Is your business growth starting to plateau or stagnate? It’s easy to sit back, take the foot off the accelerator and watch the sales roll in, especially if you are satisfied with how well your business is doing. But keep in mind that if you slack off too much, your competitors will soon catch up and eventually put you out of business.
Marketing your business is even more important than ever if you want to succeed in challenging economic times. Competitors are closing their doors – which means more potential customers for the businesses that do survive. Today is the best time to take steps to revamp your marketing efforts and respond to the needs of your target market. In these times, it’s going to take more than “thinking outside the box” and goodwill with existing customers to secure the survival of your business.
What you need are new and innovative ways to bring attention and profitable sales to your business instead of depending on the “old ways” to get people to learn about you. Here are “5 New & Innovative BE’s” to market you business during challenging economic times. Use these little known ways to increase your market share and watch your business soar.
1. Be Resourceful – It’s Not Stealing, It’s Called “Market Research”
Steal, don’t invent your success from scratch! Watch what other successful companies do – take their innovative ideas, adapt them to your own business and then apply them.
For example, even small or mid size businesses can benefit from carving out a unique image for their vehicles (whether you have 1 car or 100). Think of how quickly you recognize a yellow taxi cab, an emergency vehicle, a Linfox truck. All of these well known icons have been developed because of necessity, purpose and design. You don’t need to spend $1000 to make your branding impactful and memorable either – stickers, magnetic signs and personalized license plates can start from as little as $150. On an average day commuting back and forth to work in traffic, how many vehicles do you think you might see? Statistics indicate that in a busy city like Melbourne, the average commuter is exposed to 5000+ vehicles/hour. That’s 5000+ opportunities to get your brand and contact details out there for very little cost. Can you afford not to try it?
Do yourself a massive favour and STOP concentrating on selling 1 thing to 1 person. What can you do right now to sell your product/service in bunches or bulk? If you are a bookseller, look for opportunities to form alliances with schools, book clubs or companies to generate large orders or group sales. Coaches and trainers may want to consider holding workshops and seminars to increase their leverage and reach. Even if you are in the dry cleaning business, you could arrange to stop by a corporate office on Friday to pick up a pile of orders and then deliver the clean, pressed garments on Monday. I don’t care what business you are in – if you can sell to one person (or business), you can make more money for virtually the same time and effort selling to 10 or 100 people (or companies). Think about it – thinking BIG and selling BIG is the best use of your time.
You may even want to go so far as to consider bribing a “significant other” in order to attract a new, dream client or get in front of a key decision maker. If there is a person that you really want to meet but you can’t seem to get your foot in the door to have an appointment with him/her, you may want to get resourceful and win the backing of a key motivator – i.e. the producer of the radio host’s show, the spouse of the client, the EA (or right hand) of the decision maker etc. Find out what that person likes – whether it’s chocolate, flowers or tickets to a sports event or music concert – and use it to build a relationship and get your foot in the door with the endorsement of this influencer. You will find it pays huge dividends to be sincere and generous!
2. Be Partners – I’ll Scratch Your Back, If You Scratch Mine
This strategy follows along the same lines as what we just discussed above. Question – if given the choice at a networking function, would you rather find one potential customer or a strategic alliance that could help you win 10 customers?
This is not a trick question – of course you would rather develop a relationship with a complementary business or strategic partner who can recommend or refer you to many customers. But how many of you go to events and spend the majority of the time talking about what you do and trying to sell your products/services to anyone who will listen? You only have one mouth and two ears – the key to getting the best result and really growing your business is to use each in the correct proportion. Spend at least 2/3 of the time asking questions and really finding out (1) what is important to the other business and (2) who their customers and suppliers are. Great companies develop great people who really know how to listen. Unfortunately in most prospecting or networking conversations, both people are just waiting for the other person to finish! If you are not listening, you are likely missing opportunities and buying signals.
Be patient and persist – sometimes the synergies are not immediately obvious. I was at a networking event myself last year and met a woman with a small IT company. On the face of it, our businesses really had very little in common. However, after chatting for some time I discovered that one of her suppliers was a company that I was very interested in working with and she also had many contacts (from her previous career in HR) that could be extremely beneficial for my business. She also revealed that she really needed solid business content for her website and ezines that I could provide very easily, at no cost and with little incremental effort on my part. Always think Win-Win.
The easiest way to find potential partners and alliances is to start off by making a list of all of the businesses that might be interested in working with you. Where else does your ideal customer shop? What other products and services do they need? What are they interested in? Get as many ideas down on paper as you can and then sort by order of priority – write a note on your to do list each week to contact 5 people or businesses from this list to set up a meeting and discuss ways that you can work together to become even more successful.
