Here’s a simple fact; customer needs are different to customers wants. You know that, I know that, we all know that. So why even bring it up? This week I want to put this thinking under the magnifying glass for a moment as a way of introducing a discussion about identifying your core customers – and their desires.
Desire, of course, is just another word for want, maybe with a bit more passion stirred in. Desire is that thing that takes hold of you and attracts you irresistibly to a member of the opposite (or heck, the same…) sex and draws you towards them with a power that’s beyond all logic. It might be perfectly obvious to anyone with their brain switched on that the individual your desire is focused on will be bad for you, but then desire isn’t focused on cold logic. Desire unscrews the top of our heads and slam-dunks our brains into the nearest bin. When desire takes over, the brain is little more than a speed hump.
What I’m getting to here is that as a small business selling a product or service, you are often catering to a need. However, sometimes you are also catering to a desire. Do you know which one you’re aiming for? More to the point, if you could engineer that transition from plain old need to rampant desire, would you? Of course you would. And if you’re going to go for desire, that is going to mean taking everything about your business and ensuring that it is absolutely fresh. That’s easy to say, but not exactly a walk in the park to do, especially if you’ve been in business for awhile. Stepping back and getting some objectivity can be a real challenge.
Staying fresh and appealing doesn’t always mean spending a lot of money, but what it does mean is carefully setting the tone of what your business does best. Once you have set that tone, you can compare the competencies that are at the core of your business to new opportunities in the marketplace. ‘Setting the tone’ will also mean that you can very confidently communicate what your company is all about. All of this – this definition – can help to keep your business thriving in a market that changes constantly.
Here are some tips to help you navigate, and some aspects to look at as you strive to get fresh with your business;
Get your products and services right.
How do your sales figures compare to those of similar companies active within your industry? Keep an eye out for changes in customer tastes that could lead to differing demands in services or products you offer now, or are considering offering. How are demands trending for your core products, the real bread and butter stuff? Staying in touch with these trends is as important as trying hard to predict growing demands for new products or services. If demand is there and you can comfortably offer new products with all your business strengths and weaknesses taken into account, yours might just be the business to get in at the leading edge of what could be tomorrow’s core product – the ‘next big thing’ if you will.
What you sell…and where you sell it.
If you sell products out of a conventional store, ask yourself how much more investment and effort might be involved in selling online or via catalogues. Sure, it might be out of your comfort zone, but there are plenty of success stories that have grown from modest online sales portals to e-businesses that outsell their storefront equivalents.
Image is (nearly) everything.
We find ourselves back at that point of ‘desire’ once again. Does your brand and business image simply reflect what you are? If so, should you instead be reflecting what you’d like your customers to feel that you are – or even how they feel about themselves? It’s worth staying up late on this one, because it can make all the difference. Consider those core competencies of yours carefully, and prepare to set the tone – perhaps the tone of what you are, but maybe the tone of what you or even your customers wish to be. If this sounds like big business bullshit, it isn’t. It’s what’s taken more than a few small businesses and helped evolve them into big businesses! Consider every aspect of your brand;
- Customer service – base your customer service on what your customers expect, remembering to be realistic. This is an important part of ‘setting the tone.’
- Marketing – be sure that your ‘look’ and brand personality is reflected in everything from your TV ads to your catalogues, flyers and online presence. A lack of consistency across media only makes customers feel lost and confused about the messages you’re sending.
- Product or service backup – while mega-businesses may not offer product returns without proof of purchase, customers have different expectations of smaller business. Are you offering the ‘personalised’ service your customers expect?
- Your people – I’ve touched on this before, but if even one of your employees doesn’t understand or worse, doesn’t accept the tone that’s at the core of your business, you are in trouble. And by contrast, there’s nothing quite like stepping into a small business where everyone’s singing the same piece of music. You can feel it. The business feels alive, vibrant and positive; people are united in a purpose that they all understand.
I hope this has been helpful. Of course poking around, working out what really makes your business tick, then setting the tone and keeping it fresh, almost always leads to change. But hell, business is change, after all. The way I see it, you can choose to tread water and stand still as the market changes around you. That’s a sad parade that normally forces change on your business – change like downsizing and rationalizing! Or you can be proactive (I know, I hate that word too, but it’s apt in this context) and make positive changes happen yourself. Go on, be brave and get into it. Business is so much more exciting when there’s some desire involved.
To your week in business and the discoveries it can bring.