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Thriving in a Difficult Economy?
In case you missed it, the last 3 years have been tough.  The stock market crash in ’08 and the weak economy since then have made staying in business a challenge.  So how then does a business actually thrive in such times?  Is there a secret?

Reston Limousine Figured It Out
In 2008 Reston Limo and Travel, a Virginia limo company, was seeking a way to remain viable and (hopefully) profitable.  Like many firms, Reston Limo and Travel needed more sales.  That’s when Kristina Bouweiri, the CEO decided to implement a novel idea. She started taking her best customers to lunch.

Client Appreciation Event — “Let’s Do Lunch!”
Kristina selected 250 clients whose past business suggested significant and profitable future opportunities.  These clients were then invited to a client appreciation luncheon to thank them for their past business.  To create urgency, only 50 people would be accommodated.  All seats were taken quickly.

Alliances Were Key
Once the luncheon was set, Kristina solicited other firms to help share the cost — in exchange for being a sponsor and gaining prestigious access to these top decision-makers.  Eventually, these sponsors promoted one another to their respective clientele — thus leveraging the  relationship capital inherent in the sponsors clientele.

Lessons Learned
One discovery was that ‘price’ was not a significant factor in determining which company would be hired.  However, ‘reliability‘, was.

Kristina also learned that different people in the same company hired a limo company independently of one another.  That prompted Kristina to find and support a ‘champion’ in each client company who would help raise awareness of and preference for her company within that client firm.

Valuable bonding with clients, marketing insights and aligned actions resulted from these luncheons.  So much so that they’ve become a monthly event for the last 2 years.  Why?  It’s WORKING!! . . .  to build relationships, revenues and profits for Reston Limousine and Travel.

KEY POINT:
A challenging economy demands a creative response . . . the more you involve your clients AND strategic alliances in your marketing, the better off you’ll be

Is there value in targeting a ‘niche’ instead of ‘anyone and everyone’?

Well, if a 2008 college drop-out can start a firm that caters to ‘moms’ who want / need financial advice and last month raised $19 million to help it launch a round of new products, then . . . YES!  Yes, finding a niche seems like a damned good if not a great idea.

Started by Alexa von Tobel, LearnVest is an online site that caters to the unique needs of women to learn and practice financial principles for the good of their family and themselves.

Alexa’s choice of a well-defined, geographically-diverse and significantly-sized market segment is brilliant.  The fact that many companies and financial planners are not already targeting this rather significant group of household decision-makers is rather surprising!

Providing an easily accessed, women-centric version of financial education through a variety of highly interactive tutorials, checklists and other tools in a ‘cozy yet professional’ website seems to have been a smart way to differentiate LearnVest from the myriad groups of planners who all seem rather vanilla to most of us.

KEY POINT:
Finding a niche that needs what you offer and others aren’t = Ka-Ching!

I don’t usually tout some company or person.  The implications are often misunderstood or taken to be an endorsement beyond what was intended.  But today, my first day back online and with power since early Sunday morning, I had a great experience with a Matthew Smith over at BigContacts.com.

I’m publishing my note to Bob Walton, Founder of the company because I hope it helps him and BigContacts.com.  But I really hope it enlightens you, my readers, about what ‘good service’ looks like and what it does for all the parties involved — the consumer, the company and the brand.  Enjoy:

To:  Bob Walton, Founder / BigContacts.com

I just had a great call with a Matthew Smith of your organization.  I had to recognize him as a super ‘Brand Ambassador’ for your company.  You’re very fortunate to have him making contact with people like me . . . a prospect for your organization.

Matthew’s responses to my questions were forthright, accurate and helpful.  But mostly, his attitude was most definitely customer-centric.  In a world where service is a lost art and a forgotten element of differentiation . . . Matthew Smith did you really, really proud today.  

I will be working more diligently to ‘test’ your system (kudos on your thoughtful website and design — most impressive, too!) and intend to reach a decision this week.  Not that it should make a difference, but if the other system I’m considering is ‘as good’ as your system, I will go with BigContacts because they don’t have Matthew Smith working for them.  

I may not have the good fortune to reconnect with Matthew again, but the fact that your management was smart enough to have him working for you in the first place tells me that you make ‘good decisions’ and that . . . is what makes all the difference in the world to a consumer like me.

Thank you . . . after surviving a couple of days without electricity, running water and limited ability to move around after our encounter with Hurricane Irene, speaking with Matthew was a true pleasure and a most thankful experience in the wake of a couple of really not-so-fun days of bad weather and no power.

Cordially,

Bill

Being crystal clear about WHAT your business does and WHO you serve is a key to attracting the interest and response of people who could do business with you.

A business is in one of 4 ‘Clarity Categories’ based on the mission and market it serves.

MERCENARY — this firm is focused entirely on providing its customers with anything they want but at the expense of what matters to the firm’s owners. Mercenary firms are ike the character whose coat reveals pens on one side while revealing watches on the other.  These firms do very well financially but they fail to fulfill the owners personal sense of purpose.

MARKETEER — this firm perfectly aligns both its mission and market.  It first finds and honors its mission and then finds the market that finds its mission attractive and affordable.  In the end, this is what we all aspire to be in our business . . . personally fulfilled in what we do and financially profitable for doing it, too.

KEY POINT:
Balancing your MISSION and MARKET . . . builds your business value

Being crystal clear about WHAT your business does and WHO you serve is a key factor in your ability to attract the interest and response of people who could do business with you.

Typically, that’s not common in businesses.  Consider how often you meet someone who tells you what they do and you’re still clueless about what they do and whether you (or someone you know) might benefit from their services.

A business is in one of 4 ‘Clarity Categories’ based on the mission and market it serves.