It may be as simple as having a commission in place for referrals between you or as complicated as providing special pricing to customers on bundled packages of goods. Perhaps you may even want to offer free trials of your product to the best customers of your new alliance? This may make perfect sense if the acquisition cost of a customer is high in your industry or if you are looking to break into an established market where there are well known players who dominate the market.
When looking for potential partners, contemplate:
o Businesses in your same industry
o Businesses that sell items that naturally go along with what you are selling
o Businesses that sell similar items but do not compete directly with you
There are an unlimited number of options available – the ways that you can work together and produce a mutually beneficial result are limited only by your imagination. Consider:
o Giving out promotional materials on behalf of your partner with every sale
o Trading existing customer and mailing lists
o Selling your products cooperatively
o Holding a closed door sale or VIP night where both companies cooperate to offer excellent value and enticements
o Linking to each other’s websites
o Offering tickets to a joint workshop or seminar
o FREE trials/demos to best customers on each other’s database
o Combining sales teams or shipping on bulky items (or items that go out each month)
o Press releases out to media or best customers about how you are working together to make it easier/better for your customers
o Coalition loyalty (giving great value back for purchases by customers across multiple brands)
o Writing a joint newsletter or combining materials into a book or audio file that customers can get for free
Remember to do your due diligence and thoroughly research your potential partners online and offline. Google searches are an excellent way to get a preliminary feel about your potential partners and it will also reveal how committed they are to promoting themselves and growing their business.
3. Be Out There – Master PR & Social Media
A good press release should be between 200 and 400 words. Less is more. The priority is to give only enough information to whet the appetite of the reporters and entice them to contact you to for the main course.
Most make the mistake of thinking that a press release is the opportunity to give every conceivable fact and overload the media with data. A press release is really just an elevator pitch–something you could comfortably say to someone in about 30 seconds. You wouldn’t dream of giving a three-hour lecture in order to get someone’s phone number at a bar. Similarly, you don’t need a 1,000-word press release to get booked in a newspaper or on a radio show. Keep it short, news worthy and intriguing.
The story should be about how what you do/sell relates to something newsworthy or will help the audience to fix an annoying or costly problem once and for all.
Did you know that most individuals and businesses are posting press releases purely to boost website traffic? A press release is much more than just a way to get media attention and free editorial. It can also be a great way to increase the organic traffic you get from Google and other search engines. The online press release services focus time and money on search engine optimization and rank extremely well in search results. You can literally piggyback all of this for next to nothing! All of these links create more ways for your potential customers to find you PLUS you receive the added bonus of appearing to be the expert in your field. You can literally receive thousands of visits to your website, without paying a dime on advertising.
Aside from organic traffic, search engine optimization has the potential to produce radio and TV bookings months after your release is sent out and long after you have forgotten that you even sent it! Think about it, a busy, overworked journalist, booker or producer may search on Google for “self sabotage experts” only to find your well-written, opinionated and informative release appearing on the first page – and a direct link to your website!
In addition to the above, social media and viral marketing are the latest phenomena to generate massive exposure and rocket people/companies from relative obscurity to international fame. If you are not involved (or don’t even know what I am talking about), you need to seriously assess your commitment to your business. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, Linked In, blogs etc. are just some of the many ways to build your community and get the “word out” globally about what you do, your products and services, for little or no cost.
In my experience working with the Top 22 brands in this country, 90% of their customers lived within a 10km radius of their office/store. However, the biggest competitor to almost every single one of these businesses was the internet – not another physical location or office. Yet most companies focus on marketing to a set pool of customers. They fall into a fatal trap of doing mail drops and advertising in local newspapers to customers within a certain distance from their store. There is a huge fallacy in this level of thinking – if 20,000 people live within 10km of your business this year, you can bet that the same 20,000 (or similar group) also live within the same radius next year. You are effectively marketing to the same group of people over and over again but you are not reaching many new customers or addressing your #1 competitor – the internet.
Your customers are online right now looking for various goods and services and they are watching the YouTube videos, Facebook profiles and blogs about your competitors. If you continue to ignore the power and reach of the internet, you will do so at your peril. If you want to build a successful business and prosper despite what is happening in the global economy, you need to educate yourself on what is available and what will work best to build relationships with your potential customers. Many of these mediums deliver audio and video right to the computers of your customers – what better way to make a good, personal first impression?
