Posts Tagged ‘customer’

Marketing for Entrepreneurs and Small Business

Friday, November 12th, 2010

A recent article at Yahoo Finance, “Ten Mistakes that Start-Up Entrepreneurs Make,” is a must-read for inventors, entrepreneurs and small business owners. Mistake Number 3, in particular, rings a bell with this marketing guy:

“3. Spending too much time on product development, not enough on sales”

Most inventors and entrepreneurs – from the newest medical device, to 3-D imaging software, to a designer cupcake and cookie business – are stretched just too thin. Under-resourced, under staffed and under-funded, the typical start-up is forced to prioritize and sacrifice … and areas often neglected are marketing and sales. Here are 7 things every start-up and small business should be doing to assure that the customers will be there, $$$ in hand, when you open for business:

1. Early, EARLY, EARLY in the life of your start-up, figure out who your likely customers will be. Who has the passion – and the $$$ – to buy a product or service like your? Where are you likely to find them? And even more important, where are they mostly likely to go – on the street or on the internet – to discover a product like yours?
2. Understand what your potential customers love and what they hate about products or services like yours. Then, emphasize the things the like, provide a solution to the things they hate, and don’t waste your time and resources on things they don’t care about
3. Test your concept – early and often. Ideas that seem obvious on paper or in your discussions around the company coffee pot are often far less than obvious to outsiders – investors, supplier or distribution partners, and potential customers. Entrepreneurs often fear that a competitor will ‘steal’ their idea, but for most start-ups, the much bigger danger is sinking all your hard work and $$$ into a venture that customers don’t care about.
4. Nothing can jump-start your start-up better than an early success, so Focus, FOCUS, FOCUS! I know, that dazzling set of opportunities that you envision is seductive, but the temptation to pursue them all is an invitation to doing none of them well enough. Pick a particular offering (or closely related family of offerings), a customer segment you know well, and a well defined distribution scheme. Then, invest all your effort in making it work. The credibility, confidence, publicity, and knowledge – not to mention cash flow – you gain from your first success will make it that much easier to pick off the next and the next and the next opportunity.
5. Remove any hurdles that make it inconvenient for your customers to do business with you. Take a look at your own business through the eyes of a customer: Is it easy to find and get into your store – on the street or on the internet? Does your website and your storefront signage clearly and succinctly explain your business? How can I learn more about you, your product, your business? Do you offer a convenient assortment of payment options and customer-conscious return and refund policies?
Remember – What you think about your business is ultimately a lot less important than what your customers think and feel about it.
6. Share your success. You deserve to be amply rewarded for pushing your idea to fulfillment, but don’t forget the ones who helped get your there. It’s the right thing to do – and it’s darned good business. The more closely that your partners’ success is linked to yours, the harder your employees, your suppliers and your distribution partners will work for yours.
7. Get to know, understand and appreciate your customers. Organize your business so that it’s a positive, rewarding and hassle-free experience every time your customer touches you – beginning with their first phone call, email or their first step inside your store.

Don’t Let CI Fixation Lead You Astray

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

There’s an old joke that you don’t have to be able to outrun the bear, just the slowest of your fellow hikers.

In a very real way, that neatly encapsulates the philosophy behind competitive intelligence.   The point of CI – to understand what your competitor is up to, so that you can do it better – is certainly valuable.  But over-reliance on a CI driven strategy can cause you to overlook the foundation of business success – capturing a larger share of your potential customers’ spending stream.  The implicit belief behind CI, that beating your competition will force customers to spend more with you, can blind you to real opportunities and dangers driven by evolving customer needs and preferences.  Why?

1. CI looks backward, not forward – to what your competitor is doing or has already decided to do in response to your actions or to market conditions. A strategy driven by CI is reactive – always following, not leading.

2. Being better than your competitor is no assurance that either of you is doing what the customer really cares about or needs.  Even the very best of the buggy whip makers lost out when cars replaced the horse and buggy.

3. Nothing forces customers to spend their $$$ with you OR with your competitor.  If neither of you is making them happy, then they can take their money somewhere else entirely.

Much of the CI philosophy is built around metaphors of football or war, endeavors in which you win by beating the other guy down.  Business success, on the other hand, more often comes from being the best at what a third party – the customer – really values. A business strategy that doesn’t focus squarely on the customer is ultimately a losing strategy.

 Competitive Intelligence is a valuable tool to help optimize near term business tactics, but for longer term growth strategy, look to the universe of customers for inspiration and direction.

Selling for Non-Sales People (and Everyone Else)

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

I recently fielded an interesting question over on Linked-In “Selling for Non-Sales People: What issues do you face?”

That’s a question that anyone who is in business should think hard about from time to time. Understanding what your customers want and why they buy is the key to making your business more successful – whether you’re selling software to the Fortune 500, life insurance to the family down the street, building CNC milling machines, or offering your own handicrafts on E-Bay.

Regardless of what you’re selling, think of selling as a process, not a single event. It’s all about investing your time and energy to understand your customer – to see her problems, needs and hopes through her eyes – and about designing and presenting your offering in a way that makes her life better.