ZORBA — this firm is completely unclear about what it does and who might care.  When Zorba The Greek’s new boss asked, “What do you do, Zorba?”  Zorba replied, “Hey Boss Man I have 2 hands and 2 feet.  They do whatever they like.  Who am I to choose?”.  Unfortunately, a ‘Zorba’ business is a muddled business and suffers because of it. (Hope you don’t see yourself in this cataegory!)

MISSIONARY — this firm has ‘seen the light’ and is really clear about why it exists — it’s mission is well defined.  Problem is, the firm’s leaders haven’t identified the groups of people who would most likely understand, value and embrace the firm’s mission or ‘beneficial difference’.  A ‘Missionary’ business feels good about why it exists but without clarity on the market segments it can serve profitably, it hurts financially.

Tomorrow . . . we’ll touch on the remaining two:  the Mercenary and the Marketeer

KEY POINT:
Clarity in your MISSION and MARKET . . . is a beautiful thing

I don’t often tout a product.  Today’s an exception. 

I found a really cool little online service this week.  ContactMe. This cloud-based service makes it easy for people who find you online to contact you and it helps you manage your follow-up with them, as well.  Very nice little app — Check it out on the right side of the page!

I also found another service called “Notebook“.

This little app organizes all kinds of information that I find on websites, in emails, Word documents, etc. in a way that’s very intuitive and extremely easy to use.

Where’s The WOW Factor?
These apps exist because they solve problems. Period. And these apps are . . . FUN!

“Easy and Fun” Beats “Difficult and Complicated”
I’ve given up far more sophisticated CRM software because ‘hard-to-learn’ or ‘difficult to use’ is going to LOSE . . . every time.

Form and Function (Should!) Go Together 
Both these apps are GOOD LOOKING,  INTUITIVE and SIMPLE.  That’s not easy!   It takes a lot of thought to create something you can use easily and effectively without thinking about it.

Attitude
In the ContactMe blog there’s a post where they introduced an innovative change in their service.  They wrote, “You Asked.  We Listened.  We Delivered”.  That reflects their attitude of CARING for the relationships that make their business successful.  Do that for your business.  It is a beautiful thing to see.

KEY POINT:
Demonstrating you CARE about what matters to your client . . . is a competitive edge 

If you’re providing an intangible service, odds are the real  benefit of your services will not be enjoyed by your client until some time has passed.  You’re not selling ice cream cones that a client can buy and consume immediately.

That’s a problem.  Why?  Because it forces your prospective client to DELAY GRATIFICATION.  That’s not fun to do.  When people pay their money, they want their ‘ice cream’ … NOW!

It’s The Package
So what can you offer a prospect today that seems ‘real’ — even though you can’t deliver the real goods until some time in the future?  Simple.  A package. This is just a BUNDLE of your services that suggest the benefit your prospective client wants is likely to be enjoyed.

For example, we helped one client create a series of ‘packages’ that she describes in a one page format and each one addresses specific PAINS her target clients want to solve.  The mere fact that she has a package for a prospect’s problem communicates that she understands her prospect’s problem.  Her package also communicates that, while you may have to delay gratification, you’re more likely to enjoy it if you hire her than if you work with some other consultant who just says, “Yeah, trust me . . . we can help you”.

KEY POINT:
Packages make it easier to buy — and sell — your intangible services!

Recently, social media anchors LinkedIn and facebook have made the news.

LinkedIn went public with an IPO and within a month is trading at about 66% of what it sold for on day one.  But no doubt LinkedIn is happy as are the many people who own a piece of the dream as they say.

Meanwhile, facebook’s BranchOut — a competitive online networking service, has not been idle, either.  Actually, it has.  For the past 10 months, it wasn’t really attracting new users.  But, in just 2 weeks, utilization has soared. From 200,000 to almost 1,000,000 users.

WHY?  Simple.  BranchOut changed it’s user experience. Dropped the irrelevant bells and whistles.  Stuck to it’s core function — simple, elegant, professional networking.  Made it easier to use.  Form followed function. Simple elegance.  Elegantly simple.  The marketplace followed.  Amazing how ‘getting it right’ often results in ‘getting it done’.

KEY POINT:
Simplicity . . . that’s functional and valuable . . . sells!

I love the expression, “If you seek to be everything to everyone, you end up being special to no one”

So often we see marketing that promotes the firm or product or service more than what interests the very person that marketing is supposed to appeal to — the prospective client. Why is that? I suspect two things.

First, IGNORANCE.  If you don’t know what matters to your prospect, it’s pretty difficult to craft your marketing message around that . . . isn’t it?

Second, INDOLENCE.  It’s not difficult to survey your clients, learn what they want and how to best position yourself, your firm or brand against the competition.  Unfortunately, many people and firms don’t seem to care to do their homework.

Focus . . . means finding the ‘remarkable distinction’ that aligns what you do really well and your ideal clients really want.  Get that correct and your marketing will not only make sense, it will make you lots of money.

KEY POINT:
Narrow your focus . . . find your passion . . . leverage your position . . . build revenues

Are you FRUSTRATED by your prospects?
Are people just not ‘getting’ how fortunate they are to work with you? Do you find yourself compelled to sell the value you offer . . . a little harder than you like?

Maybe you’re appealing to the WRONG people. David Sandler, founder of Sandler Training used to say, “There are no bad prospects.  Only bad salespeople.  He was correct.

Marketing’s no different.  Your service is probably fine BUT . . . your targeting may be off.

You may be wondering, erroneously, “Is something wrong with my product or service?”. In fact, there may be nothing wrong at all.  Nothing, that is, except that you’re appealing to people who simply cannot understand, value and act upon the great value you’re offering.

KEY POINT:
If people aren’t appreciating what you do . . . change WHO you’re appealing to!