Marketing Your Business in Changing Times
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Marketing Your Business in Changing Times

In this three-part series, we will address marketing techniques and strategies to be used in your business during these challenging times.

By Johnny Duncan

Even if you don't have a multi-million dollar marketing budget, and your worldwide headquarters is a spare room in the back of the house, you must have a plan for attracting new customers and retaining existing ones. There are two ways to get more business: Either attract more customers or sell more of your product or service to your existing customers. Utopia would be to experience the occurrence of both.

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  • Attracting new business is a priority for any company. However, one of the greatest mistakes a business owner can make is to allow an existing customer to get away. You should make it your goal to keep every single customer you get. Donít let them go to the competition. Losing even one of your customers should not be considered an option.

    Always Open the Door On the First Date
    Regardless of popular perception, getting customers to your door is not the most difficult task. It is the treatment they experience during the initial introduction, greeting or sales transaction that will determine a sale or future sales. Treat each opportunity with a new customer as if you were on a first date. On a first date, you want the girl or boy to see you at your best: Hair is perfect, clothes are neat and teeth are brushed.

    The analogy carries over to your customers. Let them see you shine: Your greeting is warm, employees are courteous and the treatment the customer receives is pampering to the nth degree. You want to have a second date, right? Do you want them to call you again? Of course you do.

    The Basics
    One of the most important steps in any new marketing strategy is to review how you present yourself to current and potential clients, starting with such basics as your phone greeting and voice mail. It is critical, especially in business, to not mess up the first impression. If you have a receptionist, give that person the best training possible to provide the warmest greeting and to present the impression of your company that you want the potential customer to receive.

    If you are using an answering machine or voice mail, speak very clearly and give just the basics in a friendly voice. If you have to, hire a professional-sounding individual to create a mini-commercial for you. It should include a warm welcome, a small introduction to your company, and an alternative way to contact a real person, if available. Your customerís time is limited and you have to capture their interest quickly. That is why it is better, if you can afford it, to have a live person answer any questions the customer may have.

    Treat each and every contact as if they were going to give you the largest contract youíve ever had. Train your employees to do the same. You will be surprised at how this simple act can do more to keep customers than any other thing you can do. If you and your competitor have approximately the same product for about the same price, then the red-carpet treatment you provide for the customer will win them over every time.

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    Blaze Your Own Path
    It is very wise to check out what the competition in your market is doing. Find out where they are advertising and examine their marketing strategy. Make a list of all the benefits that are touted in Yellow Pages ads for businesses like yours--such as "conveniently located" or "accepts MasterCard". Also check out features, such as "next day service available". Then decide what you will provide that will make your offerings and literature superior to the competition.

    Donít forget to also examine organizations outside of the sign industry. There is much to learn from the review of the marketing aspects of other companies as well. Failing to study best practices of successful companies outside your industry is industrial insanity.

    Years ago, Sam Walton and Wal-Mart dramatically changed the retailing industry. Sam Walton consistently devoted four days per week studying other organizations in hopes of being inspired to identify processes that could help him build performance gaps over the deep-rooted giant competitors he faced every day. As you may recall, he started out with one small store and a big bank loan and competition that wanted to drive him out of town.

    Sam Walton left behind a blueprint for an outstanding business model that included 10 rules for success, that is, his best practices. They include ideas that today have been emulated by others. However, Sam Walton's tenth rule, Swim Upstream, encourages us to go the other way and ignore the conventional wisdom. In other words, take all that you learn from watching others and create your own plan. Blaze your own trail when marketing your company. Reel in your customers by applying all that you learn from others, but put your own spin into it.

    Real Tools for Winning Real Customers

    The Newsletter
    An overlooked, inexpensive marketing strategy is a newsletter. Something as simple as sending out a two-page newsletter, which covers topics of interest your customers would find interesting, is a practical method for keeping your name fresh in the mind of your customers and potential customers. You can send out a single sheet, folded in thirds, stapled and mailed without an envelope that can be produced using Adobe PageMaker. Even typing your newsletter on a simple word processor and then folding the pages prior to mailing will work.

    Make it an easy read that the reader can plow through in about five to eight minutes. Make it so it has a clear layout without a lot of fonts jumping all over the place. Mailing information that your customer wants to see makes receiving your newsletter highly palatable. The promotional benefit is that once every 60 or so days your name flashes across their minds for a second.

    Something About Seminars
    One of the best ways to attract new clients is to conduct free seminars for local business groups, or at nearby colleges, perhaps under the auspices of the Small Business Administration's Small Business Development Centers. Spend some time teaching others and both you and the students will benefit.

    Look through your local newspaper for the calendar of meetings. Choose two or three business groups that interest you, and attend these meetings. Appear as a guest speaker and use some of the time in the meeting to give out information about you and your company. This is also a good time to collect some names and addresses for your newsletter.

    Making a Mark on the Web
    A Web site may be the primary way customers find you for the first time. Some would find your site through Internet search engines and hyperlinks from other sites, but more would probably check out the site once they hear about you. Setting up your own Web site can cost several hundred to several thousand dollars, but many brilliant computer students will do it for the lower price.

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    There are several areas to spend your advertising dollars in, but leaving out the Web could mean that you are missing opportunities for potential clients to find you. The Internet is still maturing, but it is obvious from statistical reports that it is growing everyday with more and more businesses using it to attract customers. It provides the easiest of advertising tools to change and update.

    Focusing on the Customer
    A wholehearted focus on customers is simply good business. Businesses that do not maintain that focus are disaster-prone. The customer can easily be forgotten in the rush to develop and launch new products and services, mitigate competitive threats, manage the organization, increase profitability, expand market share and globalize.

    This is why in the last three or four years, customer relationship management (CRM) has become a popular catchphrase. Although CRM in one form or another has been around for some time, the current interest in CRM is fueled by a combination of new technologies that enable companies to better execute on those ideas related to excellence in managing customer relationships. Some areas to consider when focusing on CRM are:

    1. Do you really know why your customers behave as they do?

    2. What makes your customers buy from you and what could you do that would lose their business?

    3. Do you know how a new-or existing competitor--could steal your business?

    4. What is the one thing you are not providing your customers today that they are secretly begging for?

    5. What are two things about your business you cannot,under any circumstance, afford to change?

    Keep this list on your desk and answer them once per month. This will keep you sharp and in tune with your customers.

    In Part II of Marketing Your Business in Changing Times, we will explore the differences in advertising and promotion as well as some examples you can use in each.

    To recap some marketing principals from this first part in the series, remember:

    1. Treat the customers like you are taking them on a first date.
    2. Blaze your own path. Donít let the competition dictate your path of marketing.
    3. Remember to use some or all of your tools (i.e. newsletter, seminars, etc.).
    4. Keep your focus on the customer not on the economy or competition.

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