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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 29, 2003 18 years ago

Woo Customers, Increase Business

Lou Lasday, an independent marketing adviser who resides on Longboat Key, creates action-oriented Strategic Corporate Initiatives for emerging companies.

There are really only three ways to increase your gross sales volume. This striking thought may be in contrast to the volumes of widely acclaimed "how to" books, lectures and traveling seminars you might have read, attended or dozed through. Without the puff of rhyming lines or hype of witticism, here they are. By concentrating on these three dynamic dictums, and not being dissuaded by well-meaning associates who have their own laundry list of how to have more business, every good idea will fall within these three basic areas:

Have more customers. Have your customers shop more often. Have your customers buy more when they come in. Now, how do we accomplish this?

Almost all middle market entrepreneurs are learning that in today's marketplace, they usually can't beat the price structure or the voluminous selection offered by the chains or the mega-stores. And, if you're a service professional with a small staff, competing against a large professional organization with a reasonable price structure, what are you to do?

For starters, selling on price alone is always a disaster. The one truly efficient roadway to compete with the big boys is to build "customer loyalty" and the one true roadmap to building loyalty is to travel the total road to "customer satisfaction."

Each one of us is naturally a customer for a multitude of products and services. We pick and choose where we buy. For the most part, we are satisfied with a particular group of service providers. The big question is, "Are we loyal to that particular group and would we ever become advocates for them?" The challenge for the business owner is to convert prospects to customers, customers to loyal patrons and loyal patrons to advocates. That's the group that will champion our cause and their buying experience to others.

Have your group concentrate on this concept; find ways to make customers and clients feel special. Get up close and personal. Realize that an advocate is like a publicity agent running around town saying great things about your business. Imagine the geometric effect of 10 or 100 or 1,000 such advocates. This word-of-mouth advertising will surely drive your customer count up, have customers buy more and more often.

One thing is certain. Customer service is critical to success after you advertise or communicate the quality, selection, value and price of your offering. The problem here, however, is that customer service is now so main staged and upfront in the marketing cycle, it is no longer back ended as a follow-through after the sale. It is, in an increasing percentage of the selling scene, an expected series of events. It may bring the customer in, but it is satisfaction that will bring him back.

Customer satisfaction is the earned evaluation you are seeking based upon your total performance in a sales encounter. It is not just delivering what you promise. It is delivering more than you promise. It is not meeting expectations. It is exceeding expectations. It is delivering excellence.

It is having all paperwork in hand with no surprises at your real estate closing. It is delivering the deli tray on time with perhaps a free batch of special chocolate cookies. It is the waiting room nurse getting up from behind her desk to tell you there's less than a five-minute wait. It is the banker asking you if you'd like a copy of the paperwork couriered to the lawyer or, the lawyer asking if you'd like that extra copy. It's that extra little step that puts you one giant step closer to ultimate customer satisfaction.

Customer satisfaction is the key to keeping your selling investment profitable. It is making customers so happy with your performance that they become advocates for you - vocal recommenders to introduce others to your product or service. In reality that's probably one customer out of five if you're fairly entrenched in your market segment.

Consider the fact that national figures show also that one out of five will not come back because of a less than desirable buying experience. Then, consider the percentage who do not return because they move, they die, they merge, they shop around, they life change, they turn left instead of right.

You'll agree that it's far easier to sell more to an existing customer on a "life-value" basis than it is to constantly invest time and money to seek, solicit, present, sell and close a new customer.

To advance your selling efforts as stated in the three dynamic dictums, and in truth, to maintain your position, you'll need 20/20 vision. Have the vision to cut down the "wandering" 20 percent who will leave you this year because they leave the market or are not satisfied. Have the vision to add to the 20 percent of your well-satisfied customers who are your advocates.

Author Barry Urquhart in his best selling book "Serves You Right," adds to the point that successful business people who have a formal plan for adding to their business, have an overriding degree of pride in their work. The word "pride" he says stands for "Personal Responsibility in Delivering Excellence."

Not just in service. But in satisfaction.

Lou Lasday, an independent marketing adviser who resides on Longboat Key, creates action-oriented Strategic Corporate Initiatives for emerging companies.

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