Are you selling what your customers want to buy?

Are-you-selling-what-your customers-want-to-buyAll too often, I see businesses advertising their wares…but from their own perspective. They talk about their expertise and what they DO or MAKE, thinking that’s what people are buying. Of course, that’s not what they’re buying at all.

Hence my question — are you selling what your customers want to buy?

Confused? There’s a great story that illustrates this perfectly. A college professor stood in front of his classroom, holding a shovel. He told the class that their assignment was to write an ad, selling the shovel.

The students got to work and their ads talked about the virtues of the shovel – the hardwood handle, the forged steel blade, the balance between the blade and the handle, etc. The professor let the students go on for a while and then he stopped them and shook his head. He said, “Let me tell you the secret for selling this shovel. The secret is to realize that no one buys a shovel just because they want a shovel. They buy a shovel because they need a hole.”

No matter what it is you sell – you need to figure out what’s behind that sale. They’re not buying your service or your product. They’re buying what they get out of that service or product. When you miss that – you run the risk of not meeting that need and losing a customer.

Recently, I had a very unsatisfactory experience with a company that promised to “townhouse my house.” I think the reason they were so disappointing is because they didn’t really understand what their customers want to buy.

They believed that they were selling yard services like weeding, mowing and snow removal. As long as they could perform those chores satisfactorily – they thought I’d be happy. But I could buy those services anywhere.

What I really wanted to buy was the convenience of having someone else worry about my yard and just take care of what needed to be done. I wanted the confidence they would show up when they said they would, so I didn’t have to keep calling them back. What I really wanted was the peace of mind that I could just cross all those tasks off of my list – and my life would be easier because of it.

Ultimately – because they didn’t understand what I really was trying to buy – I stopped buying. I didn’t need or want their shovel.

So – how do you go from selling shovels to realizing that your customers want to buy a hole?

Ask better questions: Don’t just ask the standard intake questions. Develop a short list of questions that will trigger a conversation about the underlying need. Listen carefully and ask enough follow up questions so you truly know the root problem you are being hired to solve.

Hire an outsider to talk to your current customers: We have that Midwest nice thing going on so sometimes customers won’t be very candid when you ask for feedback. But, when you hire a firm to do that asking for you (or secret shop you), you’ll be amazed at what you learn. We provide this service for our clients and I’m always amazed at how much we learn.

Observe them in the wild: Watching how your customers interact with what you sell can be incredibly enlightening. They might use it in a way you hadn’t imagined or for a purpose you hadn’t considered. They may have had to create a workaround because of something that isn’t quite right. If you sell your products in a retail environment, hang out in the store and listen as people considering buying your product.

The real secret to knowing what your customers actually want to buy is to never assume. Don’t be fooled into thinking you know. Do the hard work of finding out and earn their loyalty for years to come.

We only care about you if it’s really about us

I Love MeWe recently bought an ad for a client and the ad rep suggested we make a big deal out of the fact that our client has been in business for 130 years. I politely told her that we definitely were not going to do that.

Instead, we were going to talk about something their readers and our prospects might actually care about.

My conversation with her is what prompted this blog post. We’ve all seen the ads or sales that are somehow tied to a businesses 25th anniversary or the “we’ve been in business for a century” sale announcements.

The reality is – no one cares. While that may be a laudable accomplishment – to have hung in there that long, from your consumer’s point of view – it’s fluff or a gimmick (we’ve been around for 50 years so everything is 50% off!).

Is a business going to offer me a better product after they’ve been around for 100 years? Was the stuff they sold in their ninety-fifth year just junk? Of course not. Is someone who just turned 60 a better advisor than when she was 59? Nope.

You make that the focus of your ad or your sale when you don’t have anything better to say. And if you can’t come up with something more customer-centric than that to say – you’re lucky to still be in business.

It’s actually a symptom of an age-old marketing problem. Businesses talk about themselves rather than talking about what the customer cares about.

Here’s how to fix two of the most common “it’s all about me” types of marketing statements and make them customer centric and customer valued communications instead.

