A client hired me to do a strategic audit to figure out how their services fit on the local market; to assess how their present and potential clients perceived their services; and most important, of course, how could they sign up more clients.
At one level, all these questions are connected. We should understand the market in depth to be able to offer services that clients need. At another level, one needs to start with the simplest thing to better understand the market: learn from one’s customers and employees.
I advise clients that understanding the market and their customers is not the type of research to be undertaken as an audit, that is, from time to time. Quite the opposite. Your company should have an ongoing strategic engagement plan with customers and with prospective clients. This strategic plan should help you:
- Engage customers in an active feedback process and create an on-going assessment system that supports and spurs the sales process
- KNOW and understand exactly what niche your products fill at all times
- Create an internal monitoring system to alert you to similarities in client feedback — they may indicate new services or product opportunities
- Continuously ask for referrals from existing clients (ask for only one name, not ten, and send a personal note to the customer, rather than a group email)
- Find the balance between doing the tried- and- tested, and starting something new (innovation).
Sure, advertising for services using a number of different channels can be important (and costly), and showing up at local events to talk your clients’ language is great but not enough. And because I like very simple things, let me say this again: you should start with what you have and with what you know best: your customers.
I am a little embarrassed to state such commonplace: start with the first step, and with what you know. But I have heard clients all too often say: oh, I was too busy with *work*, to continue that ‘”marketing,” “sales” or “customer stuff” you did.
I mean– too busy to grow your business? There is no marketing, there is only growing a business—or increasing the bottom line, or whatever you want to call your “love affair” with your customers and with your small business.
For the client who hired me, I got the group of engineers together and we all came up with 1) old leads that could be revived 2) leads in their personal Rolodex 3) ideas on how to engage present clients 3) ideas on how to best communicate the brand to different groups or forums to which each of them belonged. And then, we implemented those ideas! In two months, they started to sign up new business.
So, yes, have a “love affair” with your clients and prospects—a mad, crazy love that pushes you to court, perform, exceed expectations and romance as often as you can. And of course ask for reciprocity.
If you ask for only one referral from each of your 20 present clients, you might get five leads, and if you do your job well, you might sign up one or two. These leads come extra qualified. For the prospects that are not ready to give you their business, keep showing up patiently and with gifts in hand: invite these prospects to learn from you, to try your products, to accept your audit, to get a deal from you, and so on.
And then call again! (If you have done your research and you know how you stand on your products and customer service). In the end, it’ s all about patience, perseverance and personal presence!
And of course, everything takes three times longer than you think it does.