24 Ways To Change With The Times And Build Sales


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Just when we think we've grasped what's happening in business, something changes to disrupt the precarious balance. It may occur in the economy, an industry, a region, a particular market, or technology that alters even the most flexible business plan.


Establishing a strategy, then staying with it, was possible for most businesses until the last decade. Planning a year or more in advance was relatively easy. Ups and downs would occur but with a high degree of predictability. Hitting sales and revenue targets was almost a natural outcome.


Today, dramatic changes in technology, international conditions, and distribution channels are constantly upsetting the balance. Banks are looking more like insurance agencies and insurance agencies are developing characteristics of a bank.


A business can cope with a marketplace where erratic conditions are the norm by adopting a strategy that adjusts to constant change. Disruptions during the transformation need not repel customers while these 24 practical ideas for redesigning a business to thrive in a changing marketplace are implemented:


1. SURPRISE THE PROSPECTS: Getting attention isn't easy, particularly amid all the clutter and competition. Agencies must be innovative and dramatic. For example, one insurance agency's phone rang off the hook after it offered to buy small contractors 'the biggest steak dinner in town' if it couldn't save them money on their Business insurance.


2. TARGET THE RIGHT PERSON: The big job in marketing and sales is getting to the right people inside a company. Addressing mail to the facilities manager or printing a routing on the outside of the envelope doesn't work. The primary target is contact with the right individuals. Developing a dead-eye aim is essential for sales.


3. BE MORE CREATIVE: If your direct mail isn't working, ask yourself whether a prospect will bother to read your pitch. Also ask this question about the company newsletter. A highly creative approach costs more but improves your chances of getting noticed.


4. FOCUS ON WHAT CUSTOMERS CARE ABOUT: After listening to the admissions director talk about what should be shown in the school's new recruiting video, the marketing consultant asked, 'Is this what parents and prospective students are interested in knowing?' Confidence sank until somebody proposed that the school ask student tour guides what parents and high school seniors ask them when they visit the campus. Whether creating an ad, a brochure, or a sales presentation, knowing what the customer wants, needs and expects is what works.


5. TELL CUSTOMERS HOW TO THINK ABOUT YOUR COMPANY: We reach conclusions by making comparisons. If you don't let customers and prospects know why it is in their best interests to do business with you or buy your product, they won't. The rating of Life insurance companies makes an impact on customers. The J.D. Powers' customer satisfaction survey on cars and personal computer manufacturers influences buying behavior. Wise companies spend time and effort consciously influencing the way they are perceived by customers, prospects, bankers and stockholders.


6. MAKE YOUR OFFERS OUTSTANDING: Customers are cautious and do not like to be lured into a mistake. Offers that provide reassurance work best. 'Try it for 30 days...free.' 'We won't deposit your credit card slip for a month.' 'Your satisfaction is guaranteed.' 'Take the car for the weekend and drive it all you want.' The goal is to overcome the customer's initial reticence.


7. BE IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME: 'Why didn't I think of you last week when we bought the new... ' Some salespeople simply shrug off such comments. 'Oh, well. I can't be in the right place every time.' They deny the sales representative's primary goal of being in front of the customer, but developing a consistent program for staying in front of customers regularly is a challenge. A mix of seminars, newsletters, bulletins, fact sheets, special events and informative articles will keep you in the customer's mind.


8. NAME YOUR PRODUCT OR SERVICE: You can differentiate your products or services from all the rest by giving them distinctive names. A building contractor with expertise in remodeling during off-hours calls himself the 'stealth' remodeler. A fuel oil dealer doesn't talk about service- he emphasizes 'ComfortCare Service.' The mission is to distinguish your product or service from your competitors by having customers identify your solution to their problems as more dynamic. Make sure, however, that the name you choose appeals to your customers, and not just to you.


9. BE RELENTLESS: Persistence is power in marketing and sales. Far too many firms fail because they don't follow through long enough to produce proper results. Marketing momentum comes from a consistent effort. Once you start a newsletter, issue it on schedule. It takes time for customers to comprehend what you are doing and for prospects to get acquainted with a business.


10. GET RID OF THE SELF-SERVING NONSENSE: Most company publications, ads, letters, brochures, and other sales materials are filled with words, photographs, and information that do nothing more than toot the company's horn. No one cares that the business says it is the 'best,' 'oldest,' or the 'biggest.' Pictures of the staff are only interesting to the staff. A better approach is to ask prospects what they want to know about your company.


