- Find out about them. Ask questions like,
"Do you have big plans for the holidays?"
"Do you have a lot of family in town?"
"Seen the new Star Wars movie yet?"
"How old are your kids?"
Learning about your client gives you conversation starters for your meetings with them.
- Socialize outside of work. If you find out you and your customer have a similar interest like hunting or fishing, plan a trip together. If your spouses have never met, invite your client and spouse out to dinner.
- Use the mail. If socializing outside of work feels too much like schmoozing to you there are other avenues for building relationships. Read an article in the newspaper that made you think of your client? Cut it out and mail it to him with a quick handwritten note.
- Give event tickets. A good way to socialize with your customer is to invite him to a sporting event. If this makes you uncomfortable consider giving your clients tickets to a local baseball or basketball game. You might say, "Hi Jim, I have 4 tickets to the Mavericks game tomorrow night and wanted to know if you'd like to have them?"
- Stay in touch. Send your clients birthday cards or Happy 4th of July cards to stay in touch throughout the year. Email or call them occasionally to check in. Keep the emails or phone calls short and sweet. Be creative in thinking up "excuses" to contact your customers.
- Know their business. You don't have to be an expert, but make it a point to understand a little about your customer's business. For example, if you own a cleaning company, make it a point to understand the cycles of your customer's business to know when will be the best and most convenient times for your cleaning crews to work - after hours, after the Friday night rush, before or after a big event, etc.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
A time consuming part of running a small business is providing proposals to potential clients. Even a quick bid takes time. It can be frustrating when you have several proposals pending and no one is buying.
Here are some tips for jazzing up the success rate of your proposals:
- Do the homework. Talk or visit in person with prospective clients to find out what they need. Ask questions and let the client do the talking. For example, if you are a lawn care company, you might ask:
What are your biggest concerns about your lawn?
Do you have any problem areas? Weeds, dead grass, etc.
What service are you using now?
- Customize, even if just a little. You may have a standard proposal or quote form that you use - but whenever possible tailor the proposal to highlight the specific needs of your client. Use the same language and words of your client. In the lawn care example, if the client talks about the "north side of the yard" or the "area behind the air conditioner" - refer to it that way in your proposal.
- Only provide a proposal when necessary. Writing a proposal takes time. If you see the client isn't a good fit for your service don't take time writing a proposal. Don't send out arbitrary proposals in hopes of getting business either. If you have met with a prospect and do not have a verbal agreement prior to your proposal submission - then your proposal probably won't be acccepted.
- Give options. People like choices with different prices - specifically a high, medium and low price option. This changes the dynamic. Instead of saying "yes" or "no" to your proposal the customer concentrates on "which option do I want?"
- Sell a little. Some call this showing value.
For example, using my lawn care example again, instead of saying this:
"Mow and weed side yard behind air conditioner."
"In order to prevent unwanted ant beds and the potential of clogging the
air conditioner vent, we will mow and weed the side yard behind the air
- Don't quote a price too soon. What if you went to the doctor and said, "What's wrong with me and how much does it cost?" The doctor would spend time asking you questions, learning your history and examining you before making a diagnosis and giving you a bill. Try not to quote prices off the top of your head before learning what the client needs.
By the same token, if someone calls you and ONLY wants to know your price it could be a waste of time quoting them - unless you know your prices are the lowest. My accountant won't quote prices over the phone at all. She tells prospects she will be glad to discuss pricing after they meet with her. This weeds the "bargain shoppers" and helps her determine how she can best work with the prospect - which improves her proposal success rate.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
- Your card will stand out because it's first. People receive an average of 21-42 Christmas cards but can you remember the last Thanksgiving card you received? You will beat the holiday card inundation and your card won't get thrown in the pile with all the other Christmas cards.
- Consider sending a card with a Thanksgiving recipe or holiday decorating ideas. This will provide useful information that recipients will be inclined to save. Be creative about tying the message in with your business ~ it's okay to have a little fun with it. You might sign the card, "From us turkeys at XYZ Company." Here's a website with some clever Thanksgiving card ideas.
- Make it personal. As difficult as it is to sign your name or write a short note in every card make an effort to do so. A preprinted name inside a preprinted envelope doesn't make anyone feel special and is less memorable. As a minimum - sign your own name.
- E-cards are great if you have a good email list and especially if you market through an electronic newsletter.
- Thanksgiving is a time for being thankful and showing gratitude. It just makes sense to acknowledge clients at this time of year.