#1 — We’re old and you should care

All about us: We’re 100 years old. Come enjoy some birthday cake and celebrate with us as we cross the century mark.

All about them: Over the many years we’ve been in business, we’ve learned that our customers value three things. They value incredible customer service (click here to speak live with one of our teammates), fair pricing (click here to read about our fair price every time program) and they want quality they can count on (watch a short video about our factory’s 100% right or 100% wrong policy).

You’re saying the same thing – we’ve been in business long enough to be stable, to have earned our customer’s trust and no one has to worry about you being a fly by night operation. But when you push beyond focusing on yourself, you can outline exactly why your longevity is of value to the prospect that is considering doing business with you.

#2 – The difference is our people (perhaps the most trite sentence uttered in marketing today)

All about us: Our people really care. You’re not just a number to us.

All about them: Hi Mr. McLellan – we see that you’re going to be staying at our hotel XYZ in Big City. We’re glad to have you staying with us and want to make sure we do everything in our power to make your stay an awesome one. As the manager of the hotel, I want you to have my direct line (123-456-7890) and email (manager@BigHotel.com) so you can get a hold of me if there’s anything you need.

Don’t tell me that your people care. Show me. It sounds like hype when you brag about it. It feels remarkable when I experience it for myself. The truth is…most businesses say it but few actually deliver on it. Why not just shut up and show it?

If you’re going to expend the effort to talk to your customers and prospects, stop talking about yourself and talk about what they care about — what’s in it for me.

How cause marketing can be smart marketing

Cause marketingIn the last 20 years, the term “cause marketing” came onto the horizon.

The whole idea was this: Many companies donate their time, their talent and their money to various charities, but it was done without anyone knowing about it or the company gaining any additional value from being a good citizen.

Some would argue that to give without any expectation of reward or recognition is the true definition of giving.

Perhaps that’s true. But it’s also very small.

Another word for small in this instance might be isolated. If I give five dollars to a charity and don’t tell anyone about it, the charity gets five dollars and I get a warm feeling inside. All good. But if I tell my friends about the charity and that I’m giving five dollars and invite them to do the same, now look at that I’ve created:

  • More awareness for the charity
  • Additional dollars donated to the charity
  • A community of people who believe in/care about the charity

Which do you think the charity would prefer?

Now, take that a step further. Rather than just telling my friends about it, what if I aligned my choice of charity with my customer base? Odds are I serve a group of people that I have a connection with and that I care about.

So if I look for a charity that would be important to them and to me, I can amplify the impact I can bring to the charity by engaging my entire customer base to rally around them.

When anyone talks about cause marketing, one of the examples they use is Avon and their commitment to fight breast cancer. They were pioneering in the idea of uniting a cause and a group of customers, for a greater good.

We’re all smart enough to recognize that Avon benefits from this alliance as well, in earned media exposure, creating a powerful connection to both their female customer base and their female employee base as well as increased sales.

None of that mitigates the good they do. It’s truly a win/win situation. Here’s how Avon talks about their efforts on their own website:

“One of the company’s largest ongoing projects is the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, which is aimed at funding research and access to quality care. Now in its 20th year, the project has donated more than $740 million to the cause, making it one of the world’s leading corporate supporters of the fight against breast cancer. Among the successes that Avon lists on its website:

  • Linking more than 15 million women around the globe to early detection programs and mammography screenings
  • Educating 100 million women on breast health
  • Expanding into 55 countries
  • Enabling access to care for underserved populations
  • Providing $175 million to breast cancer research projects since 1999
  • Creating Love/Avon Army of Women, a program designed to accelerate the pace of prevention research by enlisting more than 350,000 women (potential study volunteers) for this effort.

Avon fundraises for these efforts through various methods like hosting the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer series and selling Crusade Pink Ribbon fundraising products.”

I know your company probably doesn’t have the reach of an Avon, but you do have loyal customers who care about the world around them. And I’ll bet there’s a charity or cause that matters to you and that would matter to them if you made the introduction.

