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The hungry dog expects a bone

Pancho's Bones 02.09.09 [40]
Creative Commons License photo credit: timlewisnm

In almost every market, there’s someone who seemingly owns that market’s customers and prospects.

They’re the household name in that marketplace.

A common assumption is that they get so many customers that they may as well get them all.

To be sure, doing things that make you that household name is something I strongly encourage you to do. So what do you do if the market you want to enter already has a household name?

You’ve heard me suggest that you: Do more. Do it better. Do it more often. Do it differently.

The owner never has 100% of the market. If it’s a market you’re truly interested in, you need to figure out if there is enough left to make a business of it.

“Enough to make a business of it” has to last at least long enough to get a foothold so you can start to chip away at the leader and/or create new markets for what you do.

Can’t Get No…

For example, every single market includes customers who are dissatisfied.

They might not be that way because the market leader treated them poorly or failed to meet their expectations – though that’s certainly possible.

Every market has people who aren’t aware of the market “owner”, people who will intentionally choose someone other than the market leader just because that business is the leader, people who want something more/better/faster than what the leader does, people who want something different, people who have had a run in with the leader, and so on.

No matter what the reason is that you have them, the expectations thing is a big deal.

In the absence of someone setting expectations for them, people assume their personal expectations will be met – at whatever level they have them. Failing to set expectations almost guarantees dissatisfaction among some portion of the population you serve because their assumptions will be higher than yours.

Different levels are OK. Disappointment is not.

Because you’ll find different levels of expectations, you have an opportunity to create good, better, best, unbelievable, and rock-star class tiers of products and services. Still, your job is to set those expectations as appropriate so that even the lowest tier of service gets *at the very least* exactly what they expect.

How often do you get *exactly what you expect* from a business?

Think hard about that.

Now the hard question: How often do your customers get exactly what they expect from your business?


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Leap Tall Buildings

Serious Squirrel
Creative Commons License photo credit: Navicore

Superman was touted as being “faster than a locomotive”.

Locomotives move at a speed people can comprehend. It’s an easy to understand expectation.

He didn’t have to be faster than a plane or a bullet in order to be Super. He just had to be faster than any man.

He didn’t have to leap the tallest building, just tall ones. Really, any building would do, since no one else was leaping over buildings.

Superman seemingly owned the market for folks looking for a superhero.

Yet Spiderman, the Green Hornet, Wonder Woman, Flash and many others somehow managed to find work.

Don’t let Superman scare you out of a market that has plenty of work available.

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Be indispensable

Sossusvlei Landscape
Are you indispensable to your customers?

The question that you have to ask yourself – daily, rather than once – is “What can you do to make yourself indispensable to your customers?”

A few examples to get the juices flowing:

  • If you sell coffee, how can you help your customers wade through the coffee buzzword maze and enjoy *better* coffee? What’s fair trade? Is it really fair trade, or is it just another marketing buzzword?
  • If you sell cars, how can you help your customers make better decisions, get more from their investment, and save time and money on repairs? How can you help them remember to perform the regular maintenance that allows them to depend on their vehicle regardless of the weather?
  • If you repair lawn mowers, how can you help your customers get a better looking yard, without injury, cheaper, safer and faster? How can you save them time and money on upkeep and repairs? How can you help them remember to change their oil, sharpen their blades and make their mower perform better and longer?
  • If you help people deal with (and prevent) legal problems, how can you help your customers avoid rushing into your office with a problem that has to be solved NOW? Ounce of prevention, pound of cure kinda stuff. Be their lawyer every day or every week, just a little vs. being their rescue squad every 5 years.
  • If you treat people’s injuries and diseases, how can you help them be safer at home and at work? How can you help them by advising them on nutrition and other preventative care, without becoming a nag? Knowing that these things require lifestyle / habit changes, how can you help your customers/patients make that happen? How can you help your patients make sense of the constant flow of health, nutrition and prescription information placed in front of them each day? How can you help them prevent injuries and disease, rather than waiting until they occur so you can treat them?
  • If you sell building materials to professional contractors, how can you help them find more business so they can buy more building materials? Can you help keep them informed about industry promos, tax incentives and other things to help them be more competitive?
  • If you sell advertising (better sit down), how can you help your clients track the effectiveness of all their advertising? How can you help them calculate the ROI on the advertising? Not guesswork, but real numbers based on the foot/internet traffic, revenue and profit each advertising source generates. Who is indispensable, the ad salesperson or the ad salesperson who is also a partner in profitability?
  • If you sell computers, ANSWER YOUR PHONE. Those people on the other end of the phone who don’t know as much as you’ve forgotten about a computer are the ones with all the money. They’d like to give it to you, if only you’ll help them. Yes, to be indispensable in the computer business, quite often it’s as simple as answering your phone and helping them with their problem without being arrogant. In fact, just answering your phone will be a huge first step.