11. TELL THEM EVERYTHING YOU KNOW: Today's customers want information, knowledge, and helpful ideas. You should try to share everything you know to become a valued resource to your customers. The people who use your ideas will buy what you sell.


12. BE GENEROUS: Buy a new car and the dealer hands you a 29-cent plastic key holder! This dealer obviously doesn't understand his customers. You may forget the car, but you will never forget the lousy key ring! Another auto dealer delivers the new car to your office. Here's a dealer who sends a powerful message-our customers are important.


13. MAKE PROSPECT IDENTIFICATION YOUR MISSION : Identifying prospects is an agency's most important task. A steady flow of sales leads comes from continuous prospecting. This is how an agency identifies its model clientele. All prospects should be entered into a database, and can then be cultivated over a period of time.


14. SCRUTINIZE YOUR CORPORATE IDENTITY: People recognize your company by its corporate identity the same way they recognize you by your face. How appropriate is your logo, and is it dated? Are your company colors a throwback from the '50s? Do the letterhead, mailing labels and business cards convey a strong, positive message? Or, are they dull and ordinary looking?


15. WRITE CUSTOMER-CENTERED LETTERS: Most business letters are cold, impersonal, and wordy. 'As per our conversation...' 'Pursuant to our agreement...' 'In lieu of a contract...' Only lawyers speak this way. Yet put a pen in an executive's hand and read some stilted prose. Business letters can be warm, friendly, conversational, interesting-and customer-centered. Write for the reader. A letter might end on page six if that's what it takes to tell your story. Length is not as important as making your letters interesting.


16. DEVELOP THE FINE ART OF FACETING: Like diamonds, it's the facets that give a business sparkle and appeal. Find different ways to tell your story and look for new, unique angles or facets of the business, product, or service. Dazzling customers takes effort, but it's essential to develop and sustain customer interest. Nothing is easier to ignore faster than a boring business.


17. FOCUS ON WHY CUSTOMERS SHOULD BREAK DOWN THE DOORS TO DO BUSINESS WITH YOU: What distinguishes your agency from others? And why should customers choose you over them? Forget such trite answers as, 'we give great service' or 'we've been in business for 63 years.' Dig deeper and find the valid reasons why you deserve the customers' business.


18. DEVELOP A SENSE OF EXCITEMENT: Urgency spurs action. Boost sales by letting the customer know that immediate action is imperative. Create curiosity about your company's next move. This is the light that draws the customers toward a business.


19. TELL THE STORY ONE PIECE AT A TIME: Don't cram all the details about your firm into a single ad or newsletter. Break your ideas down into their component parts, and then roll out a continuing, intriguing campaign. Stretching a message over a period of time allows your story to gradually sink in.


20. MAKE YOUR MARKETING MATCH YOUR BUSINESS: Review your marketing materials carefully. Do your brochures and sales sheets describe a first-class organization? What improvements can be made? How can the company's image be sharpened? The answers to these questions will point you in the right direction.


21. PERSONALIZE YOUR COMMUNICATIONS: Greetings like 'Dear Friend,' 'Dear Customer,' or 'Dear Valued Customer' are obsolete. Don't ever post a letter that isn't personalized with an individual's name. Personal touches make customers and prospects feel you actually know who they are, and that you're talking directly to them.


22. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF TESTIMONIALS: Testimonials enhance a company's position in the marketplace. Ask your favorite customers for comments that will publicize your company's incredible service. Some customers may lack experience in expressing themselves and may feel that you will be disappointed with their comments. Interview your customers to assure them of your appreciation and allow you to filter out the most favorable comments.


23. GIVE YOUR CUSTOMERS THE OPPORTUNITY TO RESPOND: Getting your message into the marketplace is important. Discover what's on the customers' minds by encouraging them to request additional information, to state a question, or request a sample.


24. MAKE MARKETING YOUR BUSINESS MISSION : Regretfully, marketing often becomes a business priority only when sales fall. Communicating the company's message is an ongoing process, and the challenge is to develop new and interesting ways to get the message across. Create an atmosphere that inspires people to want to do business with you-instead of someone else.


Your company will benefit from these 24 ways regardless of the state of the economy. Comprehensive, quality service isn't enough in today's marketplace. The 24 ways help create an environment that supports your products.


John R. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm. Mr. Graham is the author of The New Magnet Marketing and of 203 Ways to Be Supremely Successful in the New World of Selling. He can be contacted at

40 Oval Rd. , QuincyMA  02170  (617) 328-0069, fax (617) 471-1504, e-mail [email protected], or visit www.grahamcomm.com.
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