A good friend of mine that is starting up a new professional services firm asked me to have lunch with him to talk about what he would need to focus on to be successful in our town. Here is the exact memo I sent to him after our meeting. I think that much of it applies to just about any business trying to separate itself from the rest of the market – especially a local market. Take a look through my suggestions and see which ones might work for you and your organization.
Identify Key Target Customers
Figure out exactly who your key target customers are – the part of the market you want to own, that is the most profitable, and where your products/services will have the most value as defined by the CUSTOMERS…who are the only ones who can decide what is valuable and what THEY are willing to pay for. I’ve seen many businesses fail from serving the wrong customer.
Create “Ideal Customer Profile”
Create a detailed “Ideal Customer Profile” to help you understand and stay focused on the people who will truly make your business successful. These are the folks that love what you do, are happy to pay for it, don’t argue about price, return often and tell their friends about how great you and your business are. You want as many of these “Ideal Customers” as possible and you also want to send any bad customers to your competition!
Determine Top Competitors
Determine who your top competitors will be for those specific target customers; who is already servicing them right now?
Study Top Competitors
Study those top competitors who are currently servicing the customers you want to win to deeply understand how they position themselves: what services they offer, what promises they make, what sort of value proposition they are currently bringing to the marketplace that is – for some important reason – winning over the customers that you want to win away from them.
Figure out how to clearly differentiate yourself from your competitors in a way that will raise the bar and recalibrate the customers’ expectations, and be sure that the way you differentiate yourself is of true of value to the customer – as defined by the customer, not by you.
The key formula here is: Valued Differentiation x Effective Execution
Community Advocates. Create strategic alliances with people in town who, by the nature of the businesses they are in, can become wonderful sources of referrals to you. You want to get as many people like this on your team as possible. You especially want to identify the top four or five “Opinion Leaders” who are the most influential sources of referrals for you so that you can get these very important individuals on your team, creating a constant stream of high-quality, targeted referrals that represent your Ideal Customer Profile.
Contemporaries. Also determine people that are in your direct area of competition – but that you do not want to compete against, and try to form strategic alliances with them so you can work together and be in co-opition instead of competition. I have a large network of other consultants and speakers who I admire, and when a client approaches me with a project that I do not feel I can absolutely deliver magnificently, I quickly refer them to someone who I believe will be able to do a better job than I. This makes the client happy and increases his or her respect for my integrity. Plus, I have now done a huge favor for someone else in the industry who will be looking to return that favor if they have the opportunity to do so in the future.
Identify “Moments of Truth”
Identify your key “Moments Of Truth” – the handful of key things that absolutely have to go right in order for you to be able to meet and exceed your customers’ expectations – and create processes to make sure that they are delivered flawlessly – yes, flawlessly – every single time. If you can determine this handful of key things that are most important to your customers and become the best in your market at delivering them consistently, you will win huge market share.
Establish a Top-Notch Brand
Establish a brand that represents a completely new level of service and changes the game in your competitive environment. Then, position your business in such a way that you alter the decision-making process for your Ideal Customers by creating a new way to compare your products and services to what is currently being offered in the marketplace. In other words, change the rules of the game.
Deliver Real Value
Position yourself as an expert, trusted advisor, partner and peer to your customers by continuously delivering to them REAL value and assistance in making their businesses better and more successful by making them look really good and delivering massive value to their customers. It is one of my very favorite Zig Zigler quotes, “If you just help enough other people get what they want, you’ll get everything you want.”
Be sure that every single time you do a superior job – and your customers tell you that you are fantastic – follow up instantly with a request for referrals. If they say you’re awesome, say “thank you, thank you, thank you,” and tell them that the very best way that they can thank you is to tell 10 other people about how fantastic you are and strongly recommend that they do business with you.
Communicate With Your Best Customers
Keep track of your best customers. Check in with them regularly – talk with them, ask questions and LISTEN. The best way to grow your business is to determine who your very best customers are…and turn them into your marketing department. Deliver GREAT products and service to them and get them to help you find more customers who are just like them.
Provide Value to Your Customers
The best way I have found to keep in touch with my top customers is to constantly look for information, ideas, articles, and blogs that they would find truly valuable, and then send them one about every two or three weeks with a note that says, “I just found this article and it made me think of you. I believe it has some information that will be of value to you and your business. Hope you’re doing great. Take good care, John.” I have a list of about 300 top customers that I try to send a note like that to at least every two weeks with something really interesting and of value that I know they will enjoy receiving.
Once you figure out what works best for you – what truly leads to gaining real market share and significantly increasing profitability – focus like crazy on that area and get better and better at it every day. Create the process and the system to ensure that you are bringing in new ideal clients, delivering great products and services, turning them into evangelists for your business, and then asking for more referrals. If you are working like crazy to constantly add value to your customers, then they will be more than happy to share your name with their friends and colleagues and introduce them to someone who’s going to do a great job for them, too. It is truly a virtuous cycle, and its success all depends on consistently delivering superior customer service and adding massive value to the clients you serve.
John Spence is the author of “Awesomely Simple – Essential Business Strategies for Turning Ideas into Action,” and been recognized as one of the top 100 business thought leaders in America and one of the country’s leading small business influencers.