If I didn’t mention the business you’re in, use these things as inspiration to do what makes your business indispensable to your customers. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that because your specific type of business wasn’t mentioned, it won’t work for you. Likewise, if you’re thinking to yourself that “my business is different, it won’t work for me”, you’re right. If you don’t do these things – they won’t work for you.

The goal in doing all of these things is to position yourself and your business as the only place that your clients will consider doing business. Arrive at that position by doing this kind of stuff and both your checkbook and your customers will thank you.

Take care of them like no one else is willing to.

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Innovation breeds profit? Who knew?

New corsair
Creative Commons License photo credit: psiaki

Profit is an evil word in many circles these days, but I used it anyway.

Are you the innovation leader in your market?

It seems to work for Apple.

Think back to your last real innovation. Yes, that one.

Remember that product or service that made customers and prospects flock to your office, store, website, trade show booth or reseller displays?

Once you got to that point, business sure did seem easy, didn’t it?

Think a little farther back. How’d you get there?

Follow the thought process that made you decide to reach out a bit more than normal.

Isn’t it worth being your market’s or even your industry’s thought leader again?

Sure makes those trips to the bank a lot more fun.

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22 reasons your business needs a mobile app

Today’s guest post is from Jeff Bullas, and addresses 22 of the many reasons your business or organization – no matter how small – needs a mobile app.

Just because your organization is small doesn’t mean you can’t have one. There are numerous tools to create simple ones, but the very least you can do is optimize your website for mobile browsers.

The eventual goal should be not just to give them a mobile browser friendly site (which is a good start), but to create an app that puts a fence around your clients by making it easier to do business with you, easier to get service, easier to stay informed about things related to your business that THEY care about and by (as usual) doing what none of your competitors have the nerve to do.

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Where they are is more important than where you are

El Pulpito (Noruega)
Creative Commons License photo credit: Angel T.

Coincidentally, that was the premise of one of those annoyingly “innocent” questions I like to ask.

The question on Twitter? “Does your church podcast their sermon recordings?”

Note the assumption – that your church already records them. I asked that way intentionally so that anyone who doesn’t know would think to themselves…”do we even record them?”

A pastor saw my question on Twitter and asked “Why should a church podcast its sermons?”

Which is exactly what I hoped would happen: We’d talk about what “other people” do.

Many churches don’t record, much less podcast their sermons – but some do. Meanwhile they have all kinds of programs in place to reach out to shut-ins, the infirm, nursing homes, traveling church members (many folks are working away from their hometown these days) and so on.

Think about it: Who doesn’t have an iPod or access to the Internet these days? Not too many folks. The last numbers I saw said that 77% of the US population has high-speed internet access (I think that’s a bit high, but that’s another discussion).

Apple’s free iTunes podcast service (like many others) will let you broadcast audio (or video) recordings globally. The price is the same to your local shut-in, a traveler on the road or a deployed soldier.

Free. And most importantly for them, they can listen on their schedule.

If you had to choose between folks not hearing your sermon all vs. not hearing it until their Monday workout or during their commute (very high focus time), what’s your preference?

