Act from the Perspective of Your Customers

Today, a client and I received a group text message from a marketing services vendor:

“Need to get your credit card today if possible. Got your bill together.”

I understand this vendor’s perspective. It’s nearing the end of the year, and they want to maximize revenue. From the message’s urgency, it’s likely they have outstanding accounts payable coming due.

But here’s our perspective. Asking for a credit card by text message without even sending the invoice for us to review appears desperate and unprofessional. We don’t have the same sense of urgency regarding this payment.

Recently, I was discussing the end-of-year sales pipeline with another client. We started our conversation with the question, “What will our customers need between now and the end of the year?” By focusing on the needs of the customer, we’ll ultimately enjoy stronger results through customer loyalty and referrals.

To build great customer relationships, all communication needs to prioritize the customer’s perspective.

Finding Leads on LinkedIn

Finding Leads on LinkedInLinkedIn is a great prospecting tool for B2B companies. In this article, learn more about finding leads on the platform. (If you’ve already established that you should develop a LinkedIn strategy, based on my article, “Is LinkedIn Right for Marketing my Small Business?“)

The key to finding leads is making connections, both by inviting many people to connect with you and by having memorable interactions with those people.

When you invite someone to connect with you, personalize the message beyond the default, “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.” My friend and business expert Steve Yastrow‘s biggest pet peeve is when people he barely knows send him the default connection invitation– he just ignores them. If you act like a robot, people will treat you like one.

How Do You Find People to Connect With on LinkedIn?

You know more people than you think you do! Most people can double their number of professional connections in just a few days.

Make connections with employees at your vendor and partner organizations– these contacts will be eager to connect with you and might have access to valuable leads.

Similarly, make an effort to connect with several people at your client organizations, not just your main contact. Developing more relationships will help broaden your involvement with your client.

Reflect on your past for opportunities to make connections. Consider high school classmates, church youth group friends or professors from college. Also, reach out to social contacts that might be professionally relevant, like parents from your kids’ playgroup.

If you’re fairly new in your career or business, consider connecting with friends of your parents who are more established professionally and will probably be glad to help your development.

These are just a few ideas to get you started expanding your LinkedIn network. Remember, “connecting” is not enough! Your lead generation will only be successful if you develop and maintain your relationships over time.

Use Your Product to Sell Your Product

If you’ve got a great product or service, what’s the best way to market and sell it?

By letting customers try it out!

Lighthouse Carwash does this whenever they open a new car wash. For the first few days, all the washes are free. It helps them build a customer base by showing just how great the service is.

Busken Bakery in Cincinnati does the same with their business catering service. Their flyer promoting the service is pretty nice:

But it isn’t nearly as enticing as the free dozen donuts that accompanies it:

Who wouldn’t trust this bakery to cater their next business breakfast after tasting these delicious donuts? (My apologies to anyone dieting this January.)

Not only does giving samples allow customers to experience your product, it’s a much more cost-effective marketing effort than almost any other tactic. For instance, compare the cost of a free car wash or dozen donuts to the price of a radio commercial.

When you’ve got a great product you can sample, your customers get a delightful experience, and your business stays in the marketing budget. See why it’s the best?

A Marketing Vacation

This week, I’m on vacation at lovely Saint Simons Island, Georgia and thought you deserved a vacation, too. For the next few minutes, let your mind go on a marketing vacation, free from trends (and even good taste), to enjoy some kitschy, old-style marketing entertainment.

The Bob Rohrman Auto Group has been producing their trademark, outlandish TV commercials for decades, and they’ve become a staple of Indiana television viewing. Rohrman has been Santa Claus, Superhero Zero, a king and myriad other fanciful characters (I swear I remember him donning a turkey suit, but I can’t prove it).

See for yourself:

So enjoy your marketing vacation. “You owe it to yourself,” after all.*

*Viewer discretion is advised. Don’t try these marketing stunts at the office.

Marketing Communication Can’t Help a Boring Product

Or, Why the Auto Industry is Stagnating

In the last few decades, car design has become uninspired, with all cars looking pretty much the same. But you wouldn’t know it from the marketing communication. Television, radio and print advertising are full of wildly optimistic claims about innovative, new styling that completely blows away the competition.

