when an aggressive sales force and a competitive price were the
key ingredients to growing and sustaining a successful business?
The downturn in the economy, marked most prominently
in Northern California by the failure of Bay Area dot.coms and the
subsequent struggles of South Bay high-tech firms, has increased
competition for whatever business remains.
The new millennium has spawned a service-based economy
in which companies are reaching out to cultivate new customers —
and striving to retain the ones they already have. Accomplishing
this task and remaining competitive in this new environment will
depend on the quality of your business relationships.
Customers want to know more than how much it costs;
they want to know the benefits of doing business with you. Marketing
and selling those benefits is your challenge.
In 21 years of business I've discovered that being
an ethical person is...ironically...a great marketing tool. Humanity,
integrity and reliability are more important than the best deal.
Here are nine points that will help you lay the groundwork
for long-term success.
1. PRESENT A POLISHED IMAGE
Spend some money on your marketing materials. You don't have to
get a second mortgage, but spend enough that your customers and
prospects feel they're dealing with a reputable company.
2. GET IN YOUR CUSTOMERS FACE
AT LEAST SIX TIMES A YEAR
A sale is made when the customer is ready to buy, not when you're
ready to sell. If you're not in front of them at that moment, you
will lose the sale.
Newsletters, post cards, handwritten notes, phone
calls, special promotions — all of these create awareness
and build relationships — and increase the likelihood your
customer will remember YOU when it's time to buy.
3. RETURN PHONE CALLS PROMPTLY
All customers like to feel they're important. Returning phone calls
promptly is a sign you respect them, their time — and their
4. IDENTIFY AND SELL YOUR VALUE
Customers buy value, not features. Ask yourself these two questions:
— What makes me different?
— Why should anyone do business with me?
The answers will yield the benefits you bring to your
customers, and key selling points your competition does not possess.
Better yet, ask your customers this question: “If
you were to recommend me to a colleague or friend, what would you
say about me and the way I do business?” Your customers will
tell you what they value in you the most; these are precious marketing
nuggets for you to develop further.
5. BE A PROBLEM SOLVER
Customers buy based on what they stand to gain . . . or lose. Here's
where being a good listener really helps. What's causing your customer
pain? What can you do to alleviate it and make them feel better,
make their lives richer?
Your job to allay your customers' fears and convince
them you can solve their problems and meet their needs.
6. BE RELIABLE
There a well-known story of a famous baseball player who lost an
eight-year, $143 million contract because he didn't show up for
a doctor's appointment for his injured back. In effect, he lost
Look at your own buying habits. Is doing business with reliable
people one of your primary reasons for choosing a vendor or a product?
Do you think it's high on your customers' lists?
7. MAINTAIN HIGH STANDARDS
OF INTEGRITY AND QUALITY
Strive to exceed your customers' expectations — easily done
when you give them more than they ask for. If you treat people well,
even if you don't do business with them, they will refer you to
other people. It's all about how we treat each other with integrity
and humanity and reliability.
The question is — “How do you want to be
8. SAY THANK YOU
One of my friends, an etiquette professional, believes that “manners
make money.” I agree.
Say thank you three times — by phone, by mail
(a handwritten note, not an e-mail!), and in person — and
your customers will be impressed that you took the time to let them
know how much their business means to you. Wouldn't your mother
9. BE PATIENT — IT TAKES
TIME TO ESTABLISH RELATIONSHIPS
If you think you're going to visit a prospect only once and get
the sale, think again. Customers like to do business with people
they know, like and trust. This doesn't happen on the first visit.
If all of your marketing and sales decisions are short-term,
you'll never derive any long-term benefits. Get to know your customers,
and strive for repeat business and referrals.
One final thought: Spend less time chasing money and
more time building relationships. Success in business depends on
relationships...and relationships take time.