When I asked Twitter and Facebook why their church podcasts sermons, this is just one of the responses: “We are reformed so this past year I did look for podcasts about John Calvin since we celebrated 500th anniv of his birth.”

People are looking to consume (learn / read / watch ) info that’s important to them. Their lives might not allow them to be in church every week. I suggested to this pastor that during his next sermon, he should ask this question: “Raise your hand if you’re on Facebook.”

Where are your customers when they aren’t in front of you?

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Why you should sell air

Ninja portrait

As I noted yesterday, my current survey here at Business is Personal asks “What’s your biggest marketing challenge?”

Yesterday, we discussed why 25% of respondents have said “Making time to do the marketing” and how they should go about fixing that.

Today, the next largest group (a very close second) is those who said “Differentiating my business from competitors” or offered a response that effectively means the same thing.

Consider “adding air” to the product or service you sell.

What I mean by air is something that:

  • Adds substantial value – from the customer’s viewpoint – to what you sell.
  • Doesn’t add substantial (or any) cost to what you sell (this is why people call it “air”)
  • Competitors haven’t bothered to add to their offering, so your product/service looks better/more complete, has a higher perceived/actual value.

The net result is that you can ask a higher price. You’ll stand out from the other guy.

Hopefully by now, I don’t have to say “Air is not lame, low value puffery”.

Example Air

Let’s say you sell premium brand house paint. Every hardware store and home improvement box store sells premium paint.

How in the world would you stand out? You can’t likely compete on price (thankfully) because they buy more in a month than you buy in a year.

Rather than try to meet the local box store’s price, talk about the time your customer will waste driving into town, dealing with traffic and talking to paint people who maybe don’t know paint. Sure, this means YOUR paint people will actually need to know paint, but they should anyhow.

Still need to add some air? You could negotiate with a local painting company to include drop cloths and stir sticks with the paint crew’s business name and 24-hour emergency number. Oh and print “Tired of this? We’ll finish the job.” on those items. Who hasn’t gotten 20 feet up on a ladder (or bit off more than they could chew) and wondered why in the world they didn’t get a pro to do the job?

Oops, I forgot a stir stick

Think about the last time you bought something that required additional pieces/parts. Doesn’t it annoy you to get home and find out you forgot something? Shouldn’t the sales / register staff where you bought that something take low-key steps to make sure you’ve got all the stuff you need?

Almost everyone complains about not having enough time to do (whatever), so go out of your way to save your customers’ time – and make note of it. How long would it take to drive from your premium paint aisle to the paint aisle at Home Depot? Put up a sign in your paint aisle noting that and thanking them for supporting a locally owned business.

Sell some air. Stand out. Be the best paint store in your county. Be the ONLY choice for someone who needs a can of premium paint, not because no one else sells it, but because no one else sells it and takes care of paint customers like you do.

After doing all that… your biggest marketing challenge WON’T be “Differentiating my business from competitors”.

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Doing some coffee math

Saw this a few days ago from @dontheideaguy.

I’m trying to figure out why every other place that sells beans or ground coffee doesn’t make a point of being happy to take ANY Starbucks bag (not just the “specially marked bags”), year-round.

Toss that old bag or make an example of it.

Staple it to the wall like a number on a scoreboard and sell that Starbucks bag totin’ person a bag of *your* coffee.

Lessee, give away a $2 (retail) cup of coffee while selling a $10-$15 bag of fresh roasted beans? OK, if I have to.

It isn’t just reading that’s fundamental. Math is too.

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What to do if you have too many customers

It must be all those trees we have. They’re so full of customers that businesses just don’t need any more.

As you know, I strongly encourage folks to buy local.

The flip side of that is that locals have to EARN the business. Not just because you’re here, but because you kick butt at what you do.


I called a couple of stores about getting a sound bar for my son’s Jeep as a gift to acknowledge a major accomplishment he recently completed.

One said: “We don’t have them but we have the speakers for them.”

The Department of Obviousness requires that I inform you that the holes in these sound bars are designed to fit common speaker sizes so that retailers don’t have to stock custom speakers.