As you work on your 2015 marketing plan – I challenge you to weave in a cause marketing effort. There’s nothing that says marketing can’t also make the world a better place.

5 tips for creating a company culture that connects with your sweet spot clients

creating a company cultureAn area of marketing that is often overlooked is how important it is to be mindful when creating a company culture. You don’t build a culture to make a sale. But the culture you build, if you’re very clear about your organization’s values and beliefs, can translate your company’s personality and attract right fit prospects. It can also reinforce your current customers’ buying decision.

Company culture doesn’t just happen. If you want it to really flourish, you need to make it a priority for your business. You need to build/strengthen the foundation of your culture and then nurture its growth from there.

The challenging aspect of corporate culture, of course, is that culture is shaped by the workforce. Which means it’s an ever-evolving entity. As employees come and go, the culture can be altered in ways that don’t benefit the employees or the organization.

Your culture is too valuable not to protect. Here are a few ways you can ensure that your culture has a consistent foundation that doesn’t ebb and flow over time. If the core is rock solid, then it’s okay if the details shift a little.  Ready to start creating a company culture? Keep these tips in mind.

Create a manifesto: Don’t hide your culture. Celebrate it. Capturing the essence of your culture in a statement of beliefs or manifesto will allow you to articulate the key values and behaviors that you want to protect.

Put it in your employee handbook, create a beautiful framed version and hang it proudly in your corporate office and read it out loud to kick off each year’s first staff meeting. You could even ask new hires to sign a commitment to honoring the manifesto on their first day of work.

Weave the culture’s core values into your job descriptions and review process: Employees know that if something is important enough to be a part of their annual review, then it must be pretty important to the company. You can reinforce your culture by rewarding your employees for keeping it alive.

It’s also a built in culture training program for new employees. If they know they’ll be held accountable to their job description when review time comes along, they’re much more likely to adopt those wanted behaviors.

Make your staff part of the solution: If you teach your employees how your company culture contributes to the success of the organization and then invite them to help you protect it, they’ll gladly accept the challenge.

Why not a team that is charged with bringing the culture to life through employee events, customer interactions and rewards programs? They’ll probably surprise you with their innovative ideas and enthusiasm.

Hire for culture, train for skills: Identify the attitudes and behaviors that best support your company’s culture and hire for those traits. You can teach skills but you can’t teach attitude. It’s much easier for a new hire to fit into an environment that aligns with his or her own personal beliefs. Trying to force a square peg into a round hole puts a great deal of stress on both the organization and the new employee.

Share the vision: The purpose of a company culture is to support the organization as it marches towards its future. One way to help the employees understand the importance of protecting and building the culture is by sharing the desired end result.

Once they share the vision, they’ll be inspired to guard everything that will help you all achieve that vision. If anything, they will strengthen your culture to help you get there even faster.

Your culture matters every day. Purposefully creating a company culture will help you recruit and retain your best talent. It supports how you deliver excellence to your customers and it is a compass that guides you towards even greater successes. Be sure you protect it like the valuable asset that it is.

Start a conversation with your customer?

start a conversation with your customerStart a conversation with your customer?  I know, it’s crazy talk.  Why in the world would you want to talk to the very people who choose to do business with you?

I trust you can see my tongue poking through my cheek, but the truth is, most businesses give lip service to the idea of starting a conversation with their customers, but few actually do.

Let’s agree on a few points right up front:

  • It’s cheaper to keep a customer than get a new one
  • It’s cheaper to sell more to a current customer than make the first sale to a new customer
  • There’s no better marketing than word of mouth – which usually comes from your current customers

Those truths would suggest that our current clients are pretty important to our business’ long-term success. Despite that fact, most businesses:

  • Don’t invest enough of their marketing budget/efforts on their current customers
  • Don’t routinely thank (other than the pre-printed thank you at the bottom of your invoice) their current clients
  • Don’t listen enough to their current customers.

Why in the world do we, in essence, ignore our best bet at success?

