on a single revenue stream, use the knowledge you’ve gained about these client and their business to find ways to help them in addition to the ways you help them deal with regulatory challenges.

Another angle is all about staying on top of the changes that affect your clients and leading them in the direction that keeps them out of harm’s way. Any efforts you make to combat these issues are a different, and perhaps simultaneous, path while the rest of your efforts are still at work.

Equity

One particularly strong way to defend your business is to build equity into your business model.

You might think that you can’t do this because you don’t deal in real estate or stock, but that just isn’t so. If your business model allows you to know that you have sales booked for the next 30, 60 or 90 days (if not beyond) – that’s the sort of equity I’m speaking of.

Having those sales booked in advance, regardless of how you’ve done so, gives you the flexibility and freedom to make better decisions when defending your business, because you aren’t thinking about how you’ll make payroll next week when making those decisions.

Defending your business is one of a business owners’ strategic responsibilities. What are you doing to defend yours?

I love companies with slow computers

How much money do you waste by making your staff wait for computers?

For slow networks?

For slow internet?

For slow computers?

How hard do you make it for them to get their work done?

How many times has a hotel desk clerk apologized to you at check in time because their computer was not behaving, was slow, or was down? I don’t travel all that much, but I hear this fairly often.

How many times do you get similar messages from retail employees, or from customer service reps that you’re on the phone with?

Regularly, for me.

Is your staff’s productivity hamstrung like this? What impression does a recurring “I’m sorry, my computer is slow, thanks for your patience” message leave with your clients?

I love companies like this – when they’re competition for my clients. Don’t be one of them.

Focused on the holiday, now or the future?

It’s that time of year when business owners are pulled in many directions. The end of the calendar year has a way of doing that.

Some of us are focused on the year we’ve had, some on this month’s performance (which could make or break the year), and some on the future.

While all of those things are important, it’s a good time to remind you of the difference between “working on vs. working in the business” and how important ON vs IN is to getting your business out of what feels like survival mode.

Working IN the business

Almost all of us do this to some extent. What exactly does it mean?

Working IN the business is about taking care of today’s production and quite often, dealing with the crisis of the day – whatever that might be. It’s about making sure clients are happy, products and services are getting delivered – and in some cases, taking part in that creation/delivery.

In short – this is you, the owner/manager, working as an employee of the business. There are times when this is essential and in the smallest of businesses – the solo business owner – it’s how you generate revenue. The thing you need to be cognizant of is making sure working IN time doesn’t become a substantial majority of your work time month-in, month-out, even if you’re the only one there.

If you’re an employee reading this, I hope your employer’s owner and manager(s) spend more time working ON, than IN, but this isn’t always possible. Sometimes, everyone has to knuckle down and get work out the door.

If you’re an employee who thinks they’re doing this – see what you and your peers can do to take even one thing off their plate without being asked. Every little bit helps. If you’re worried about overstepping your bounds, ask.

If nothing else, asking the question should send the message that you have the best interests of the business on your mind.

Working ON the business

Working ON is what allows the business to worry less about what’s happening next month, much less next week or tomorrow.

Why worry less? Because you’re doing enough working ON to be pretty confident that things are booked for that day, week and/or month.

How does a business worry? When you wonder how you’ll make payroll next month, you worry – and it’s reflected in your comments and actions. When employees notice things that tell them money is tight (or really tight), they worry – and it’s reflected in their comments and actions.

These comments and actions reflect on your business. They send a message to your client, your banker, your family (and your staff’s families) and others.

Working ON includes planning and executing, but it’s also very much about communications. Making sure everyone understands what will happen next month and the month after, how those impact the rest of the year’s plans is critical to getting everyone on board.

Are you simply too buried in working IN to work ON this month? If so, take a minute to make an appointment with yourself in your calendar later this month or early next month. Spend that appointment time planning your year so that this time next year, you’re spending more time working ON more so than working IN.

Some examples would be worthwhile, eh?

Since I talk about this fairly often, some examples of “working ON” would be useful.

Spend time on asking yourself these things:

  • What can be systemized?
  • What should never be systemized?
  • What can you do to take the risk of purchase off of your client by providing them with a meaningful, no “but clause” guarantee that they’ll trust?
  • Who are our best clients, how do we keep them, sell more to them, and find more like them?
  • Who are our worst clients and how do we get rid of them? You know who the painful ones are.  Either fix what’s wrong or get rid of them. They can poison your business.
  • How can we avoid having letting the market and your customers beat down what we do into a commodity?
  • What upsells and follow up offers can we make at the time of purchase that make sense based on what the buyer bought. Remember, the hottest buyer in the world is one in front of you. Did you satisfy ALL of their needs and wants?