After checking the store, another said: “I don’t think we can get anything like that.”

No one said “We don’t carry that, but I can get it here tomorrow and install it for you. When would you like to bring the Jeep in?”

The last answer is what keeps people from buying car audio gear on the internet.

The point

While I’m only talking about a $200 purchase plus installation, the big picture was missed.

The size of this purchase isn’t the point.

What you *must* get across to your staff (no matter what you do) is that the real long-term reason to make a sale is to *get a new customer*. â?¨After that, it’s their challenge to keep us as customers.

I suspect car audio industry research tallies the average annual spending of customers. If that figure is only $100, at one new customer per week, you’d add an average of $5200 to your gross sales per year.

Your market is no different.

Has dealing with your store become so unremarkable that customers would rather pay for shipping and wait a few days?

Walking to Missoula

I was in a cloth store recently, buying some material so a local business owner could make some custom neckerchiefs for my Scouts.

They had less material than I needed. They offered to order more, advising me that it could take 3 to 6 weeks.

They didn’t mention their corporate-run online store. I checked it myself, finding an in-stock quantity of only three yards. That wasn’t how much the local store had, it indicated (incorrectly, I suspect) the corporate’s in-stock quantity.

Meanwhile, the Missoula store had plenty. I know this because the local store is advanced enough to be able to check this from their handheld terminals (nice!). When I asked them about getting it from Missoula, they said it would take “about 3 weeks”.

I can *walk* to and from Missoula in three weeks.

Trucking in the wrong direction

Recently I was outside of Missoula at a truck stop and bought a small toolkit for a task that had me sidelined on the road. As the cashier finished ringing it up, I realized I’d bought the wrong thing. Yes, my fault.

While standing at the counter, before the salesperson walked away, before picking the item up from the counter, while putting my wallet back in my pocket, I asked to return it, unopened.

Without a second’s delay, they said “We have a strict corporate return policy. No returns.” â?¨Even if the unopened item has never left the store, much less the cash register.

It’s early on Saturday evening and there is no weekend on-premises manager. She won’t be back until Monday and no one else is allowed to take responsibility.

Stunningly “customer-friendly”.

Earl Nightingale once said something like “To be successful, observe what the majority in your market are doing, then do the opposite”.

These are good examples of his advice.

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Shredding mad pow in my driveway

So far it’s been an incredible year for snow in the Northwest.

Two feet in the Washington DC area is a Snowpocalypse?

That’s nothing.

We have 8 feet of fresh pow* in Montana, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado. It’s so deep, we’re carving mad turns in our driveways and carrying avalanche beacons when we go out to get the mail.

Come out and join us and ski and ride your brains out!

Oh wait. Maybe not that much snow, but come on out anyhow.

Which truth is real?

As with other markets where misinformation can lead a customer astray, the internet has a way of finding the truth, even about mad pow*.

When skiers and snowboarders hop off the lift expecting to find the foot of fresh powder mentioned in the snow report and instead, find a couple inches of popcorn**, it doesn’t excite them.

When skiers and snowboard riders find a few feet of waist-deep powdery goodness, they can now use their cell phones to report snow conditions via Facebook, Twitter and this killer skier/snowboarder snow report app.

This app has forced resorts to come clean on their snow reports.

Thing is, it isn’t just snow conditions that are available in (close to) real-time from a source that’s cutting turns in it right now. Whatever you do, there is likely an enthusiast community talking about it

Whether we’re talking about stream flows, fish and wildlife migration, trail conditions, road conditions, whiter whites and brighter brights, parking availability, meal quality, service quality and more…it’s out there on the net for the savvy customer who wants to check you out before buying.

Help them find it – and don’t claim to be shredding pow in your driveway unless you really are

* Translation: Fresh, deep, powdery snow, often blamed for high levels of absenteeism at work and/or school.

** Translation: smallish, hard popcorn-looking snow that looks like that stuff sprayed on ceilings in office buildings and homes. Not really what you want to ski/ride on, but still better than a good day at work.