It's very easy to make things more complicated than they are. So let's get right back to basics… there are only three things you need to do in business:
Provide something people want
Tell them about it
Obvious, right? Kid's stuff… Yes! But this simple view of business can be useful in evaluating your business and producing a clear plan for growth. Better still, it's scalable - you can apply the same thinking to individual projects, products, services, and so on.
Keep in mind all three parts are one. They need to be considered together - you can't choose one and forget the others - it doesn't work like that. If you have the best product in the world, it won't sell if nobody knows about it or if you can't deliver. You can tell the whole world about your product, but if nobody wants it you're stumped! Resist the temptation to rush - consider all the parts. Let's take a look at each.
Provide something people want
When was the last time you asked yourself: "Why should people buy from me…?" Understanding who should buy from you, what they should buy, and why is vital to the success of your business. If you're not clear about the who, what, and why, your customers won't be, and you certainly can't tell people to buy from you if you've no idea why they should.
'Who' is usually pretty easy to answer. You'll have a pretty clear idea of your target customer-base. This may well be different types of customer. If you run a shop, your target market may be local consumers and local businesses. They'll probably want different things from you and potentially their reasons for choosing you are different. Nevertheless, more often than not the "who" is easy to identify. For more on how to identify your target customers.
'What' is about the products and services you offer. Make sure these are the right products and services for your customers - things that they genuinely want. For more on how to think this through see.
'Why' can be more tricky. It's often the point when people become either unrealistic or defensive. Be realistic about why people should buy from you. Don't pretend to be something you're not - your customers will soon work you out. If you haven't already - or even if you haven't done so for a while - think hard about the genuine reasons why you believe people should choose to buy from you rather than elsewhere. To help you think this through.
For independent retailers, this list is likely to include things such as locality, convenience, expertise, friendly service, free independent expert advice, exceptional service and support, home visits, and so on.
Likely you now have a list of reasons. Weigh up the importance of each based on
How important it is to your customer's decision of where to buy from and
How well you perform in that area compared to your competitors.
Now sort your list in descending order of importance. This will give you a clear understanding of exactly why customers should buy from you rather than elsewhere - or your unique selling points if you prefer - and now you're ready to tell them.
Tell them about it
You know the 'who', 'what' and 'why'. The question is where to start. What will matter is the right people get to see/hear your messages, so start with that - the 'who'. There's absolutely no point wasting time, effort and money getting your message in front of the wrong people.
Make sure all your communication is based on the 'why' and 'what'. If people buy from you based on service, then service should be the dominant message they take from your marketing. Clearly you need to tell them that your service is excellent and preferably give them examples or testimonials to support that message.
Maximise and expend the use free channels before you consider options that cost. If your target market - or part of it - is the local community, leverage your location by having strong messaging in and outside of your shop. For example, if independent advice and expertise is part of your 'why', have prominent signs saying "Free independent computer advice from our team of IT experts".
Ensure your messaging is consistent. It should appear throughout all your marketing and be reinforced internally by you and your staff. Don't keep changing the core message - you'll confuse customers and they'll lose sight of why they should buy from you.
This doesn't mean sticking unstintingly with the same material. Keep the underlying message consistent, but freshen up how it is said regularly to avoid becoming stale.
Be wary of leading with strong price messages. Whilst price is always important, everyone understands the broad principle something is better if it costs more. As independent "specialist" IT businesses low prices degrade your skill and trustworthiness. How can you be so good if you're so cheap? Steer clear of low prices. Don't play "cheapest in town". Consciously position your prices relative to what others like you in your locality are offering. Lead your marketing with messages that play to your expertise and quality of service.
Be prepared to kiss some frogs. Not everyone will be interested in what you have to say. That doesn't mean you've got things wrong, it's just the way things are. If you're confident you have the right message for your target customer-base, keep going.
Marketing takes time so you may not get an instant response. But consistent marketing will have a cumulative effect. The first time someone hears your story, they may not be particularly interested. By the third or fourth time, you've captured their attention and piqued their interest. If you keep offering what they want and giving them relevant reasons why they should buy from you they will try you when it's right for them.
Finally, what are your goals - what are you trying to achieve - with your marketing? How many people will see/hear what you've got to say? What proportion will respond? Wherever possible always measure the effectiveness of your campaigns. Measure enquiries - calls and/or footfall, conduct local surveys, ask all visitors where they heard of you, and so on. If you find something that works particularly well do more of it for as long as it keeps working.
You've now determined your unique selling points and effectively formed an outline sales and marketing strategy. If you've made notes throughout the process of doing this, it may also be a good idea to tidy them up a bit and create a formal, documented plan that you can share with staff and other stakeholders.
Now we're onto the final stage …
In simple terms, so far we've looked at how to win business. "Deliver" covers pretty much everything else - the "boring stuff" - that makes sure that you can actually provide the products and services that your customers want.
It's obvious that you need the appropriate premises, staff, finances, systems, procedures and so on to support your plans. We won't cover any of this here - we're interested in growing your business; how you facilitate that growth generally comes down to basic common sense.
However, it is vitally important when planning your business - or new projects within your business - that you bear in mind logistical, financial and structural implications. Make sure that you have the capacity and capability to support your plans before rushing headlong into something you simply can't deliver.
If you already know exactly who your customers (and potential customers) are, why they buy from you (or should) and are confidently and effectively communicating those messages to them, you probably stopped reading this blog long before now.
If you're not 100% sure of some or all of the above - and most SMEs aren't - then the above should have given you a simple way to re-evaluate and clarify your approach.
If it has helped, then revisit the process regularly. Things change. Having done it once, it shouldn't take long to repeat the process, and it's an easy way to make sure you have a clear approach and consistent message.
If you would like to put your business forward as a case study because you have already effectively identified your customers, your USP and your message we'd love to hear from you.
If you would appreciate some help to effectively identify your customers, your USP and your message, and are happy for your business to be used as a case study (anonymously) then please feel free to send us an outline of your business with as much information as you think relevant. We'd be happy to take a look.
As always, the business advice we give is exactly that, advice! what works for one person may not work for another.