Valentine’s Day is a tough time for the lovelorn, and many single souls will be considering the world of online dating amid all of this week’s talk of hearts and flowers. But the rules of attraction apply in business as much as they do in the romantic world. Most business owners spend all year worrying about finding the perfect match – that being new customers who will fall for their company, and prove loyal to it. And attracting these fickle clients requires bosses asking themselves many of the same questions as those filling out internet matchmaking profiles. Who is the right person? Where are they? Why might they want me? Fundamentally, can a company ever make a stranger fall in love, and become a long-term customer?
Who are you looking for?
Everyone has an idea of their perfect partner, and SMEs can be just as unrealistic – or misled – in their beliefs as many of those who are unlucky in love. Knowing who your current customers are will tell you a lot about where future opportunities might lie. This involves market research into your present client base. This exercise might reveal you’re missing an obvious opportunity, such as selling more online or marketing to a particular demographic. Recognising your target market is the first step towards tapping into it.
- What groups do your customers fall into by age, gender, geography, income, and – if they’re business customers – industry? Are you marketing to these groups collectively, or are you using different promotional approaches, and marketing channels? You might even need to adjust your pricing policy where appropriate.
- How do customers reach your products or services? Are you operating from a physical base with a limited local market? It could be that you might tap into opportunities further afield through other distribution networks, or even think about exporting. Could there be a demand for what you have to offer via the internet or social media?
The Market Research Society is a good place to start looking for advice and tips on how to find out more about your customers. Trade fairs, and professional networks can be another useful source of finding potential leads. And your own website contains a lot of information about who’s interested in what you do. Look at its analytics to get an idea of what people like, how they use what’s on offer, and the things they’re less keen on.
What have you got to offer?
It’s difficult to take a hard look in the mirror, and be critical about yourself. But, if you want to swell your customer numbers, it’s important to consider what might prove to be a magnet – or a repellent.
There are a number of classic ways to reach more people, and potentially grow your business.
- Take your existing product or service, and sell it to a new set of customers or unexploited market.
- Market things that you already sell to existing customers who aren’t currently buying them.
- Extend your range by developing a new item or offering that may be of interest to current customers, as well as those who are unfamiliar with your company at present.
Again, your current customers could be useful here. Conducting market research with them to see what more they might want, or why they’re not taking advantage of everything you currently offer may highlight other areas where you could be making sales. Using social media is another obvious, and very useful way to elicit a response to questions from a broader, more diverse audience.
Just as the internet has transformed the dating scene, social media has altered how businesses sell themselves. It’s the marketing tool to beat all others – Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, and other online platforms are giving small business owners access to current and potential customers all over the world in a way that’s never been seen before, as we’ve highlighted on this blog in the past.
Yet, too many SMEs – particularly the smallest firms – have yet to fully embrace the possibilities of social media in terms of winning new business. Only one in four micro enterprises already using social sites think they’re ‘important’ to business growth, preferring word-of-mouth referrals instead, according to Bibby Financial Services. The truth is they’re missing an enormous opportunity.
- Tell a story. Whichever social media platform you opt to use, use it wisely. This means putting up sufficient amounts of content, without filling your feed with irrelevance. But also talk to your customers, and casual browsers – your possible future customers. Invite questions, and be quick to respond. You may not always like what you hear, but you’ll learn a lot about the people you’re selling to, and those you might in the weeks and months to come.
- Paint a picture. Instagram is now officially more popular than Twitter, having more than 300 million users every month. It’s a great marketing opportunity for small firms with a visual story to tell, as we’ve discussed on this blog before. Images can be a powerful way to build your brand, increase sales, and attract new interest.
What makes you uniquely attractive?
Most people want to stand out from the crowd. And, if you’re providing something that no one else is, then you’re far more likely to attract attention than businesses operating in a crowded field. Developing innovative products or services can set you apart from the competition, and create a buzz around your brand. Small can genuinely be beautiful. You can’t be all things to all people – so specialise, and make that smaller size a merit, promoting your expertise.
Alternatively, spotting a trend early on and being in the first wave of companies to exploit it gives a business a head start in terms of winning customers. Small companies have the merit of being agile, so they can take advantage of such shifts in behaviour. Be responsive to changes in customer attitudes, and desires – and make changes quickly at the same time as letting the world know what you’re doing.
While you’re on the look-out for all of these eye-catching new contacts, spare a thought for those you have already. Don’t neglect your existing relationships in favour of those that may – or may not – yield results. It’s always said that it’s more expensive to sell to new clients than to existing ones. Loyal customers might also recommend you to other professional contacts, and prove a route to new business. So, nurture your current customer base, and find new ways to market yourself to your regulars. They’re the ones who pay your bills, after all, so keep giving current customers what they want, but strive to improve upon your offering, too. Essentially, everyone wants to feel loved, so spread the good feeling this Valentine’s Day – and the rest of the year, too.