When you are thinking about starting a business, you have to go find customers.
You have to market research their buying habits, probably to a focus group to find out what, if anything their don’t like about the current offerings in the market, and generally embrace them.
You have to find out what media influences them to buy, if any (word of mouth still accounts for 70% of a customer’s decision to buy).
We have one client who is extremely customer focused, and they can’t keep up with demand. Their clients keep giving them more work. It doesn’t hurt that they’re in a rapidly growing industry, either.
We call it end to end customer centricity. Everybody in the organization has as their number one priority to focus on the customer. No one says ‘that’s not my job’, even after you become larger. Everybody takes messages for everybody and everybody answers the phone and emails.
Since most of economic activity is retail, through shops or online stores, we are going to focus on promotion methods that we have found work for retail.
As we said in the past chapter, most businesses focus on price.
That’s not necessarily wrong, if that’s what your customer perceived competition is doing. However, and this is where most companies make a mistake, you should focus on the other promotion elements that seem to be important to customers, such as on time delivery, your ability and friendliness in chasing orders, and service after the sale, even years after the sale. Even service products that you didn’t sell, because that’s one method of finding out what customers like or don’t like about the competing product.
What does the design of your products look like? Kind of average? Again, what do customers think of your designs? Do you even know? Apple, for example, uses its cool designs and ease of use to justify higher than normal prices for its products, and it doesn’t get stuck in commodity hell. Apple also tends to hide its pricing by using bundles of its products with associated services, such as Apple Pay and Apple Wallet (but I have yet to see compelling reasons to put either one of them on my phone, but then I don’t want any of my bank information disclosed on anyone’s network. Just sayin’.
All the other computer makers (Dell, Samsung, Lenovo for example) compete on price on phones, or hide their pricing in deals. They’re sort of stuck in a zero sum game, or a game growing the growth of the economy.
At the outset, you want to figure out how you’re going to grow at some multiple of overall economic growth.
And, at the outset, you need to ask your future customers if they want or need your product. Wants put you in the Apple camp, needs are less strong. If customers are indifferent to either a want or a need, then you might want to rethink your idea. You can also ask the prospective customers if there is a product out there that they would like to see you produce.
To give you an idea, in my first company we were struggling with polished chrome exhaust parts: although if we did it right, they looked beautiful, were expensive, prone to damage in production, and had a tendency to walk out the door. Our sales of them were doing well, because we were the low cost producer, but the problems persisted. So, we were noodling around these various problems one Friday afternoon, and our chrome manager said he could do a nickel alloy at less cost that would have 80% of the appearance. So he produced a few parts, we shipped them to key distributors, and the response was off the charts good.
So, be thinking about what you could do that would be similarly disruptive. Your customers should view your product as a want or need, which will make your promotion job easier.
I’m continually surprised at how many companies don’t make it easy to do business with them, either because you can’t reach out and touch them by telephone or email. My wife and I went out to dinner recently at a fish restaurant we’d never seen before and found the prices reasonable and the food excellent. Despite being only two or three months in their location, the place was packed on a Saturday night. It seems like they’re doing most everything right by their customers. Interestingly, the restaurant chain is based in Ventura, not Phoenix.
Maybe you’ve got a bad location. My restaurant had a bad location, which we netralized through excellent word of mouth, but it took three years and $150,000 of losses to get there. Think how you can neutralize a bad location: The magic of the internet or delivery is one help, but poor delivery might mess up your service.
One of the things that I discovered when working for Ford, and still discover is the lack of customer focus by many of the Ford dealers. Ford can preach it, but it doesn’t mean the dealers will do it.
One of the things I’ve always done on my own companies, and frequently advised by CEO clients to do is call into their own companies and test their customer centricity and how easy it is to do business with their companies. The results are often eye opening.
If you are really customer focused, you should have very good word of mouth referrals, which should be about 70% of your business, maybe less in early years, or when you’re rapidly growing.
In the final analysis, your customers will tell you if you’re customer centric, as long as you ask them once in a while.