Who shouldn’t you serve?

you shouldn't serveWho shouldn’t you serve? I have often said that the power of a good brand is not only does it attract your sweet spot customers but it repels the wrong customers.

Too many businesses adopt the “every dollar is a good dollar” philosophy which inevitably brings them misery, unhappy customers and financial losses.

When you try to serve people who are a bad fit — they almost always leave, disgruntled.  And that’s after you have chased your tail, trying to make them happy, even if it means you lose your shirt.

You’re far better off to dramatically narrow your focus.  Only serve the people/companies who can be your very best customers or as Steve Farber says in Radical Leap — “Doing What You Love in the Service of People Who Love What You Do.”

The picture with this post is a window at a Tattoo Parlor in Asheville, NC.  Clearly they know exactly who they do and don’t want to serve.  And while they have taken a rather aggressive way of communicating that — it’s highly unlikely that they get a lot of walk ins who turn out to be bad customers.

I’m not suggesting you post a sign. But I am suggesting that there’s value in knowing exactly who you should and who you shouldn’t serve and going out of your way to be equally clear on both sides of the equation.

By the way — this isn’t rocket science.  Make a list of your best customers.  The people you’d clone if you could.  What do they have in common?

Next, make a list of the people who you’d pay to stop serving.  What do they have in common?

Now — look at your marketing messages.  How can you tweak them so they attract your best customers and communicate to your worst clients that they’d be better off going somewhere else?

You cannot have a love affair with your worst customers.  You simply can’t woo them and win their hearts.  So it’s better to let someone else have them so you can concentrate on the people who truly will love you and what you do for them.

Love advice is not good marketing advice

Love advice is not good marketing adviceAs we celebrated Valentine’s Day this month – there were many a cliché uttered in the name of love. I want you to remember that in most cases, they don’t work as well as marketing maxims. Love advice is not good marketing advice.

In fact, in general I might suggest that you shun cupid’s advice when it comes to marketing your organization. Let me give you a few examples.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder: While this may be true in human interactions, buyers have a very short attention span. When your marketing is sporadic or worse – nonexistent, you can’t expect a prospect to think about you when they’re finally ready to buy.

Trying to reach our consumers, no matter what we sell, is a little like trying to time the market. The truth is – we don’t know when they’re going to be ready to pull the trigger. We do know that when they’re ready – typically they will identify three potential solutions and explore them. That’s why marketing’s job is to keep your product or service top of mind all the time so that when the prospect is actually ready – you’re in the short set of possibilities. Absence doesn’t make it more likely that you’ll get a shot at the sale.

Love is blind: While in human interactions it’s true that appearances don’t trump love…in marketing, love is definitely not blind. How you present yourself has incredible impact on your ability to capture and keep the attention of a customer. When it comes to marketing, this isn’t so much about attractiveness as it is about consistency and being true to your brand.

Adhering to graphic standards that represent and promote your brand is vital to growing demand and brand loyalty. Consistent use of logo and brand colors begins to create a subconscious connection with your prospects and repeat customers. Pretty soon – if you’ve honored your brand’s visual guidelines you can trigger a reaction every time you use the brand’s color palette or logo. Think how we immediately associate a red soda can with Coke or a brown truck with UPS. You can create the same effect.

Opposites attract: We all know couples that seem like they couldn’t possibly have anything in common who are deliriously happy with one another. Shows what we know. But that phrase doesn’t work so well when it comes to customers. The truth is – every business has what we call “sweet spot” customers. Those people who are the perfect fit to what we have to offer. One of the reasons they’re our best fit is because they see the world in the same way we do. They agree with how we approach our industry and the specifics of not only what we do but how we do it.

Many companies go broke trying to be everything to everyone. Instead of embracing their sweet spot customers, they chase after every dollar, no matter how bad the fit may be. The result of that is almost always a very rocky relationship that ends in an ugly crash. And then, that former customer runs around town (or your industry) telling people about their bad experience. You’re far better to

All you need is love: In today’s economic times – I don’t care how much fun you are to work with, if you can’t generate results you won’t get to stick around for too long. One of the marketing mistakes that many organizations make is that they don’t put the spotlight on the results and give them their due.

There you have it. I don’t want to rain on anyone’s Valentine’s Day fueled parade but when it comes to love clichés and marketing – it is definitely not better to have loved and lost. Remember — love advice is not good marketing advice!

Instead, market smart and keep those customers for life!

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.