Can Your Business Afford to Stand Still This Year?

Chantal Cornelius, Appletree MarketingIf your business is standing still – always doing the same things, the same ways, for the same people – then you could be missing out on new opportunities and new business. Your competitors will be innovating – looking for different ways of making money – which means that you could be losing business to them.

Every year your competition becomes fiercer, more pressure is put on margins and new products or technologies come along and nibble away at your market. This means that just doing what you’ve always done is a recipe for eventual failure. You need to innovate and improve your offer continuously, or someone else will either steal your market or leave you working harder for less money.

So how do you innovate? Where do the new ideas come from?

Steve Jobs from Apple said “Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity – not a threat.”

Innovations happen most frequently when you need to solve a problem. You may not know which one thing about your service niggles your customers most, because it might be very small. And yet when you find out what it is, it could open the way making huge improvements. So you need to make a point of asking your clients what it is about your service that they don’t like.

Towards the end of 2011 we decided to run a workshop, to help service based businesses to get more from their marketing. In the run up to the event, I realised that there was only so much help and advice I could give the delegates in one day. This was a problem for me, because I didn’t want my delegates to get all fired up and then not be able to carry on marketing their businesses. After a bit of thinking I came up with the idea of an ongoing mentoring programme, to provide a regular top up of marketing ideas and momentum. And hey presto – a new service was created! The clients who have joined the programme are making great progress already!

Innovative Marketing

You don’t have to restrict innovation to developing new services. You’ll also find a lot of scope for applying new ideas in sales and marketing. I recently started working with a new client because he’d been using the same marketing tactics for the last year. While they used to work, bringing in a steady flow of new clients, over the last six months he’d noticed that flow almost completely dry up and he didn’t know what to do. He wanted some ideas on what could be done differently with his marketing. There are so many marketing channels now available to you that you’re almost spoilt for choice!

Innovative Pricing

You can also be innovative in the way you charge for your service. Experiment with a mix of incentives, or price test your new services, to see what response you get. Don’t think that cheaper is better – some clients won’t take you seriously if they think you’re too cheap; and offering endless discounts can devalue your service and expertise. Look at ways in which you can add value to what you provide, without adding to the cost of delivery.

Can your business afford to stand still this year? What will you do differently this year?

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Be a pest – Everest

A little while ago I wrote on this blog how impressed I was with the customer service we received last autumn when we bought new windows from Everest. The company has gone to great lengths to prove that their windows are in fact the best. Click here to read the original blog.

Sadly their after sales ‘sales’ leave a lot to be desired. It wasn’t long after our new windows had been fitted that I received a phone call one evening from Everest, asking if I was interested in buying a kitchen from them. Their reps would be in the area very soon and wondered if they could drop off a brochure. Since I’m very happy with my kitchen, I said no thank you.

A month later and I noticed a cold draft coming through the frame of one of our windows. I arranged for someone to come and look at it and two days before that visit, I received another call – just as I was sitting down to eat my supper – from the sales team. “Are all your windows double glazed?” the young man asked, before stopping to ask if it was a convenient time to talk. “You should know – you installed them” I replied. He simply continued with “Would you like new fascias?” At this point I managed to suppress the urge to be rude and politely told him that since I was waiting for an engineer to come and fix the problem window, his phoning to try to sell me something else was really not a good idea. I suggested that he either remove me from his sales ‘hit’ list, or run the risk of some very bad publicity. At that point he got the message and said goodbye.

I don’t really want to give Everest bad publicity (it will be interesting to see if anyone from Everest reads this and gets in touch!) but I do want you to learn from this tale. Don’t ruin a great customer services experience by then treating your customer like just another number. Don’t waste all the hard work it takes to win a new client by not telling your sales department or others in your business, about the work you’ve done for a customer. Don’t let them rush in and try to sell more, before the dust has settled. Instead, spend time really getting to know your customers and they will come to you and tell you when they’re ready to buy.

Using customer excellence to grow your business

There are many ways in which you can grow your business and one of the most effective is by selling more of your existing services to your existing clients. To do this, you need a strong relationship with your clients and you need to develop customer excellence. In fact, at a networking lunch I went to recently , the speaker said that customer excellence is the strength of the relationship that you have with a customer.

So what is customer excellence, how do you achieve it and how do you maintain it?

According to Joolz Lewis, the Corporate Hippy, customer excellence involves three things:

  1. Care – this means keeping in touch with your customers on a regular to basis, to see how they are, on a personal level. It shows you care about them and that you have thier best interests at heart. I spoke to a customer a couple of days ago and at the start of the call, rather than launching straight into a asking for feedback on her newsletter, I asked her how her recent sailing trip went. We had a very interesting conversation about competitiveness, which helps build on our relationship!
  2. Generosity – be generous in every way you can, including your smiles and your time. Go above and beyond what you said you would provide. Give advice and information whenever you can. I started working with a new business coach a couple of months ago. She’s new to business and was looking for some clients to work with, to gain experience, so she’s not charging me for her time. At our first session, I offered to give her some marketing advice, to help her get her business off the ground. She was delighted and told me it she hadn’t expected anything in return. We are building up a strong relationship, helping each other’s businesses.
  3. Gratitude – say thank you and show that you’re grateful for the relationship you have with your clients. How often do your suppliers say thank you, just for being a client of theirs? Not often, I would guess. Every year we send out Christmas cards to all our clients and include personal messages in each one, thanking our clients for working with us. Yes, it takes time to think of an individual message and write the personal note, but it makes a much bigger impact than receiving a card that doesn’t even contain your name!