- Remember the day after Thanksgiving is the biggest retail shopping day of the year. Can you tie in a reminder about this shopping day and offer an "early bird" (no pun intended!) special?
- If you want to send a gift consider a Thanksgiving pie. My real estate agent sends out a notification every year to her clients to pick up a Thanksgiving pie at her office 2 days before Thanksgiving. All I have to do is call her office and tell her "apple" or "pecan." What a great marketing idea! I feel special... she reminds me of her business... and it forces me to physically (and willingly) go to her office where she can make face-to-face contact. I love it! And guess who I think about when people ask me about a real estate agent referral?
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
But guess what this bad experience did? It made the furniture delivery experience I had the following week a delight ~ even though 2 pieces were damaged and the furniture company had to redeliver it 2 days later. Here's where the difference was:
The furniture company called and gave me 1 hour notice and showed up in exactly 1 hour, they delivered the furniture in a professional manner and left. After noticing damaged pieces I called the store (The Dump) and within 30 minutes they had rescheduled the new pieces to be delivered 2 days later. Two days later I had the same 1-hour advance phone call and they arrived in exactly 1 hour. Yes, it stunk that I had to have the furniture redelivered - but the store did exactly what they said when they said they would do it.
This brings to light a critical point in jazzing up the sales of your business.... Just do what you say you are going to do! And if you are not able to do so, tell your customer ASAP. Sure they may get upset ~ but customers will get more upset if they feel they've been lied to. Full disclosure of a failure to execute on a promise is your best bet for long term sales growth.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Since September 11 corporate America has taken strides toward protecting the greater good. For example, just after the tsunami in Asia my company matched donations employees made to the Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity. Yes, companies are concerned with making a profit but now we are thinking about the environment, people in need and causes bigger than ourselves. This brings to light a new way to jazz up the sales of your business called Cause Marketing.
Cause marketing enables you to boost your sales and give back to your community at the same time. By aligning your business with a nonprofit cause you can enjoy additional PR and exposure from contributing to the cause, your customers feel good about buying from you because of your generosity and you experience personal gratification.
Here are a few tips for getting started with a Cause Marketing Strategy:
- Pick a strategic cause that aligns with your business. A pet grooming service might align themselves with the SPCA. A new health food store might align themselves with the American Diabetes Association. It needs to be a win-win for both groups. What causes are your customers interested in supporting? One example I've heard is about a cleaning service offering to dry clean donated coats and blankets for free and donating them to the homeless during the winter months. Wouldn't you feel good about doing business with them?
- Decide up front what you want to accomplish. Do you want media exposure? Increased sales? Better name recognition? Because you will be partnering with a nonprofit organization it will be important for you to know what you want from the relationship. Keep it a business relationship - get contracts signed, work out the logistics of using the nonprofit's name and logo and how often your name and logo will appear on their publications, finalize how the partnership will be promoted on your websites, determine how many articles the nonprofit will publish in their newsletters about you, etc.
- Blab. Don't be shy about asking for acknowledgment from your strategic partnership. You should be proud of the relationship and glad to tell everyone about it. Remember, this is marketing!
- Know how to measure your success. Set metrics to determine if your partnership is paying off. There is a degree of intangibility that will occur because you can't measure how many customers you retain from this campaign - in other words, it's hard to measure the "feel good" factor your current customers will experience by doing business with you. But, the primary goal is to jazz up your sales. Be open with your nonprofit partner about your goals and progress.
Cause marketing creates a Win-Win-Win.
You WIN by jazzing up your sales (and plus it feels good to help others)!
The community or nonprofit agency WINS because it receives your support.
Your customers WIN because they feel good about supporting a good citizen of society.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
It all started at an artisan's gallery in Plano, Texas where I found a wall hanging that would be perfect for my entry way wall in my house. The only problem was I wasn't sure if the dimensions would work for my wall and Plano was a 1-hour drive from my house. The manager of the gallery gave me a choice:
- I could buy it that day and save 20% or
- I could leave a credit card number and take it home for 24 hours to see if it worked in my house but could NOT have the 20% discount. (The 20% represented about $80 - which is substantial to me.)
That choice was just too hard to make! So I left the store without buying it. Didn't the gallery manager know that it would be best for me to take the wall hanging with me? She should have never let me leave the store without it. Once I got home I measured my wall and the wall hanging would have fit perfectly - but I was not up for another 1 hour drive back to Plano (2 hours round trip).
