Savvy small business owners consistently search for smart and efficient ways to grow sales. Challenges arise when companies seek a “magic pill” to trigger growth versus well thought-out business solutions. Some business plans focus on extreme promotions, others utilize clichéd practices such as making everything “family” focused, but these practices don’t always lead to success. Valuable customers are out there. But who are they? And how do you reach them?
In this blog post you’ll discover four sound strategies that can help your business attract new customers and put your company on a path toward prosperity.
STRATEGY #1: Learn Why Customers Buy From You
One of the best sources of growth is often your existing, local market. Has your company reached the market saturation point? Probably not. You erroneously may be underserving a wider customer base that’s right in your backyard.
Do some research and find out for yourself:
Depending on your business, capturing this information may be easy. Simply ask! Verbal feedback can be a great way to gauge customer perception, and most customers will be more than willing to provide their suggestions when they sense a genuine interest in improving your business. Customers recognize and positively respond to businesses that take their concerns into account. You are likely to uncover valuable insights that you can build upon.
If direct customer feedback isn’t practical, then comment cards or inexpensive online survey tools like SurveyMonkey or Zoomerang can yield great information. To boost participation, you can opt to reward those who respond with special recognition or a discount on their next purchase. Additionally, there are now many online, crowd-sourced review sites, such as Yelp! and Travelocity, that are a great resource for customer comments and feedback. Establishing a presence on these sites and responding to all comments with positivity also will boost your market presence. Since most people respond more to word-of-mouth marketing (we discussed this in a previous blog post), this is a great way to get your name “out there.”
Your existing customers are very valuable, and they may provide a gold mine of information you can use to successfully connect with new customers.
STRATEGY #2: Learn More About Your Customers
What unique characteristics do your customers share that can spark additional sales for you? Understanding these traits may allow you optimize your focus on high value clients. As the saying goes, knowledge is power, and with high-quality, focused information you’ll be able to target and expand your presence. Perhaps there’s a demographic segment your business is serving particularly well? Knowing whether your business appeals to a particular age range, gender, socioeconomic group, occupation, or ethnicity and adding this knowledge to your tool kit can help you create a higher propensity for these consumers to do business with you in the future.
As you begin to understand which customers patronize your business, then you can start matching your marketing program to their buying habits. For example, if your key demographic is pre-Generation X, you may want to reach out to them through print advertising or other media in which they are most likely to gather information. A younger demographic may be reached more effectively through online search results and web advertising. Other groups may be best reached through face-to-face encounters, such as state and community fairs, or other networking opportunities.
Hint: Don’t forget to ask these new customers for referrals so that you may more powerfully extend your reach.
STRATEGY #3: Learn More About Your Competitors
A tool you’ll find helpful in discovering how to better position your business is a SWOT chart. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. A SWOT analysis is a great way to understand elements of your business from a different point of view, namely that of your competitors. There are many options for web-based SWOT analysis software. These vary in price but are valuable tools for creating colorful, personalized, collaborative diagrams that you can share with your team. When you look at your business from the perspective of your competitors, you’re likely to uncover hidden strengths to capitalize upon, and areas to reassess that have a lower return on investment.
SWOT analysis could demonstrate that your company is competing on price with a multitude of other businesses, while uncovering that you provide an edge on a service that competitors are not as capable of delivering. Knowing this information could enable you to focus on higher-margin sales, and reduce time spent chasing low-margin business.
STRATEGY #4: Learn More About Yourself
Geographic expansion is one of the most common ways to grow your business, but it also is the most complex. With expansion comes great opportunity, but also added responsibility. Difficulties in communication, human resources challenges and much more can arise, so it’s paramount to plan carefully and follow that plan closely. When considering this strategy, carefully evaluate how and where to expand. Ask yourself:
If you can answer “Yes” to all of these questions, then you’ve taken the first step. You’ll then need to hire new employees, stock additional inventory, increase your marketing budget, and acquire new fixed assets. Consider the need to create new processes in order to maximize your chances for success. One option may be to extend your physical service area to surrounding towns, adding only incrementally to your investment while providing an opportunity to grow smartly without being encumbered by the significant expenses of a new location.
When planning to take your business online to attract new customers or build relationships with an existing audience, other considerations can come into play. Decide whether you would like local customers to order products online for delivery (such as a pizza shop), or request service calls (like an air conditioning and heating company). If your business is such that you can ship products regionally or nationally, your online requirements may be different. Whichever way you go, whether local, regional or national, be sure to create a solid marketing plan to support your objectives.
Opening a new “bricks and mortar” location can require a significant investment, both in time and money. Start by using the strategies described in Steps 1-3 to ensure you’re making the right business decision. With a better understanding of how your business reached its present state, you’ll have a solid foundation from which to grow.
Taking steps to capture information about your existing customers and using that knowledge to develop one of the four strategies you’ve just read about can put you in a powerful position to outdistance your competitors in a challenging market.
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