We all know the stereotyped commercials- a car zips around a contrived scene while a baritone announcer croons. More recently, auto companies have taken to introducing comedic spokespeople as well- the Ford guy, the cute, mop-headed kid touting the Toyota minivan. But underpinning the high production values is an all-too-apparent truth: these cars look boring. Take away the mountain hairpin curves, barren desert racetrack or sassy spokesperson and you’re left with a product that can’t be visually differentiated from its competitors and probably isn’t exciting anyone.

Marketers seem to be coping with this fact by simply lying- or deluding themselves, if you prefer. Check out these marketing descriptions and their accompanying promotional pictures. Try not to yawn.

Energetic, athletic stance with unique Z-shaped body lines

Sensible gets sensational with a bold, confident sense of style

Its sharp lines and powerful stance excite the senses from any angle

World-class design and superb level of craftsmanship

Car designers can do better. Cars used to be much more visually interesting. Look at these classic cars. Love them or hate them, they’ve got style and a definite design aesthetic.

So, c’mon, designers. Give us some unique and interesting cars that marketers can really work with. Until they offer a product that consumers are excited about buying, the auto industry will continue to stagnate.

Sales Promotion FAIL

Sales promotions are a popular part of the marketing mix. Sales promotions can be a great way to build awareness about your brand, reward loyal customers or just eliminate excess stock.

Except this one. It is a sales promotion fail.

I saw this 5% off book at an otherwise amazing independent bookstore in Columbus, OH. If customers don’t want to read Soul Pancake for $19.99, do you think they would be motivated if the price were $18.99? It would be more than a dollar’s worth of hassle just getting that stubborn sticker off the cover. This paltry sales promotion seems calculated to make customers laugh, not buy the book.

When planning sales promotions, make sure the offer is meaningful to the customer. Consider the customer’s context – in a world where Amazon sells a book for 41% off publisher’s list price, offering a 5% discount simply highlights that this bookstore’s prices are higher. This bookstore should not compete on price – they will lose every time. They need to give customers something that Amazon can’t – an experience, a feeling or a relationship.

Marketing Podcast: How to Get Customers to Call

In this marketing podcast, I delve deeper into the subject of Getting Customers to Call. For many businesses, getting customers to call is a crucial step in the sales process. However, they don’t distinguish between a motivation to buy and a motivation to call. Listen to the podcast to learn more about how to motivate customers, along with tactical tips and strategies.

Listen or download below:

How to Get Customers to Call

Download the Getting Customers to Call MP3 file here. (5.4 MB)

This segment first aired during “Getting Down to Business” on Alaska’s Fox News Talk 1020.

Getting Customers to Call: Small Business Marketing Matters

Getting customers to call is a primary step in many small businesses’ sales processes. Telling them, “Call for information,” “Call Now!” or “Call to order!” are not enough. You need to give customers a reason to call you.

Offering a coupon or a free quote isn’t that reason. Those incentives may offer motivation to buy, but you need to provide a motivation to call. Whether you are selling all-inclusive vacations or car insurance, if you have high success rates on the phone, your best bet of making a sale is getting a customer to call you.

How do you motivate customers to call you?

Customers must perceive some benefit to calling. This benefit could be monetary, entertainment or satisfying curiosity. Here are some ideas for how to motivate customers to call:

  • Offer a gift card or other “free gift” to the first hundred callers.
  • Ask a compelling question to which they can only learn the answer if they call.
  • Make the call fun by promoting a trivia game for callers. Ensure the trivia is relevant to your customer base, such as asking local sports questions.
  • Make the need to call more urgent. Have a deadline for receiving a special offer, or let customers know when you plan on raising your prices.
  • Spread the word. Use your other forms of marketing and advertising to sell the benefits of calling- not necessarily the benefits of buying.

Malcolm Gladwell provides a great example of the last tip in The Tipping Point. He tells of a cheesy ad campaign for the Columbia Record Club that was successful beyond anyone’s dreams, because it made a game out of the most profitable action customers could take. TV ads encouraged customers to find the “gold box” in their TV Guides to win a free record of their choice. Customers felt like they were solving a puzzle, but really, Gladwell writes, “It created a connection between the Columbia message viewers saw on television and the message they read in a magazine.” And this message was a call to action, showing remarkable results: “Every magazine on the schedule made a profit, an unprecedented turnaround.”

(You’ve read The Tipping Point, right? If not, go buy it!)