 

Your systems should focus on your clients

Do your systems serve your internal customers or all of them?

By internal customers, I mean your accounting department, the staff on the shipping dock, customer service representatives, sales people and so on.

Systems that serve your internal customers do things such as accept, validate and record orders, track commissions, automate shipment notifications, manage inventory and a multitude of other things necessary to make sure that orders for products and services are properly fulfilled.

These systems (investments, really) serve your “real” clients as well, but in many cases their service to the client is indirect. I say indirect because your client rarely sees this service, even though they benefit from it. These systems enable your staff to serve your clients, keep track of where their package is and keep track of the fact that they’ve paid their bill. That’s service they benefit from – even if it is indirect.

Clearly, these investments are valuable. My assertion is that these systems don’t often focus on the client’s needs, even though they ultimately serve that client.

For example?

You knew I’d have an example or two.

You’ve probably seen a cryptic medical bill at some point. These bills have improved vs. the bills of five or ten years ago, but they could still be easier to read. Focusing on client needs might mean making the effort to create a customer-focused bill where info other than the total amount due is intelligible to the patient and their family.

A recent cold snap snuffed the battery in my wife’s car. When I went to replace it, I had to take it to a different store in the national (but locally owned) chain where I buy auto parts. Because the store’s systems are focused on internal customer needs, they were able to see inventory in stock and tell me which stores in the area had the battery I needed. While that’s useful information to help me get a new battery, it fell short of the staff’s needs and my own.

Unfortunately, they had no way to access my purchase information from a few years ago so that they could provide the appropriate discount on the new battery, since the old one expired during the warranty period.

The last time I bought a battery from these guys, they calculated the discount from the date on the battery (ie: the month and year that are picked off at the counter when the sell it to you). This time, that date was considered irrelevant. Further, I was scolded for not having a three year old receipt (which I probably have, but haven’t found).

I asked for advice to avoid this in the future, since I was used to the prior system where the pick-off date on the battery was what the trusted. The guys at the counter suggested that I tape the new receipt to the battery so that I’d have it next time. It seems like a good idea, but tape plus battery plus Montana weather times three or more years tells me that reading that receipt might not be so easy in the future.

Where’s my warranty discount?

The discount was trivial and really isn’t the point, but the situation provides a good example of a business system that primarily serves internal customers. The store that sold me the new battery has the ability to check inventory of the store where I bought the old battery and get a part from that store – both of these features primarily serve internal customer needs. A missing internal customer need that would also serve the external customer would allow store personnel to confirm a purchase at another store in the chair, as well as track the purchase for warranty purposes.

You’ve seen this before. Pharmacies are able to track prescriptions at any of their stores and refill them in any other store even if the original was called into a pharmacy thousands of miles away. To be sure, there are laws covering the record keeping of these purchases, but they could make it much more difficult to buy in the second location than they do.

Why do they buy from you?

The point is that your clients have a choice. If your internal systems make it easier for your clients to buy, redeem, refill, obtain service, and buy again…. they’ll likely buy from you.

The magic triangle of small business

Take a look at any reality show business turnaround and the story is always the same: Quality, customer service, management.

It’s the magic triangle of small business, much less the formulaic basis of most business turnaround reality shows.

What’s a bit stunning is that people actually wait around for the reality show hero and their crew to show up before they take action to clean up the mess they’ve made – and even then, it’s orchestrated by the show. Sure, there’s some money and some not-so-good publicity involved, but most of the time, they’d be ahead financially and publicity-wise if they simply took care of business without waiting for the show people to arrive.

Think about what these people would do if they showed up at your business tomorrow.

They’d taste your food or try your product or service. They’d see how clean the place is. They’d monitor your service. They’d look at your books. They’d ride around with your delivery rigs.

Yes, these are the same things you should be doing in one way or another.

Management

Sometimes other things find their way into the success equation of a good small business, but they’re almost always rooted in the magic triangle. Some of these things are a part of management.

For example:

  • Cleanliness… is management.
  • Hiring…. is management.
  • Knowing your numbers…is management.
  • Knowing who your clientele is, and isn’t…is both management and marketing.
  • Focusing your marketing and client care on exactly the right people…is management.
  • Being focused on the quality of what you produce and sell is management, as is how you deliver it.

Quality

Think about the things you’ve seen in other businesses that made you angry, disappointed or made you wonder “Who’s running this place?” Consider the service you’ve complained about.

Is any of that happening at your business? How do you know? Have you called the last several customers you lost? Are you even aware who they are?

What about the last few new customers? Do you know who they are?

If you don’t know the last few you lost or the last few you got, it’s tough to check in with them and ask how things went. If you can’t do that, you’re probably guessing or assuming how things are going.

