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Competition Customer relationships Leadership Positioning Real Estate Sales Small Business

Why do they want to disrupt your market?

The big word in the startup world is disruption, as in “We will disrupt the what-cha-ma-call-it market.” Thinking about last week’s discussion about buying a new vehicle, let’s talk about what disruption is and why “they” want to disrupt our market.

Some examples of disruption

Paypal disrupted the credit card merchant account market. Old news, but it’s a good example. At the time, it was a substantial effort for a small business to get setup so their clients could pay them with a credit card – particularly if there was a web site or phone sales involved. You could do it, but the fees and the startup obstacles put in place by the banks offering merchant accounts were a time-consuming hassle. The assumption was that you weren’t as “real” as a business selling hard goods out of a retail location. Paypal knew better and treated these businesses with honor rather than suspicion and contempt.

Ultimately, Paypal made it easy to get a merchant account. They made it easy by allowing you to manage it online. Finally, they made it more secure by creating a layer between the client and the small business taking the payment. The client gained because they didn’t have to reveal their card number to the small business. The small business gained because the “layer” that kept the card number out of the hands of the small businesses meant Paypal took on the security requirements and many of the risks of card payment fraud. More secure equals less hassle. Easier and less risk for all involved.

You can find many other examples of disruption in the finance-related sector – all of them based on eliminating the annoyances and artificial barriers established by long-term players in that field.

Other examples include Uber (Is the cab business focused on being a high-quality customer-centric experience?) and SpaceX (Is the defense / aerospace business is designed to provide the best bang for the buck?).

Why do they want to disrupt my market?

Simply put, because doing business with you or your peers (or both) is a pain in the keister. When you make it hard to deal with you, you create opportunities for startups that don’t mind doing things differently.

How do they disrupt my business? Mostly by taking the hassle out of it. Those who disrupt your market talk to your clients and identify the things that drive them crazy about working with you. What keeps you from doing that? Nothing other than you being stuck in “We’ve always done it that way” mode.

The real estate market is a great example of how businesses get disrupted. Zillow produced a website that allowed would-be buyers to identify properties for sale before they were ready to contact a Realtor. Will they still have to work with a Realtor at some point? Probably. Before they “get serious”, are they required to deal with the barriers that most real estate firms put in place? Before Zillow and the like, it was all but a necessity. At that point, you did things their way on their terms. Today, you don’t have to engage a Realtor until you’re ready to take some action.

Could Realtors have opened up MLS to web access before Zillow appeared? Yes, but they didn’t. Could they have made it easier to shop before getting signed up with a Realtor? Yes, but they didn’t. Instead, the MLS was used as a wall around the property-for-sale inventory. Until Zillow and similar vendors provided access to this data (or a subset of it), there was little if any pressure on real estate firms to implement such systems or radically improve their processes to make them more client-friendly.

Eventually, they figured it out and created a new Realtor.com that competes with Zillow and similar sites.

Realtors are not the target

These types of problems are not unique to Realtors. They are common to many businesses.

If you look at these disruptive new businesses, they’re usually focused on eliminating the market’s pet peeves.

Referring back to last week’s car lot experience, consider the business model that Vroom.com has put together. It’s not perfect, but it does a nice job of eliminating the horse biscuits from the buying process. And yet, there’s not a single thing they’re doing that local car dealers can’t do.

Will they notice and adopt the best parts?

And in your market, will you?

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Customer relationships Direct Marketing Getting new customers Lead generation Sales Small Business

The care and feeding of leads

Last weekend, we did a little shopping for a “large recreational purchase”. We hadn’t shopped in this market before, so you wouldn’t have been surprised that I would have my radar fully unfurled to analyze all pieces of the process.

While I can’t say that I was blown away, I also wasn’t substantially disappointed. Let’s talk about the experience.

What happens to new leads?

We walked from the parking lot to the showroom without interruption, but in short order (less than a minute), someone at the reception desk (who was busy when we walked by) called out to us to see if she could provide some guidance. Perhaps we looked lost, but I got the idea that this was normal, whether the shopper is lost or not.

