Ask most business owners if they realise what they've got - what their business is and represents - and they'll answer with an emphatic "Yes!" They'll then go on talk about their premises, staff, products and so on. The thing is, this is only part of the answer and, to be honest, a small part at that...
Do YOU realise what you've got? I'm not trying to trick you just get you thinking about the building blocks of your business - the things that'll help you realise your ambitions. Knowing these will crystallise the reasons why customers choose to spend with you. Understanding what you've got goes to the very heart of your business and everything you do. It's about how you define yourself and make yourself special. Perhaps the answer to this last point is the most telling: "So what makes you special, what is it about what you do that makes customers want to buy from you?" The answer nearly always is along the lines of "because of my excellent service" or "because I offer a quality service" or "because I offer personal service". But here's the problem: no customer goes out thinking "I'll go to Jim because he'll fix my PC for a reasonable price and throw in some excellent, quality, personal service". What they do is go to where they feel they'll get their PC fixed and it'll be done in a way that makes them feel they've received all those things. The question is what makes them feel that's what they got? What is it that Jim does to give excellent, quality, personal service? If you can answer this for your own business, you'll find you start saying things you don't normally.
Say what you mean Just last week I met with a small retailer and asked the question. Without hesitation he came back "because we provide personal service from people who care". This is a great turn of phrase true. But, any small IT retailer could have said it. So it doesn't distinguish. It doesn't differentiate. It doesn't make them special. I opened the conversation a bit by pitching that very challenge and adding "look, if we bought a replacement PC from you, how would we know we were getting "personal service from people who care"?" Rather indignantly, the response was "we'd go the extra mile to make sure you were really satisfied". A fair enough sentiment for sure, but how would we know that? All it is is an intention. Just what does it look like? "Mmmm, and what does that mean?" I said. And whilst the frustration in the room was palpable, it was then we hit the mother-load. "Look, we'd: 1. Set up your user accounts and permissions if needed 2. Make sure all relevant Windows updates were downloaded, installed and working 3. Set up your email account and make sure it's working 4. Transfer over your email, calendar, contacts and task files plus we make sure they're all working 5. Bring across your browser favourites file and make sure the browser's working with them OK 6. If required we'll strip off the trial version anti-virus and install and test a new one 7. Take off all the packaging and make sure the machine is clean and presentable 8. Get it fully charged and ready for use"
There, at last, a clear statement of what they meant by "personal service from people who care" explained clearly, accurately and succinctly. Eight points of actions, of value, of things we can understand. But what topped it all, what absolutely hit-the-nail-on-the-head was what came next: "We'd make your new PC so you could just get on and use it like you'd always had it."
Imitate, don't copy When i pointed this out to them, it dawned. They realised all the things they were giving away without even mentioning them to the customer. They saw the value they give but don't value enough to talk about. They realised what they'd got and how they were wasting it. This is the crux of the matter: behaving like a mini big-chain is a no-win game. It's flawed thinking. As small retailers you have to compete on the advantages you have. And you've many: 1. You're local 2. Customers want to support you 3. You've significant cost and margin advantages 4. You've more skills and experience 5. You're set up to deliver a far higher quality of service in-store 6. You can be entrepreneurial 7. They can depend on you - you're accountable 8. You're a part of the community
The key is you have to realise these differences mean something; realise these differences are genuinely valued by customers; and realise you can use them to change the fortunes of your business. Are you making the most of what you've got? While it's one thing to know what you've got it's another to make the most of it. This matters because while you can offer truly outstanding service and value: be the very best at repairing equipment and able to do it more quickly and cheaply than anyone in your locality; be the most knowledgeable, most approachable, most helpful IT business in the UK - if no-one knows about it, your business will struggle. You have to tell people you are and can do all these things. Most people like telling others about themselves. So if you want to strike up a conversation and develop some rapport, ask someone about themselves. The chatter will easily follow. So why is it businesses find it difficult to tell their customers about themselves? Modesty? Embarrassment? Whatever, communicating with customers and prospects is absolutely vital. The trick is to see everything from your customer's view, to think whether what you're saying has meaning for them. And by "meaning" we're not just referring to understanding your English, we mean how do the words coming out of your mouth, or what's printed in your promotions, 'strike' a chord with them? Is what you're saying connecting with them? Does it make them feel they really should pop in and see you or give you a call? None of this is difficult; all you need to do is do it. And the fancy name for it is Marketing. YOU are a brand, not an advert Let's get one thing straight before we go further: marketing does not equal advertising. We only say this because it crops up with virtually every business I meet. As part of the discussion we'll ask: "So how do you make customers aware of your business?" "Well I advertise/stopped advertising in the local paper, I've an ad/stopped having an ad in Yellow Pages, I've leaflets/stopped having leaflets dropped out locally". Lots of feedback on what advertising they do. All of which misses the point. Marketing is about raising awareness of your business. That means it's as much about who you are as what you do. Sure, part of this is "advertising", but recent research on it by Lancaster University might curb your thoughts on using it. In 2010 they found 95% of UK consumers don't trust advertising. Not only that, 92% don't trust what companies say about themselves. And 58% believe companies aren't interested in selling the right products/services; they just want to make a sale. Is advertising doomed? The answer isn't that clear cut. Why? I recently saw two different businesses in the same general locality; one swore by using Yellow Pages, the other believed it a complete waste of money. Because sometimes advertising works, sometimes it doesn't. But I did find it possible to promote my business in ways that were more authentic, sincere and convincing. That advertising is less about adverts, and more about actions. In the meantime, if you're interested to start your thinking on this now, here's a simple exercise to do, one that'll quickly identify where to put your effort to develop new enquiries.
Exercise: Set out why you are brilliant
1. List the good things about your business, the things you do for customers that you're proud of, the things that mark you out and make you different and better.
2. For each, be brutally honest with yourself and ask:
a. Do my customers value these things?
b. Why do my customers value these things?
As always, the business advice we give is exactly that, advice! what works for one person may not work for another.