By giving me a choice the art gallery manager did not make this an easy purchase. Instead I fretted over it for a few days. And have since found another wall hanging for my entry way wall.
Here are some tips for making it easy for your customers to do business with you:
- Return all phone calls the same day. Even if you have to tell someone you don't have their information or product yet - call them back the same day to let them know you received their message and tell them how you will proceed in helping them.
- Answer your phone! Especially if you have a service business! If a potential client needs a service and gets voicemail, they will hang up and call someone else. Most new customers will not leave a voicemail.
- Make it easy to get information about your company. Print your phone number, address and website on packaging, invoices, receipts, magnets, notepads, etc.
- Empower your front line. Any one in your organization that has customer contact should have responsibility for helping your customers. Create an atmosphere where all employees are empowered. Even if the person who answers the phone cannot solve a customer's specific problem, he/she is responsible for making sure the proper person from your organization contacts that customer.
- Don't give clients choices that could result in a loss for them. With my wall hanging scenario I could have lost $80 if I chose to have the option of returning it within 24 hours.
- Be consistent. Many times a customer will have special requirements - like invoice dates, shipping schedules, etc. It is very tempting to want to work a "special deal" with a potentially large client - and there are times when this is appropriate. However, whenever possible, have consistency with how you do business. If a client needs an invoice by the 15th of the month and you invoice everyone on the 20th - resist the urge to have a special invoice date for the one client. This can set you up for failure later on.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
"Don't sweat the small stuff!" I tend to believe this is a true statement when it comes to getting along with other people... but NOT when it comes to jazzing up your sales. The details are what separates you from your competitors.
Take the gift I just bought and then returned for my husband's birthday (this birthday ends with a "0"). It was a very nice watch. The jeweler called it a "time piece." Guess that's what expensive watches are called! The salesperson did a great job in helping me select the perfect "time piece" and then proceeded to the back of the store where she gift-wrapped it for me to take home to my husband.
I was excited to give it to my husband until he opened it, saw that the box was torn, the watch manual did not go with the watch inside the box and there was sticky residue from the price tag left on the inside of the watch band. Details! My husband thought the watch was second hand! If only the salesperson had tended to the details... by providing a box that wasn't damaged, providing the correct owner's information and cleaning off the sticker residue.
Here are some details that will help jazz up the sales of your business:
- Send handwritten thank you notes thanking people for their business or for the referral they provided.
- Think of something creative that will make your customer smile. If you provide bookkeeping services you might slide a post-it note into your client's books that says, "Great month! Keep up the good work!" If you provide a lawn service you might trim a few overgrown bushes for free. We just went to Disney Land and the hotel wash clothes were folded in the shape of different Disney characters.
- Proofread everything. People will notice typos and bad grammar. Don't give them a reason to doubt your capabilities.
- Know that you cannot always measure the results. Customers may not notice details - but they will notice the LACK OF details. For example, I recently bought a brand new car. When the tags came in I went to the dealership for them to put the license plate on my car. Instead of putting 4 screws in the plate - they saved 45 seconds by only affixing the plate with 2 screws. And it rattled all the way home! As soon as I got home I had to put the 2 additional screws in the plate. DETAILS! This was my final exposure to the dealership - and it wasn't good. Even though I love the car - guess what I will remember about the dealership?!
- When a customer calls with a complaint then handle it NOW. Nothing hurts your sales more than an angry customer having even more time to stew over his dissatisfaction. Once you've handled your customer's problem - tell him! Call him back and let him know what you did to resolve the issue. Don't wait for him to find out later that you took care of the issue.
By the way, after I returned my husband's watch I went to another jewelry store and bought the same one! This time the salesperson focused on all of the details!
Saturday, June 30, 2007
Part of jazzing up the sales of your business is listening to customers and responding to their needs. So it's not easy to take customer feedback with a grain of salt. But consider that customer feedback may not always be representative of the population who buys from you. For example, if Microsoft listened to all of the "cranky message posters who dominate online chatter, it might have killed Windows."
The article points out that one danger of focusing on what customers ARE asking for is that you might lose sight of coming up with brilliant ideas that customers AREN'T asking for. Apple's customers weren't asking for a hand-held music player when Apple came out with the iPod.
So (and this is a tad tongue-in-cheek)... here are 4 tips for when NOT to listen to your customers:
- The "squeaky wheel" isn't representative of your customer base.