Yep, she could provide some guidance. She asked what we were looking for and a sales guy appeared pretty quickly. He engaged, asked good questions to find out what we were looking for and in what price range and then asked if it was ok to produce a plan for us.

“Produce a plan” in their lingo meant to enter a rough cut at our needs into their software, which would produce a list of their inventory items that matched our stated needs. This gave the guy what amounted to a shopping list (including lot locations of their best fit items in their inventory), which was designed to show us only what we fit while saving us a little time.

Given that their inventory is quite large and spread out all over creation, this seemed like a reasonable step. They clearly are not setup for self-shopping, and given the inventory and space you’d have to cover in order to do that, this is a good thing.

I have seen a similar process used effectively in real estate, but at that time, we were turned loose with a list of properties and placements on a map. The give them a map and turn them loose idea works for real estate as long as the prospect knows the areas covered by the map – since the prospective buyer would also know what neighborhoods or locations they aren’t interested in. Where possible, this info should be gathered before producing the map.

The idea in this case was to use the time to travel the lot, learn more about what we’re looking for and show us a few things that will help us determine what we really want, vs. what our newbie first-impression-driven wants might cover.

Talking to leads

As we progressed through the plan’s list of inventory to check out, the conversation was all about the salesperson’s experience with their purchases, questions about what we did and didn’t like about each inventory piece and some perhaps not so obvious tips about sizing, minor differences between each piece that could make a major difference in our experience and similar.

We discussed his background with the purchase we are looking at, and how he earns his customers for life – including the newsletter he mails to them each month. We’re talking about a newsletter with tips, a photo of his family, a recipe and news his clients need. A smart step that I rarely see.

As we reached the end of the plan, it was clear to us and to the sales guy what was going to work and what wasn’t. While we weren’t ready to nail down a purchase right that minute, he did ask – and as I told him, I would have been disappointed in his sales training and skills if he hadn’t.

You have to ask. You don’t have to be poster child of bad sales people, which he wasn’t.

Improvements when handling leads

While the sales process was not annoying (kudos for that), the lead handling process needs fixes.

  • No contact information was collected. Without contact information, they have no way to check in (without being pushy) and see how they can help us. Giving us a business card and a brochure isn’t enough.
  • We weren’t asked if we wanted to get his newsletter.
  • We weren’t asked why we stopped there instead of the litany of competition, or if this was our first visit to a store like theirs.
  • We weren’t provided any info to reinforce that we’d chosen the right dealer.

Leads must be nurtured and cared for by both your people and software systems.

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Blogging Customer relationships Getting new customers Influence Leadership Marketing Small Business

What your customers don’t know

One of the more dangerous things that can get stuck a writer’s head is the feeling (assumption) that everyone knows or has already read about what you’d like to write about. This usually happens because the writer is so familiar with the material, concept or admonition that they simply assume that everyone knows about it, or has heard it already.

The same thing happens when a business owner considers what to communicate to their prospects and clients.

I’ve heard it all before.

Ever been to an industry conference session where the speaker talked about a fundamental strategy or tactic that you’ve known (and hopefully practiced) for years (or decades)? If so, it might have bothered you that the speaker talked about it as if it was new information. It might also have made you feel as if you’d wasted your time in that session, and that everyone else in the room did too.

Did you think “Everybody knows that“?

Unless the audience was very carefully selected to eliminate all but the “newbies”, it’s a safe bet that the audience breaks down like this:

  • Some of the people in the room are so familiar with that strategy or knowledge that they could be called up to the stage to teach it at a moment’s notice.
  • Some of the people in the room learned that information for the first time.
  • Some of the people in the room had probably heard it before, perhaps decades ago, but forgot about it.
  • Some of the people in the room knew about this fundamental piece of knowledge but have since forgotten to implement it or stopped using it – probably for reasons that would be categorized as “we got busy” or “we forgot about it“.