And don’t make the mistake of thinking that the Baby Boomers and retirees are not online. A recent national study showed that this demographic was one of the fastest growing consumer segments in online research and purchases for travel, insurance, health care and several other categories. No matter what business you are in, someone somewhere is selling a similar product/service online and is capturing the trust, interest, permission and sales of your potential customers. When is NOW a good time to do something about it?
4. Be Direct – Ask For Referrals
Chances are your best customers hang around with or know other [potential] best customers. Asking for referrals is the best way to capture opportunities and acquire new customers that have the ability to become best customers.
And speaking as someone who knows, the best way to encourage a customer to refer new customers to you is to offer a referral bonus. Do not fall into the trap of blindly offering them a $20 bonus, 15% off or free merchandise for every new sales lead. The key to preserving the relationship and building the lifetime value of your existing customer is to give them a valuable offer (if possible) on a product they do not already purchase from you. Giving them a discount on what they would already buy erodes your profitability on existing sales. This is not a good strategy for you in the long term.
You want to increase their business with you by introducing them to additional products and services that they could buy from you. The key is to identify something that is of value and give them an irresistible offer. Make it easy for your customer to refer others to you – keep your offer simple and concise. Consider holding a special by-invitation only event where they can bring a friend and remember to follow up with a hand-written thank you note and their bonus in a timely fashion. Statistics show that a simple, personalized thank you (with no actual offer) has the potential to increase sales by 12-18%!
In my experience, this simple and effective strategy is overlooked by about 90% of businesses. This is by far the most lucrative and cost effective strategy to get new customers. If you are not doing it, you are likely missing out on about 20-25% of sales from top [potential] customers. Can you afford to continue throwing money out the window on mass advertising when you are not doing this 1 simple strategy that could cost you less than $1/customer?
It is not enough to casually ask your customers to come back and bring their friends – you need to put it in writing and make it worth their while. You are essentially asking them to sell your business for you and they will gladly do it, if you reward and thank them for their effort.
5. Be Unique – Do What Others Don’t
Stop right now and make a list of everything that you (and your competitors) do not do for your customers. Next, I want you to start asking customers what they want. If you want to succeed you will take a good hard look at both of these lists and find a way to do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to win customers and keep them. Those who are unwilling to do this will never build a truly successful business. End of story.
I had a couple come to me once for advice and coaching – both the business (they were partners in a retail shop) and the relationship, were at the breaking point. The husband said to me “I don’t understand it. I do everything humanly possible for my wife and she doesn’t appreciate me and I don’t think I can possibly do anything more to satisfy my customers – they are never happy and always want more.”
My answer to this age old dilemma is simple and it applies to both relationships and business. “Sounds like you may be doing a lot. Too bad it’s everything BUT what your partner and customers want.”
Let’s take a moment of silence now to contemplate the obvious implications of this poignant story for your own business…
I don’t really care what you are doing or how hard you are working. There is no prize for volume or quantity here….what counts is quality. Are you giving your customers what they want and are you willing to do whatever it takes to give them what they want? More of the “same old same old” is not going to differentiate you from the pack, build trust, win customers and grow a business.
Take some time today to really think about what you offer and how it could be improved (either simply or via a complete overhaul) to revolutionize your business. If all of your customers were to leave today, what would you need to do in order to attract new customers? Consider:
o Everyone loves a freebie – can you offer a free trial or sample?
o Do you offer a guarantee that takes 100% of the risk out of trying your product?
o Is someone (who is respected) willing to endorse your product/service?
o Are you on the cutting edge of technology – are your products/services able to better fulfil a need or fix a problem?
o Do you make it easier than your competitors for customers to buy from you?
o Can you offer free installation or maintenance?
o Is there a unique way to introduce what you do to prospective customers – without all the pressure of a typical sales meeting?
o Can you offer free upgrades or special financing terms?
o Can you negotiate other products/services for your customers at no charge?
o Can you create a sense of community for your customers that will be perceived as valuable?
o Do you incorporate customer feedback into your product improvements or customer service standards?
o Do you offer free training, manuals and assistance?
o Does the relationship with your customer begin or end with the sale itself?
o Do your team members believe in the product and are they willing to go the extra mile for your customers?
At the end of the day, price is never the determining factor. People will always be willing to pay a fair price for a superior product and for the peace of mind that comes with excellent service and a strong guarantee. If you solely focus on having the lowest price, it will eventually put you out of business. Take stock of what the competition is not willing to do and what your customers want most from you. Do something unique – listen and be willing to do whatever it takes to deliver what they want. Anything less, is simply a lot of time, energy and money wasted on all the things that don’t really matter.