Herb Kelleher, retired CEO of Southwest Airlines, was known for sending a letter back to a complaining customer stating, "Good luck in finding a new airline carrier." If a complaining customer is just being a pain in the &*!#, then it's okay to lose him. Responding to a squeaky wheel who has no merit takes you away from serving your good customers.
- Part of a customer's complaint relates to the natural progression or necessity of your product or service.
For example, if your run an ice rink and a customer complains about it being too cold in the arena. Duh! This is like when your child complains of having homework - you aren't doing him any favors by excusing him from it.
- Behavior doesn't reflect what your customer says.
I have had the same hair stylist for 10 years and she used to always cut my hair on Saturdays. A few years ago, in response to her personal work/life situation, she cut out all of her weekend appointments and was initially worried she would lose business based on what her clients told her. Guess what? She didn't lose any - and her business is busier than ever - AND she has cut out all evening appointments as well.
- The customer is actually (gasp!) wrong.
In order to jazz up your sales the natural thing to do is try and accommodate your customers needs - and do what they ask you to do. But, sometimes what they want isn't possible and it is so tempting to over promise just a little to get the sale or diffuse a difficult situation. In this situation - go with the honest approach. Talk straight with your customer - they will respect you and your business even more!
Sunday, May 13, 2007
I just read the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by brothers Chip and Dan Heath. I loved it because as a small business owner you want your service and ideas to be "sticky" - that is, you want your product or service to be the one people remember.
By using their own principles, the Heaths outline their SUCCESs acronym (even though they admit it's a little corny) for how to make ideas stick. Here's how to use the SUCCESs principles to jazz up the sales of your small business:
What makes people believe ideas? Or believe our service or product is going to do what we say it will do? Naturally sticky ideas will persuade people to believe incredible things.
"If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will." Mother Teresa
Here the Heaths present facts of a research study where people were asked to donate to an African charity. The first group received a letter quoting statistics about foot shortages, severe rainfall and the number of people starving. The second group received a letter that told the story of a single young girl named Rokia, how she was facing starvation and what she would receive from your donation. Guess which letter generated twice as many donations? Yep, the one that told the story of a single young girl.
Stories stimulate and inspire. Take the example of Jared who lost over 100 pounds by eating Subway sandwiches for lunch and dinner every day for 3 months. Use testimonials to demonstrate the success of your product or service. And use people's real names, real circumstances, and photos.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Most people don't like to be "sold." They like to feel their decision to buy is based on objective information that they gathered. Many buyers will even refuse to interact with you and aren't forthcoming about their needs and wants. As a small business owner the enthusiasm you have for your product or service may not be shared by others. And your enthusiasm about your business can make you appear PUSHY!
So here are some tips for jazzing up your sales to buyers who "don't want to hear the pitch:"
- When talking about your product/service only introduce one topic at a time. Be prepared to go into deep detail about a topic - and no bull#$%! - stick with straight facts.
- Don't interrupt your customer when he is talking. People will feel better about buying if they feel understood.
- Don't interpret silence as agreement. But don't ask, "So, what are you thinking?" Instead say, "Is there some more information I can provide to you?"
- Don't be too peppy or cute! Get to the point, know your stuff and take your customer seriously. Some people don't like small talk.
- Follow through with your promises. Sometimes people don't want to be sold because they don't trust you (yet) and feel skeptical of your claims. You cannot expect someone to trust you because you say, "Trust me...." or "To be honest with you...."
Instead, if you say, "I'll call you tomorrow with the information," - then call - no exceptions. Even if you have to say, "I don't have the information yet but I promise to call you by Friday with the information."
- When possible, provide information to your customer in advance. This will help him begin to research his purchase on his own and feel more secure with his final decision.
- Respect people's time. If you show up to a prospects office and he looks busy - ask when would be a better time to call or come by - and then leave.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Did you know that a person will need to be reminded of your business 7 to 9 times before they decide to buy? Ways to remind people of your business are: mailings, emails, advertising in print media, seeing you in person at a business event or on TV. When marketing your small business it's easy to get caught up in designing the best promotional piece ever and then doing one huge mailing.
But focus on quantity as much as the quality of your marketing. Don't do just one huge mailing and hope for the best! Here are 4 tips to jazz up the quantity of your marketing:
- Commit to at least 4-7 mailings to your customers and prospects each year. People may not take the time to actually read the mailing but the piece of mail itself will remind them of you. To maximize the probability of your mailing being read you should hand write the envelope and keep the promotional material to one page. Or, to minimize your costs consider a postcard mailing with cheaper postage.
