Posted: Fri 28th Sep 2012
This week: Denise Parker of new social customer support software company Casengo offers five tips for being number one in a niche marketplace; and we discover that Enterprise Nation readers are confident about their strategic thinking and not so confident about their sales ability.
How to be number one in a small market
Every business, large or small, should stay true to its market, writes Denise Parker of Casengo. If all your business planning, marketing and service orientation is based on forever being number one in that same small market, you won't ever go wrong. Staying true to your small market will build brand equity over time and organic growth is the logical consequence. Chasing customer numbers by attempting to be too many things to too many people will simply undermine your brand. Yahoo is an example of a company that, through diversification and acquisition, chased large scale growth and is now lacking clear strategic direction. By contrast, Google perfected its search platform and by securing the search market is now offering related services to an already engaged customer base. Or consider Avon Cosmetics as a fine example of a brand staying true to its foundations: 125 years in business and still the clear leader of direct cosmetic sales in the massive cosmetics market.
But how do you become number one in your small market?
Whether you want to be the next Google or just a successful small business, these five tips will help you retain customers, fend off competition and expand your customer base.
1. Create a brand identity - and be true to it.
Your brand's personality is intrinsic to your sales proposition. When consumers relate to your brand's identity and values, they become brand advocates for life. To customers who can't relate to you, you're just another company trying to sell them something. So live your brand. Breathe it.
2. Find your evangelists.
Word of mouth recommendations matter more to consumers than a 30-second television commercial. Social media has simplified the process of finding your evangelists enormously. Your evangelists are the people writing on your Facebook wall and tweeting about you. Give them reasons and mechanisms to spread the word across their social networks.
3. Emphasise what makes you different. Don't get sidetracked copying the competition.
It's a features and benefits war. You may think you need to counteract your competition with product enhancements and extensions of product lines or services - but if you're not playing to your strengths, you're sending yourself down a path of failure.
4. Set expectations and create the infrastructure to support them.
The degree of customer satisfaction is relative to the customer's expectations. Companies are often guilty of over-promising, misleading advertising and inaccurate branding in an attempt to win customers. It may pay off initially with one-time transactions, but any chance of customer loyalty has been lost, and it's likely your brand's reputation has been compromised, too. Consumers appreciate honesty.
5. Be accessible and be consistent.
Customer service is a key differentiator in today's global market. Responsive service that not only accurately resolves the issue, but also reflects the brand's identity, will impart the right impression and keep your customers coming back. Service is about convenience to the customer. If you've taken every step to implement the first four points, poor service will take the shine off your brand every time. Even if you're a small business, being accessible by phone, chat, email and social media - and showing a genuine interest in your customers' needs - will keep you at the top of the leaders' board. Denise Parker is responsible for marketing at Casengo, a new social customer support software in the cloud. You can register as a beta tester for Casengo by leaving your email address at www.casengo.com. Photo credit: Andre Chinn
EN readers: good at strategy, not so good at sales
Last week, we asked you to rate your ability at five business skills: sales, marketing, financial management, strategic thinking and managing people. The survey was based on one run by time management trainers Time Effective. Though our poll wasn't as large (or as rigorous) as theirs, the results were similar. Half of our respondents identified strategic thinking as their greatest strength, followed by managing people (40%). Your biggest weakness, you told us, is sales (40%), followed by financial management (30%) and - interestingly - managing people again (30%). This means managing people is both a strength and a weakness for Enterprise Nation readers! We also asked what you considered to be the most important skill for a small business-owner. Here's a selection of your thoughts:
"Creative thinking: you can't always do things the way that big businesses would do things and often things happen very quickly, so being able to think around problems in creative and unexpected ways can help make you stand out from the crowd. That and ceaseless energy!"
"Communication and tailor-made services for the client/customer."
"Knowing when to say NO to yourself and/or to the prospect."
"To have vision, passion and belief in what you do and be able to inspire others with this. You also need to good at managing money and cashflow."
Well said! Thanks for taking part in our short survey - we'll have another one soon. Photo credit: Jokull Solberg
Contribute to Independent's Day
**Independent's Day every Friday on Enterprise Nation is intended to be by small businesses for small businesses. We'd love you to send us your contributions. ** So if you have tips, advice, comments and insights from your own experience of running a small enterprise to share, please use the button below to send them to us. Whether it's something you've learned about customer service, a time-saving tool you've discovered or a great sales technique you employ - if it's useful, pass it on! All we ask is that your contributions are relevant to other small enterprises and not self-promotional - Independent's Day is about sharing, not selling. Oh, and if you try to keep it to around 300 words or so, that will mean we can feature more of your contributions each week!