Think about how you use care, generosity and gratitude to develop customer excellence in your business and grow really strong relationships with your clients.

How well do you do the little things?

Chantal

At a recent networking presentation, a wise man suggested that we should focus on doing the little things well. When you do, you’ll make a great impression and keep your clients really happy. So what are the little things? Here’s an example I’ve just experienced.

Last week my car needed some work done on the back breaks. While it was at the garage I asked them to check out what might be a slow puncture in two of the tyres. They kindly looked at them and didn’t find a problem, so bought the car back. When I said I was sure there was a problem, the garage said to bring the car back in and they’d have another look, free of charge.

So a day or so later I stopped off at the garage – no appointment – and asked them for a second opinion. One of the mechanics came straight out and checked all my tyres. Eventually he found the problem and suggestion a simple solution. OK, so it cost me a few quid to replace some tyres, but since one of them wasn’t going to get as far as the MOT in two months, I didn’t mind. They had all the tyres in stock and changed the ones that needed to be changed. They even put the spare back in its holder under the car, without being asked. The service was fast and cheerful. I wasn’t charged for the time spent changing the tyres – just the cost of the tyres. Nothing was too much trouble and I was back in the office in no time.

That’s how my local garage focuses on doing the little things well. What are the little things in your business and how do you make sure you do them well?

Never be ashamed of making things easy

Alice

There is nothing more off-putting than being spouted at by a lot of jargon, especially if you’re not familiar with it. It can be very demoralizing to keep asking what ‘x’ means, and wearisome to retain the information and applying it to what you already know.

Therefore if you produce a new product or service to your public, make sure it is easy to understand. Making things simple is not a crime, it is a necessary requisite, if you are to get your prospective customers to comprehend and ultimately to buy it or hire you.

Making something simple is not as easy as it sounds. It does require a large amount of forethought, analysis of how a product really works, or how a service can be efficiently provided. It needs to have volunteers to demonstrate it on first, to watch its performance and recognise any glitches, ready to be amended or adapted where necessary. Only when the result glides by on silken runners will the product or service be ready to release on your unsuspecting public!

And even then you can’t rest on your laurels, as feedback and comments needs to be collected, instigated and prompted, as well as acted upon to make the required improvements. These things can always evolve into a better model as time goes by, so constant awareness and watchful motivation will alert you to concepts that are succesful, or even failures needing attention.

At the end of the day, it is the simplicity that has made the difference, provided the USP and proved its worth. Unless your customers can properly cope with what you have to offer, in a way that they can appreciate, absorb and act upon by themselves, presented in a way that totally relates to the way they think, act and react, all that hard work would have gone to waste.

What gaps are in your communication strategy?

Alice

The fourth assignment for my CIM Professional Certificate in Marketing involves creating a communications audit on the organisation I have based my assignment upon. After I had fathomed exactly what was required, I started to enjoy analysing every aspect of communication the organisation did, including the ‘external’ stakeholders involved, such as the media and pressure groups, the community and those involved in corporate social responsiblity.

This may all sound complicated, but there is no need to get apprehensive (unless you haven’t done much about communications in your business). First you need to work out all the different aspects of communication: websites, social media, blogs, PR, newspaper reports, articles written online and paper published, recommendations, networking (off and online), participation in events in the local social diary, corporate social responsibility and involvement in local groups. There are probably more you can think of, depending on your kind of business.

Go on the web and find out what other companies, especially your competitors, are doing to publicise the communication strategies they have in place. Sometimes a little light secondary research can reveal a lot about them, as well as yourself. How visible are you, both off and online? How much information do you make available about your company and the things that you do? How easy is it to find?

Then you need to work out the impact your communication strategy has on your business and your stakeholders, which includes past, present and potential customers, your competitors and suppliers, as well as the general public. How well do you communicate with them on the areas that are relevant to them? What kind of things do you need to tell them? How frequently do you perform this and what have the results been? Have you achieved your objectives from these ventures? What strategies do you have in place to continue, improve and achieve success in your future endeavours?

I have only just scratched the surface on this subject, but hopefully to get the strategic juices flowing. Being visible to the appropriate stakeholders could make a real difference to your business, not only to publicise what has been going on and any future projects, but to increase awareness, explain more succinctly exactly what you do and what you are aiming to achieve, increase networking opportunities and relationships that could evolve into joint ventures and other likely connections, and much more besides.

Let us know what you are doing within your communication strategy – it would be exciting to find out how successful you’ve been and what tactics you have thought up to set the communication wheels moving as smoothly as possible!