Everybody knows that” simply isn’t true unless the audience is highly controlled.

Most of the time, there’s a good reason to cover foundational material. Even if the fundamentals of whatever you do haven’t changed, something about how they’re applied probably has changed. Even if they haven’t, a reminder about the things “everyone knows” is usually productive to some of your clientele.

If you first learned whatever you do for a living 10 or 20 years ago, some of the fundamentals have probably changed. There are some fields where this isn’t true, but that doesn’t mean that changes haven’t happened.

Your customers’ knowledge is no different

Your prospects and clients are all on a different place on their lifecycle as a prospect or client with you. This is one of the reasons why you may have read or heard from myself and others that you should segment your message.

When I say “your message”, I mean the things you talk about in your newsletters, emails, website, direct marketing, video, sales pitch and so on.

As an example, someone who has owned two Class A RVs is likely going to be interested in a different conversation than someone in the process of selecting their first bumper pull camper trailer.

Despite that, if you have regular communications of general information to your clients (and surely you do), fundamental topics like changes in waste disposal and easier ways to winterize are always going to be in context – assuming you send the winterizing information in the month or so before your clients’ first freeze.

The key to getting the right info to the right people is to segment the audience (and thus the information), while not forgetting fundamentals that everyone can use a refresher on now and then.

Segmenting fundamentals

So how would you segment the educational marketing messages you provide to clients and prospects? How about new prospects, new clients and old hands?

For prospects, a “How to buy” series of information is a highly useful, low pressure way to identify the differences between yourself and the rest of your market, without naming anyone. “This is what we do and this is why we feel it’s important, be sure and ask these questions” is a powerful way to set the tone for the purchase process.

For new clients, provide a jump start. This will also give them a “this is reality” view of what ownership is like that can defuse a naturally occurring case of buyer’s remorse.

For old hands, discuss the questions that cause you to say “Hang on, let me go ask someone in the back“.

Speaking of fundamentals, that’s what this was all about.

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Customer relationships Getting new customers Lead generation Marketing Small Business

The hardest part of helping businesses

There are a lot of rewards that come with helping businesses improve beyond what they expected, or even simply going a step or two beyond an artificial boundary the business owner thought was in front of them. It’s really a fun thing to watch someone latch on to a piece of advice and make 10 or 100 times what they invested in it.

That isn’t the whole story though. In addition to those to take advice and use it, there are some who ask for advice, pay for it, receive it and for whatever reason, never use it. Perhaps they decide that it isn’t for them or they decide not to do anything at all, or they decide they can’t do anything right now. Or they don’t decide to do something, which is also a decision.

There are some in my mentor group who tell me not to worry about those who decide to do nothing (I don’t), and others who suggest that I shouldn’t let it bother me (I do, a little).

Why the difference between worry and bother?

Ultimately I think it comes from the root of why people open businesses – other than independence and control over their income: people get something from helping other people.

The result is that when you do your best to help someone, it feels incomplete until they plug in and use that help to improve their situation.

Sometimes, they just aren’t ready to act, even if they were ready to buy. I know that seems to be a disconnect, but there are plenty of books and courses and such out there with the cello wrap still on them. As I hear it, buying the tool, assistance or advice releases the “I did something” endorphins, so many leave it at that.

If you’re thinking this is some sort of subliminal sales pitch, it isn’t. Still, it’s reasonable to wonder “What does this have to do with me and my business?

We’re getting there.

Where are they?

Hildy Gottlieb frequently talks about meeting people where they are. After all, you can’t meet them where they aren’t, right? Any well-trained salesperson will tell you the same thing – meet someone where they are, talk to that person, rather than talking to the person you want them to be. The same goes for writing.

When you lose a sale or when someone buys a product or service from you and then finds no use for it – despite an obvious need, that’s where the gap between “where your stuff is” and “where your clients are” will become obvious.

So how do you bridge the gap?