Especially if you’re selling a complex, expensive product/service, success takes a significant investment in your time. Here, the selling task is mostly about teaching your customer to see and appreciate how your offering will make her life better. To do that you need to intimately understand your customer’s problem from HER perspective.

Even if your product or service is so inexpensive that you can’t afford to invest your time in each and every individual customer, the principle still applies – KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER. For mass market items, segmentation is vital – What are the characteristics of the groups of people most likely to buy from you? What are their hot buttons? How best to get your message to them, in terms they’ll be most likely to respond to?

Whether you’re selling, investing the time to learn about what makes your customer tick – and connecting her concerns and aspirations to the solution you offer – is the road to success.

Fundamentals of Marketing and Sales

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Most of my adult life, I’ve marketed specialty plastics and chemicals to technically sophisticated business customers, while my wife’s family has earned a nice living in insurance sales and marketing. Now, there’s a world of difference between health and life insurance policies – and the mostly Medicare age consumers who buy them – and the high performance polymers used in innovative medical and electronic devices, cars and airplanes, building materials and green energy systems.

But … I’ve learned that, deep down, the fundamentals of marketing and selling are just that – fundamental – regardless of the product or service you’re selling. Using my Four Fundamentals to guide your marketing and selling plans can pay big dividends, whether you’re selling insurance or plastics, cars or machine tools or houses, dental care or home remodelling. What are those fundamentals?

1. Know WHO your potential customers are and WHAT makes them tick, then FOCUS on the segments that fit you best
“You can’t be all things to all people” is especially true in business. Focus your attention and resources on the people who are most likely to appreciate and pay for what you offer. Make sure you understand what turns them on and turns them off, where they go to find offerings like yours, and who they listen to when they make decisions about your product / service.

2. UNDERSTAND the problems and opportunities your customers face (especially the ones they’re unaware of)
Few of your potential customers (even the most experienced and astute) really understand how their life or business situation could be better. It’s up to you to know the ins-and-outs of their situation so well that you can paint a convincing picture of the better future they could have if they choose you.

3. DESIGN YOUR OFFERING (your product or service plus all the other ways your customers interact with you) to best help them address the opportunity or problem
These days, the ‘better mousetrap’ is often not the mousetrap itself but the training, services, support and friendly accessibility that surround the steel springs and trigger device itself. The more effectively your offering solves yohavur customers’ problem, the easier it is for them to understand the ways you will make their life better – and the easier it is for them to find and do business with you – the more successful you’ll be.

4. Make sure you STAND OUT from your competitors, in ways that make a difference to the people who’s buying decisions determine your success
Not long after your customers start to prefer your new and improved mousetrap, your competitors will too. Don’t waste energy complaining about copycats, but focus instead on making sure your customers have good reasons to spend their $$$ with you instead of the competiton. (Just please, please, please resist the temptation to start down the seductive but often dead-end road of a price war.

I’ve grown to expect one or the other of these reactions —
“Holy smoley! It’s too much! How can you expect me to ever know and do all that?”
— or —
“I’ve been doing this all my life, so I know all I need to know about my customers and competitors.”

Truth is that both of these reactions are wrong. The market knowledge and the actions that underlie my Four Fundaments are within the reach and resources of any business – large, small, individual. And even the oldest and most experienced business dog can learn some valuable new tricks by taking a fresh, unbiased look at their marketplace.

Wondering how to get started? A great way is to engage a consultant, for example:

Know Thy Customer … To Become a More Successful Supplier

Monday, May 18th, 2009

No matter who you are – a doctor or lawyer selling your expertise, a giant corporation selling industrial equipment or telecomm services, a shop owner selling latest fashion to upscale teens – the most successful competitors in your business are typically the competitors who most nearly give the customers what they want.

“Well, duh,” you might say, “I don’t need some outsider to tell me that, or to tell me what my customers want. After all, I talk to them every day.”

Unfortunately for most business leaders, from the smallest one person shop to the mega corporation, those customer conversations are usually dominated by immediate, urgent priorities – fixing a problem, collecting an overdue invoice, negotiating a price, scheduling a meeting or a delivery. In these discussions, too little energy is directed toward creatively discussing the future – to contemplating product development, offering enrichment, and growth strategies.

Companies grow and prosper by identifying and satisfying customers unmet needs. Seems simple enough: if you don’t already know what your customers need, then just ask them. Problem is, it just isn’t that simple. Ask the question “What are your unmet needs,” and you’ll likely hear “Lower price!” and “Hmmm … That’s a good question.” The truth is that unmet needs are unmet NOT because we ignored them, but because they are so hidden and ingrained in the way the market does things that we never recognize the possibility of a better way.

Uncovering and explaining those hidden issues is the role of marketing research. Whether you do it yourself, rely upon your company’s market research department, or bring in an outside consultant, digging into your customers’ business environment and developing honest, dispassionate insights about the world they live and compete in is the key to serving your customers better – and to making your business more a desirable and successful supplier.