Today’s article about getting customers to call is fairly general, but every business is unique. Call me at 513.833.4203 with the questions you have about getting your customers to call your business. I’d be glad to brainstorm some ideas with you. It will be fun… and free!

The Value of Pricing

Are your prices too low?

I just returned from a business trip to Israel, where I also had a little time to tour with an amazing guide. He took my companions and me from Jerusalem to the northern part of the Sea of Galilee, relating the biblical and recent history of each place we passed. He took us to places tourists couldn’t ordinarily go. He was charming, funny and extremely well-informed. For logistical reasons, I didn’t find out the price of the tour until the end of the day. I was expecting to pay perhaps $200-500. And I was glad to pay it. I got an incredible education.

His price? $300 a day. Not per person. Per day. My share worked out to $60.

You see, my guide priced his tour based on his costs. He loves to visit Israel, so he charges enough on tours to cover the cost of his airfare. But his pricing should be based on the value to his customers. I felt so bad paying only $60 that I gave him a substantial tip. But if you are a small business selling products or services, it’s very rare that your customers will think to tip you. They assume the price you’ve set out is fair.

So back to my original question- are your prices too low? If you price based on your time and materials instead of the value your customer receives, the answer is “Yes.” If your prices are too low, of course you will be missing out on profit, but there are other, more dangerous consequences as well.

The danger of pricing too low

Customers perceive pricing as shorthand for value. When customers can’t evaluate the quality of a product or service, they let the price be their guide. Diamonds are a good example. Most consumers can’t actually tell the difference between diamonds rated S1 or S2, so they buy based on what they are willing to spend.

If you sell something even moderately complex, it is easy to price yourself under and out of the market. Imagine I knew beforehand that my tour of Israel would only cost $60. I might have opted to do something else, thinking, “How good could it be?”

Determining the price

  • It requires more effort to develop value pricing than cost-plus pricing, but here are some tips for your small business.
  • Competitive analysis. Know what your competitors are charging and price yourself based on your value relative to their offerings.
  • Customer research. Interview past customers to learn what they value about your offerings. If their value seems greater than what you charge, raise prices.
  • Don’t be afraid to go for it. Price increases invariably spark lively and lengthy debate in companies. But most of the time customers hardly notice the increase (unless, as in the case of Wendy’s Junior Bacon Cheeseburger, you try to price well beyond perceived value. Each time Wendy’s charges more than $1, the experiment fails).
  • Calculate your customer’s value. Some companies, especially business-to-business companies, can calculate how much value their products or services will give a customer. Take the time to do it, and share the results with your customers.

Finally, if you are ever in need of a private tour guide in Israel, send me a note. But hopefully his prices will be higher when you write- and the experience will be worth it.

Let’s get started!

Small Business Marketing for Startups

Yesterday, an acquaintance asked me for advice on his startup company’s marketing. He just didn’t know how to get started with his first customer. He wanted to know what kinds of brochures, business card or website he needed to get people interested.

I told him, “Decide who you want your customers to be.”

He replied, “Oh, you mean middle class or upper class?”

“No, I mean decide which specific people in which neighborhoods should be your customers. Get to know them, how they talk and what their needs are. Then you can start selling. Then you will know what should be on your website.”

When people first start looking for customers, their instinct is to look for large groups of people and hope to convince a few of those people to hire them. The idea is, “If I aim for all middle class families, surely I’ll get a couple of customers.” But this instinct is wrong. The more people with whom you try to communicate, the less each one will pay attention to you. For example, I imagine you rarely pay attention to the loudspeaker at the grocery store. It’s just not that meaningful to you because the grocery store is trying to communicate a general message to the entire store. When you try to be meaningful to everyone, you end up being meaningful to no one. Generalization for the masses is the worst way to sell a new (or any) product.

To find its first customer, a startup needs to get specific. Instead of selling to groups differentiated by demographics, sell to individual people. Talk their language and address their needs.

On a related note, marketing expert Steve Yastrow wrote two very helpful newsletters on how to differentiate your customers as individuals instead of groups– Do Differentiation Differently and How to Do Differentiation Differently. Steve’s essential message is:

“Your customer doesn’t really care if you are different. But he will be blown away if he sees that you think he is different.”

Showing your customer you think he is different is more work than blanketing a city with flyers- but it will also yield more results. As counterintuitive as it may seem, startups (and all companies) will find more customers if they focus on fewer people.