Today, you have a product or service (or both) that serves people that are in a certain place in their life, career or state of owning a business.

Think about where someone is when they are at the best possible place and time to buy. Can you identify the qualities, qualifications, situations and conditions in their life, career or business that are ideal when it comes to them making a decision to buy what you sell?

No, I mean where are they NOW?

Ok, so now you have a list of the situations, conditions and qualities that make it a no brainer (or at least ideal) for the right people to buy your stuff. Hopefully that’s where your marketing is focused.

Do you have enough these “ideal people” in your sales funnel / pipeline? Most people will say they don’t. They’s say this for any number of reasons, including that they simply want more leads than they have now because they have business and/or personal goals that require higher sales.

If you don’t have enough of those people, look at that timeline again. Glance to the left of ideal: the “not quite ready” portion of the timeline. What can you do to help people get from that part of the timeline to that optimum place you identified as perfect for your product / service?

Now help them.

The more people that you can help move along that timeline to “optimum” (whatever that means for you and them), the more people you’ll eventually have as “ideal” prospects. When they’re ready, they’ll already know you, since you helped them make the journey to “ideal”.

What can you do to help them make that journey?

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attitude Customer relationships customer retention Getting new customers Improvement Leadership market research Setting Expectations Small Business

Desperate for business?

Recently, I drove past a local shop advertising everything they sell at 50% off. While I don’t like to assume, it’s hard not to wonder if such a radical price cut is anything else but a desperate move to make sales that aren’t happening for the “normal” reasons.

When an owner is desperate for business, (at least) two things often take place in an effort to turn things around:

First, an assumption is frequently made that price is the reason they aren’t selling as much as they need or want to sell. While that is possible, it’s a situation that is easy to research online, much less by listening and asking your clientele. You have to word these questions carefully, since the answer to “Would you like to pay less for what we sell?” will almost always be met with a “Yes!” If you haven’t done this work, then thinking that your sales problems are caused by prices that are too high is an unproven and dangerous assumption. Regarding the store in question… I’ve been in there and price is definitely not their problem.

Second, desperate circumstances manifest themselves in the behavior of sales and marketing. The most common symptom of this is focusing on “everyone with a heartbeat” rather than everyone whose heart beats faster when they see, talk about or think about what you sell.

The latter group is already bought in to the idea of what you sell, so they don’t have to be sold on the idea, but they will need a compelling reason to purchase this product/service from you, as opposed to someone else.

When you focus on everyone, many of them have yet to develop an interest in what you sell (if they ever will). Some portion of them still must be sold on the idea, much less the specific product/service you’re selling and then they must be sold on your ability to deliver it. Selling the idea is often the steepest part of the climb and requires the most energy. Unfortunately, the energy you expend trying to sell disinterested people in what you sell is wasted, leaving less energy for the prospects who actually care about your products and services.

So what’s a business owner to do when sales take a tumble? Ask a few questions.

How’s your value proposition?

Price often comes up first when value proposition is discussed. We’ve talked quite a bit about pricing in the past and the importance of not assuming that your prices have to drop simply because they’re higher than Amazon’s or Wal-Mart’s.

Thing is, pricing is just a part of the value proposition. The ability to provide immediate gratification, convenience, service, delivery, installation, faster delivery than anyone else, financing, access to product / service / industry experts, consulting and better-than-typical guarantees / warranty coverage all have value.

The difference in value prop between the vendor with the best price and the vendor who can roll out delivery, financing, on-site expertise, installation and follow that up with a fair price and solid warranty is massive.

These things take an investment in time, labor, materials and/or people. It’ll be tough to roll them out all at once. Talk to your ideal clients and find out which of these things are most important. Move on those things first. Keep the conversations going.

Why did they leave?

Everyone has clients who have left them, including me. One of the best things you can do for yourself, your business, your next client, and your existing clients is to ask the ones who left what made them unhappy enough to leave.