In this post, I’m going to focus on the listening issue. No one knows what it’s like to buy products or services from us like the very people who buy our products and services. And yet, the vast majority of businesses never bother to ask for feedback. Or they ask for feedback in a way that makes it so off-putting or difficult to provide the feedback that the customer ops not to. In most cases, the first chance the customer has to provide real, honest feedback is when they walk away and give their money to your competitor.

I think there are a few reasons why organizations don’t seek customer feedback.

  • Fear: “I just don’t want to know because then I’m going to have to deal with it.”
  • Bad time management: “I know it’s important and I’ve been meaning to launch a survey but then things got crazy.”
  • Ignorance: “I don’t know how to make it happen and I think it has to be some big, elaborate thing.”

If you’re not actively and regularly seeking your clients’ input and insights, it’s one of the biggest marketing mistakes you can make. The only mistake worse than not asking for their input is actually asking for it and then not doing anything to fix the issues you uncover. Now you’ve asked for their opinion and then told them how little you care by ignoring their concerns.

Let’s assume you have found the courage and the time to listen. Are you ready to start a conversation with your customer?How do you go about it? Depending on your size and budget, you can make it as simple or regimented as you need.

Start a conversation: Take your client to lunch and ask “how are we doing and what could we do better?” Walk up to a customer in your store and say “we just re-arranged the shelves, did we make it easier for you to find what you need?” It can be that simple.

Observe: Sometimes the best way to listen is to just watch. How do people move through your store or website? What do they pick up or mouse over? What do they walk right by? Which Facebook posts do they share?

Ask on a schedule: Once a quarter or once a year – reach out to your customers with a survey that asks open-ended questions like “what’s your favorite thing about our service?” Or “what do you wish we’d stop doing?” Then (and this is vital) – report back to them what you learned and what you’re going to do about it.

Do true market research: If you’re big enough and have the budget, do more than antidotal research. Hire a pro and crunch the numbers. Build a benchmark that you can measure against, time and time again.

Just dip your toe into listening if you’re not ready to jump in head-first. But don’t wait too long – or your customers will be swimming in your competitor’s pool!

 

Your best customers are pure gold

best customersYou’ve heard it before — the top 20% of your customers, your very best customers, account for 80% of your profitability and referrals.  We intellectually know that and yet our behavior sure doesn’t show it.

We spend all kinds of dollars, time, energy and worry chasing after new customers and after someone starts to buy, the typical business sort of forgets all about them.  Much like people’s dating patterns — there’s a lot of wooing that goes on before the wedding but after the “I do’s” get said, the florist goes broke.

Our poor best customers get the same treatment from us and that needs to stop.  We need to shift a portion of our marketing focus away from prospects and invest even more in our best customers — the ones who have already proven that they’ll sing our praises, buy more and more and bring their friends along for the ride.

Fortunately, my friend Stan Phelps has written a book to help us all do just that.  This book, What’s Your Golden Goldfish, is the third book in a trilogy of marketing books that are all built around over 2,200 crowdsourced examples of real life marketing smarts.

This particular book shares over 100 examples of what leading brands like Starbucks, Doubletree, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Virgin Atlantic are doing differently to cater to their best customers and earn even more of their business and loyalty.

The book showcases nine different ways to let your best customers (and employees) know how much you value them. By doing those little extras, you will make your company even stronger.  You will differentiate yourself even more from your competitors, you’ll keep both your best customers and employees longer so they contribute to your success and with every little extra, you will create more word of mouth buzz.

The entire series of books is all built around the idea of lagniappe which is a creole word for “a little something extra.” In this edition — Stan helps his readers explore how organizations large and small can do a little something extra for their most loyal customers and employees.

You’ll love the storytelling but make sure you have a pen and paper handy because this book is going to spark so many ideas that you’ll never remember them all.  And as you implement them — your best customers will reward you with even more buzz, money and referrals.

Sounds like it is going to work out well for everyone, doesn’t it?

If you’re interested in Stan’s entire series, here’s how you can get them from Amazon.  If your an Amazon Unlimited customer, you can read the electronic version for free.  If you want the paperbacks, click on the links below:

 

Note:  If you click on one of the Amazon links, I get a few cents.