Is there a TV truck out front yet?

The phone

Think about the last time you were served well over the phone. Or about the last time you had a terrible phone experience with a business. Remember how you felt? Remember the “I’ll never use this business again” thought process – or something like it.

Now, with that thought cemented in your mind – are you sure that your business isn’t having those same kinds of issues with customer calls? Are you positive?

Have you called your business lately as a customer? Have you talked to anyone who has? If the answer to both questions is no, how do you know that your clients are being properly cared for by phone?

Try calling your accounting department and asking a question about an old invoice. Once the conversation is done, ask them to send you a copy of the invoice.  Do they refuse? Does the copy ever show up? These are the kinds of things that set customers off on a daily basis.

Call your sales and service departments as well. How does that go? Try being a “good customer” as well as a “bad” one. How does the experience change? Are they following your training? Speaking of, are they being trained?

Onboarding

What’s your new customer “onboarding” process like? Is it consistent? Does it set expectations for how things will go after that? Do you train them how to do business with you?

What’s your process like? Think about the process that other businesses have put you through, or used to welcome you into their “family”.

Which do you prefer? Yours, or theirs? If you prefer the ones you’ve experienced elsewhere, is there a reason why you haven’t adopted parts of their process and made them your own?

Pay attention to the magic triangle and everything that it touches. Don’t wait for the TV truck to pull up – it may not arrive soon enough.

Has your client list heard from you lately?

As we head into retail’s peak shopping season, the big question is “Will my clientele buy…again?”

Have you had any contact with them since last November or December? The people spending money are in your client list, right?

Client list?

If they aren’t on your client list (or you don’t have one), how would you tell them important news when they aren’t on your site or in your store?

Without an accurate list, the only way to attempt to reach them is by spending a ton of money on advertising that isn’t guaranteed to reach your existing clients.

While you may want to advertise anyway, the message you craft (note the use of the word “craft”) for your clientele about this news should be different than the message received by the general public (or your market, if you’re  business-to-business)

Think about it. How would you tell them these things?

  • We’re moving.
  • We moved.
  • We expanded our facilities.
  • We added a new location.
  • We closed an old location.
  • We’ve expanded into these great product lines that are perfect for you.
  • We got rid of a product line that wasn’t up to our standards.
  • We’ve hired someone who is an amazing subject matter expert on (whatever is important to your clientele).
  • We bought a competitor, now we have even more great locations and consistent product and services. For those who are clients of the competitor, here’s how we’re different, better, etc.

Your client list is an asset as much as a building or your checking account. If you aren’t building it, it’s difficult to keep a connection with your clientele. What will keep them from randomly going to someone else?

The medium you use to reach them doesn’t matter. Reaching them is what matters.

What do I say to them?

What’s changed at your store in the last year? What’s new in the last year?

If “Not much” is your first instinct in response, consider these questions:

  • What service, product, customer care, processes, payment methods, shipping, return (or other) policies have changed?
  • What are people buying this year that they weren’t buying last year? Why? Is the reason important to your clientele?
  • What isn’t selling this year that was last year? Why? Is the reason important to your clientele?
  • What have you learned in the last year that can benefit them?
  • Do you have new staff members that can help them?
  • What new equipment do you have that allows you to serve them faster or better?

Would those changes be jarring to someone who hasn’t been in your store in 10-12 months? Warn them in advance than surprise them when they walk in the door or move to your checkout page.

But Mark, I don’t have a store

That’s OK. The question is at least as important for you if all of your sales are done by phone, online or in a mobile storefront (think “food cart”).

If you sell on Etsy, on your own site, via Shopify or Facebook or at local events like the farmer’s market and ballgames – how will they remember you when it’s time to buy if they haven’t heard from you in months (or longer)?

What do I say?

I covered that above, but it’s important enough to discuss in general terms because you will eventually feel like you’ve run out of things to say.

At that point, the temptation will be to do one of these things:

  • Send something, any old thing, just to stay in touch.
  • Send ads when you can’t thing of anything else to say.
  • Send nothing.

All three are a bad idea, but the first two are the worst.

The first one often results in a shrinking client list because they aren’t receiving anything meaningful from you.

The second one requires care. If you are sending useful, actionable information often enough, then an occasional ad email or footer on your regular emails is OK. What you don’t want to do is forget why you built the list in the first place and start advertising 100% of the time.

The third one is not ideal, but it beats the other two.

The key is to communicate with meaningful, useful info. You may think you have nothing left to say, but the reality is that you’ve forgotten more about your business than they’ll ever know.

Given that… Be helpful when you contact them. It’ll pay off.