Marketing Your Business in Changing Times, Part III
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Marketing Your Business in Changing Times, Part III

In this final segment of a three-part series, we will address the importance of the customer as a marketing tool.

By Johnny Duncan

Most people know what they want when shopping for a sign. They have a general idea of what the sign should look like and what it should say. However, many sign professionals try to sell the customer what they think the customer wants. This approach tends to only confuse and frustrate the customer and sometimes even drive them to your competition.

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  • We must pay attention to what the customer is telling us if we want to keep them for a long time. There are three essential steps to aligning your products and services to the needs of a potential customer. They are: Listening, Validating and Servicing.

    Listening
    Genuinely listening to peoples' responses and not being busy formulating your own story, creates in others that you are caring and trusting. People can hear when you listen to them. This respect and authenticity shows. People feel good because they have unburdened themselves or start to have more clarity in articulating what is really important to them. Without them feeling free to express what it is they want to buy, you may lose a sale.

    Most marketing strategists agree that people buy benefits, not features. In other words, customers are more concerned about how a purchase affects their lives than about how the company achieves those results. No matter how wonderful you think your new improved business process is, your marketing message should concentrate on the real benefits customers receive. Listen to see if what your customers are telling you is what you are hearing. If it is a face-to-face meeting, listen with your whole face and let them know that you are hearing them. They are probably telling you that they want to be treated a certain way and not just that they want your product. Find out what they are saying.

    Validating
    Put into your words what the customer told you and ask him or her if that is what they were trying to communicate to you. At the same time, make sure you ask yourself the following questions:

    1. ) How does the product or service meet customers' concrete needs? Does it do the specific thing they need done right now?

    2.) How will the purchase affect their overall financial situation, not just the price of the product or service, but other savings and increased productivity?

    3.) How convenient is it to purchase and use the product or service? How will they gain more time and less worry in other aspects of their lives?

    4.) How does the product or service make customers feel about themselves, and how does it affect and relate to their self-image? Do they like and respect the salesperson and the company?

    5.) How will they deal with the product or service and company over time? Will support and service be available? How will the product or service affect their lives in the coming years, and will they have an increased sense of security about the future?

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    Customers, of course, want benefits in all these areas, so be aware of how your product or service fulfills the entire range of their needs. But remember, business, like life, has trade-offs, and you're not going to be able to do everything. So figure out in which of these areas your product or service excels -- and which most motivates your customers -- and concentrate on those. Validate that these are important to your customer.

    Servicing
    It never ceases to amaze me that after all the work of selling a client the company forgets about them. It is not that the hard part is over; it is only beginning. If you mess it up now, after all the listening and all the validating, you should not be in business. This is where you are to really shine. Prove to the customer that you are the only sign company they will need by providing top-notch service and follow-up.

    The best way to be sure that your servicing is going be up to par is to treat all of your customers (and employees, business associates, vendors, etc., but that is another article) with the utmost respect. Return phone calls, deliver when you say you will, always keep you word, and always give the customer a red carpet treatment. Strive to make them feel special and give more than you think you should. Donít give away your products and services for free, but give them your time and go out of your way to set them up with other services outside of your line of work. Use the referral system we discussed in Part I of this series.

    Some final suggestions that you can include in your marketing strategy to get the most for your money:

    Professional organizations
    For the cost of a small advertisement in your local paper, you can join a professional organization for an entire year. Some sign folks donít think twice about spending $500 on a newspaper ad or $2,000 in a trade magazine, but won't join their local Chamber of Commerce or national sign association. Like any other tool, simply having a membership in an organization will not bring you clients. You must be vigilant about attending seminars, breakfasts, and socials to make the most of your membership dues. While it is impossible to attend every meeting, get a feel for what meetings consistently offer the greatest opportunity to network with prospective clients and referral sources.

    Sponsorships
    Sponsoring an event for a nonprofit agency can be a rewarding and efficient way to advertise your company. When selecting sponsorship opportunities, pick those that best represent your business goals and ideals, as well as an organization that you personally believe in. Whenever possible, make it a point to speak with the executive director of the organization to get a feel for how the agency is run. Consider the other sponsors, and select sponsorships that put you in good company. Think of sponsorship as part philanthropy and part advertising. Sponsorships are win-win-win for your company, the nonprofit, and your community.

    Business cards and brochures
    Any collateral material that you produce with your company's name on it should be of the highest quality you can afford. Never skimp on paper stock or layout because your card or brochure will be the only advocate working for you after you have met a prospective client. Even if you hit it off great with people you meet at a trade show or meeting, if your marketing materials are weak, you may never hear from them again -- especially if they are passing along your card/brochure to a decision maker. There are horror stories of huge projects that companies were bidding on -- they would make a great first impression, and the deal looks like a sure thing. They put together a dynamic proposal, but they put it together on cheap paper, printed on a cheap printer, and all the equity they had in the deal is lost.

    Think of your marketing materials as salespeople, and invest in them accordingly. (You wouldn't have an incompetent, poorly groomed salesperson representing you, would you?)

    Direct mail advertisements
    Direct mail advertising is one of the most effective means of advertising today. Once you determine your target market and can acquire the mailing list for these people, a concise, to the point advertisement from you will pay off tremendously. The expense (cost per thousand or CPM) is less than most other forms of advertising and the payoff is much greater.

    There are several vehicles out there to help you with your direct mail campaign. One is to locate an advertising company that produces an advertising booklet with vendors from other industries in it. The cost is less because you are sharing either the page or at least the booklet with other businesses. These are sent out to homes and businesses and the advertising company should be able to give you some demographics to help in your decision.

    Another good option for direct mail campaigns is to utilize an email rental list. There are several companies who offer this service and it is another great way to get your ad in front of the eyes of a target audience. The recipient will be able to open their mail and see your full-page color ad. A good qualified list will have recipients who have chosen to receive information such as your ad so you can be assured you will not get placed in the trash file so quickly.

    Well, you are now armed with some good information, ideas and suggestions for marketing your business in these changing times. Stay flexible and remember that when times change, your business will have to adapt accordingly. Donít fear the change, but embrace it.

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