- Don't underestimate the power of advertising in the newspaper and local magazines. Just because you don't receive a bunch of new clients after these publications go out doesn't mean your ad isn't doing some good. Many magazines have a minimum number of ads that you must purchase in their publication because of this notion. You cannot quantify the "feel good" effect ads have on your existing clients. Your existing clients will see your ad and think, "I know her," and maybe refer you to a friend because you are at the top of their mind.
- Use email blasts and electronic newsletters. This is by far the least expensive form of marketing. My favorite guru on this subject is Alexandria Brown, also know as the eZine Queen. There are several web-based programs that enable you to send out 2500 emails for about $30 a month. Electronic newsletters are a great way to share useful (and free) information with your clients, which they appreciate. You don't have to try and sell something in every email. As a matter of fact, I don't recommend trying sell something in every email. Remember you just want a buyer to see you 7-9 times. Just make sure that the email addresses have been given to you voluntarily.
- Network everywhere. Become a walking billboard for your business. You can really do this without being obnoxious! Get involved in organizations that give you a chance to network. By getting involved I mean signing up for a committee and being a responsible member of the group! Don't expect business to fall into your lap just because you became a member of the local Chamber - you really have to get involved and be a contributor. This will get you and your business noticed. Tell your doctor about your business, tell the person at the dry cleaners, tell your waiter, tell the person cutting your hair, etc.
Sunday, February 11, 2007
- Develop tangible aids to increase confidence in your service. This includes testimonials from clients and visuals of your service. If you have a lawn maintenance company, provide before and after photos in your marketing materials. If you have a metal refinishing business, provide refinished metal samples that people can hold.
- Educate your customer. I worked for an elevator company for 12 years and sold elevator service agreements. It's hard to quantify what "elevator service" is and so I educated customers by getting them physically involved in how the elevator operated. This included how the controls worked by walking the customer into the elevator equipment room, the purpose of all the keyswitches inside the elevator cab, how to use the firefighters' safety operation, etc. It is up to you to get your customer excited and educated about the product for which you are providing service.
- Understand customers perceive more risk from service companies. Customers have more anxiety about purchasing consulting services than furniture, for example. To relieve this anxiety don't be vague about your services - spell out what you do in explicit detail. And use visual examples when possible.
- Sell the difference. Know what qualities make your service different from your competitors and focus on the benefits of these qualities. But don't slam your competitor. Simply focus on the positive aspects of your service that others do not provide.
- You may measure success different than your customer. When providing a service it's not just the final outcome that determines a customer's subjective opinion of satisfaction. When I sold elevator service, many times the customers with the fewest elevator problems were more likely to cancel. While customers that experienced ongoing elevator issues were my biggest fans. If the customer perceives that you are doing everything you can (and more) he will sing your praises to others.
Saturday, January 06, 2007
Here are 6 tips for creating a customer who is happy and then some:
- When you can't help your customer with what he needs.... Tell him someone who can. Go so far as to give them a name, phone number, address and directions.
- See a magazine or newspaper article about your client's industry? Cut it out and mail it to them with a sticky note from you. Better yet, if you see your client quoted (in a positive way) in print, cut it out and mail it to him.
- Provide a discount or something for free even when your customer is happy. Many times we provide pricing concessions or free stuff to our customers when they are mad. Usually the concession is a way of making "good" on something that went "wrong." Create loyalty with your clients by mailing them a free car wash certificate, a coupon to be redeemed at your business or a $10 gift card to Starbucks.
- Follow up after the work is done. Car manufacturers do this religiously. A few days after they repair your car they call you to ask about your experience. Even doctor's offices call a few days after your visit to see how you are feeling. Often we feel our job is done for the customer once work is complete and the check has cleared. Increase the chances of good word of mouth about your business by checking in with your client a few days or weeks after the job is done. Follow up in person or via the phone - not by mail or email. The human touch will have the biggest impact.
- Say what you are going to do and do what you say - NO EXCEPTIONS. If you say, "I'll see you at 7:00," - then be there! If you see you will be even 5 minutes late call your customer and tell them. If you say, "The job will be complete by Friday," - it better be done on Friday! If customers know you are good for your word they will be your biggest fan and, even better, they will feel confident in referring you to others.
- It's okay to sandbag. This is the cousin of the saying, "under promise and over deliver." Think how happy you would be with your plumber if he fixed your problem a day early. Think how good you would make your client look if he saved his company 10% more than anticipated. And think how jazzed you would be if the coupon you took to the store was doubled in value when you went to check out!