A few questions to get you started… How did we disappoint you? What promises did we break? What was the turning point for you that told you it was time to leave us and find another vendor? What product didn’t live up to our promises? How did we fail to meet your expectations? What told that you could no longer depend on us? Was price the reason you left? What would have kept you as a client even if our price was higher? What did we fail to offer you that you wanted or needed from us?

The key to all of this is that it isn’t about you. It’s about what they want and need from you. If stuff isn’t selling, there’s a reason. Cutting the price in half isn’t going to find it.

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attitude Business culture Customer relationships Employees Entrepreneurs Improvement Leadership Positioning Small Business

Do you value your clientele?

Business demonstrate what they value through their behavior.

Some businesses value what they do, those they work with and most of all, those they serve. They work hard for every lead. Every client. Every order. Every payment.

They work to improve their craft every day. They learn from the best of their peers, while extracting and fine tuning strategies and tactics observed in other industries.

They “over-communicate”. As a result, their clients have no doubt what’s going on during a sales process, an order, a refund, much less construction, manufacturing, delivery, repairs and ongoing maintenance.

When there’s a problem or miscommunication, they pick up the phone, they email or otherwise communicate all the necessary details, then work as a partner with their clients to create a win-win resolution.

When they market, good businesses do their best to create want, evoke need and make an irresistible offer without being slimy. The ones who value their clients most also talk about the importance of the everyday things they do for their clients that other businesses might also do, but never bother to mention (Example: Northern Quest’s housekeeping and security team commercials).

Let’s talk about that for a moment… These businesses set standards for these seemingly mundane details and train their employees so they can attain them every day. Rather than tell us about the food or entertainment, why do they remind us of tasks performed by staff who are all but invisible to some of their guests?

The everyday things that these staffers do may not be what makes you decide to make an initial reservation (or purchase) or choose their resort over another. Even after a visit, you may not remember these details weeks or months later, if you notice them at all. What they might do is make you notice the next time, draw attention to that aspect of your experience with them and/or provoke you to think more about them on your next visit to another facility. These mundane things are often the tipping point between going back to resort A or choosing their down-the-street neighbor, resort B. They’re the kind of things done by businesses who value return clientele.

These business will do any number of things to monitor and improve the things they’ve know will cause their clients to return.

They will systematically call their clients and ask for 20-30 minutes a couple of times a year (at least) to discuss not only how their performance has been, but what the current and upcoming expectations of the client are and what else they could do for that client in the future.

When confronted with a reality check about their service, rather than come back with a confrontational reaction, they ask how they could improve that situation – and others.

These businesses don’t show that they value their clients by thinking that they’re done improving. Instead, they are constantly looking for ways to improve – even if they can’t immediately implement the change.

These businesses don’t focus on the worst of their clientele. In some cases, they fire the worst, in others, they implement programs that raise the worst to a better place. They see it as an investment to help their clientele become better individual clients, whether their clientele consists of consumers, businesses or both.

These businesses invest in education internally and demonstrate the importance of delivering educational value to their market, which not only improves the market, but establishes their position as a leader in that market and builds their credibility.

These businesses don’t have a moral ambiguity about selling. They know that they have an obligation to their business, their employees, their employee families and their communities to make the effort to see that every possible prospect who can benefit from their solutions does so. They understand that this obligation to sell to the best of their ability isn’t just about them, but that it connects to the well-being of their clients’ businesses, their clients’ employees and their families and ultimately, to the communities where those families live. They understand that this obligation does not mean that everyone with a heartbeat is their prospect, so they carefully qualify who does and doesn’t get the opportunity to benefit from their products and solutions.

Do you value your clientele?

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Competition Customer relationships customer retention Direct Marketing Marketing Positioning Public Relations Small Business strategic planning Trade Shows

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.

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Customer relationships Direct Marketing Lead generation Marketing Small Business

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.

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Business Resources Competition Customer relationships Customer service Guarantees Retail service Setting Expectations Small Business systems

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.

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Blogging Customer relationships customer retention Direct Marketing Marketing Small Business

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.