Where Are the Customers?

Where Are the Customers?

What to do when just answering the phone isn’t enough anymore It is not uncommon for me to visit a new client and hear, “We’ve never marketed; we’ve just answered the phone and tried to keep up.” These days this is usually followed by, “The phone just isn’t

ringing anymore.” If you have never marketed, networked, or otherwise had to drum up business, it’s not too late — provided you can wait six more months for your new efforts to pay off. Which, is why you don’t want to wait a minute longer.

Burn the Ships
Upon landing in Mexico, Hernando Cortez ordered his men to burn the ships in order to solidify their resolve to survive in the New World. Survival meant venturing inland with all its unknowns — something these sailors were loath to do. For an industry that has thrived with little strategy, minimal marketing, and almost no business development, burning the ships is a suitable metaphor. While we might make a few more phone calls or try one or two new ideas to repel the recession, at the first sign of success (or failure) the human tendency is to retreat to the comfortable and secure. Consoling ourselves that all will be well in a matter of time is denial in its worst incarnation — mass delusion. The battle for market share is on. What will you do?

Develop a New Product
I have started reading a few blogs by subscribing via RSS. Don’t ask me how this works, but I use Google Reader. If I can figure it out so can you. One of my favorites is Seth Godin, a marketing guru with a prolific string of ideas.

The following was his post on February 26, 2009:
If you want to grow, you need new customers. And if you want new customers, you need three things:
1. A group of possible customers you can identify and reach.
2. A group with a problem they want to solve using your solution.
3. A group with the desire and ability to spend money to solve that problem.

He goes on to cite examples of wellknown products that missed on one of these points. In the events staging industry I have noticed that most companies can fulfill item #1. A few less can isolate the persons who would make a decision per #3. We all need to ask ourselves honestly, do we have a solution to a real problem that will let us address #2? So, if the pool of prospects in #1 is 1000 customers and the pool for #3 is 300 of those customers, how many have the problem you are trying to solve in #2?

Good service is not a product; it is just a description of how well you do what you do. To get a customer’s attention, you need to show them a unique solution to a real problem.

Grow Your Network
You can never know enough people. I have touted the value of networking before and won’t belabor the point here. Here’re some ways to do it. This is a team effort. If you can pull off only one of these, then partner with other folks to fully network your firm.

1. Be an expert.Write articles, case studies, or white papers. Speak at industry events or create an event.
2. Participate. Find complementary groups and associations where prospective customers or referrers hang out. Think outside the box. These days you may find MPI chapter meetings that have more suppliers than meeting planners, so look elsewhere. There are professional groups that would welcome someone from your industry — everyone needs to borrow a projector now and then.
3.Get online. Social and business networking has moved to the internet — at least for a certain demographic. Join Linkedin, Plaxo, or even Facebook and figure out how it all works.
4. Be seen. Press releases, blogs, and an active website are great tools for getting attention. The goal is to drive folks to your efforts in items 1-3 above.

Change the Playing Field
Most proposals are full of prices — they must be important! If your normal proposal is 20 pages long, how would you sell if you were limited to one page? You would only have space (and time) to make the most essential points. You would have to know what’s most important to that customer. It is generally not difficult to figure what their top priority is, so you need to know what the tiebreaker is, too. Then you might also want to include something that should be important to them, but they just don’t know it yet.

How can you do these things if you really don’t know them or they you? On your next major proposal opportunity, take some extra time to understand your customer and give them something that will surprise and delight them. Let the other guys play by the rules.

Use Meetings to Sell Meetings
It is pretty difficult to differentiate yourself on the phone and doubly so by email. You need to provide a lot of value and advice (for free) in order to rise above the competition. Nothing funnels a large volume of information and influences their decision more than a face-to-face meeting. Marketers will tell you that the key to capturing a customer’s attention is to get them away from their office (their ship). People won’t come to you to listen to a sales pitch, but they will come to learn something that will help them in their job. If your office isn’t the kind of place that hosts a good seminar, networking event, or demo — do it somewhere else.

We can blame the economy, the internet, or the competition — but the days of growing businesses just by answering the phone are gone. The sooner that we all let go of that notion, the sooner we can figure out what will work in today’s economic reality. Start the conversation in your company with the premise that what’s worked in the past will never work again. Burn that ship.

Tom (T.R.) Stimson, MBA, CTS, is president of The Stimson Group, a Dallasbased management consulting firm providing strategic planning, market research, and process management services to the AV industry. Stimson is the 2009 President-Elect of InfoComm International, a member of the ETCP Certification Council, and keynote speaker for the Rental & Staging Roadshow. Contact him at tom@trstimson.com.