Dismal economic news sends shivers of fear throughout the business world. When sales and dollars dwindle, many business owners and managers have a tendency to circle the wagons and plot ways to defend declining profits. But the secret of success during challenging times is pushing forward: strengthening markets, creatively retooling sales efforts, and exploring new opportunities using the latest technology.
Want to face challenging times head-on? Here’s how:
Add fire to your customer service. Begin just one powerful new service practice that leaves your customers in awe. Maybe it’s a personal “concierge” service once a week. Or instant delivery on certain products. Or just asking about customers’ needs whenever you’re in contact.
Blog it. Talk about yourself and your approach to business in one of the newest and most powerful promotional tools ever to hit mankind—the blog. If you keep it interesting, customers will come.
Brag. When something great happens—an award, a compliment, an industry honor—shout it in the media, your windows and display area, and anywhere customers gather.
Bounce around. “Bounceback” coupons give customers an incentive to return. Give a bounceback after every order. Better yet, arrange with noncompeting sellers to offer reciprocal bouncebacks, and expand your buying audiences.
Build star power. Make your customers your “stars.” Let them speak about the value and quality of your products and services through advertising testimonials and online case studies.
Comment, comment, comment. Figure out where your customers hang out online. Check these bulletin boards, blogs and discussion groups regularly—and add comments whenever you can. The result: Your name gets known.
Connect. Set up your own social networking site. Most are free, and most provide you with ready-made templates to get up and running quickly. Even if your sales originate locally, you might find networking sites bringing you powerful publicity and links.
Dangle a carrot. Offer customers or clients an incentive for referrals, leads or assistance in developing new business.
Get a facelift. What can you do to freshen up your look and attract customer attention? A new paint job on your physical location? A powerful new graphic look on your Website? Appearances can be sales boosters.
Get by with a little help from your friends. Ask your friends, employees and colleagues to publicize major sales initiatives. And let them know you’re looking for new business.
Give away free stuff. Some possibilities: samples, training, educational booklets. In cash-tight times, customers notice and remember this.
Give the world a piece of your mind. Let your customers—or the general public—know what you’re thinking about. Write an op-ed for the local newspaper. Post a column in your community. Or if you sell to the trade, state your views in your trade periodicals and websites.
Go digital. Conventional media advertising can be expensive, but digital can be less so. So ask yourself: Can you generate email ads? Promote yourself on complementary websites? Buy search engine spots? If the answer is “yes,” you can probably triple your advertising volume while dramatically lowering expense.
Help save or make a buck. If you can show your customers how to make or save money with your product line, do it. You’ll stand out in economically challenging times.
Join. Sign up for a few online groups where customers and opinion leaders share ideas. Listen and learn. And catch the names of people who might become future customers.
Let your questions do the talking. Most people like to give advice. Ask customers and prospects what they think at every step of the way.
Link up. Ask customers and colleagues to add your website name and URL to their personal and professional sites. And ask them to bookmark your site.
Look for double duty. Turn your bills, statements, correspondence, stationery and email messages into sales tools. Insert a line or two of promotion power, or include new product link information.
Reward the people who count. Think bonuses, incentives and discounts to anyone who can help you build business: your employees, customers, vendors, even colleagues in other fields.
Say thanks. Your gesture of appreciation will remind your clients of the importance of your business relationship, and set the stage for greater things to come.
Speak out. If you have the chance to talk before a civic or religious club, take it. And every chance you get, talk in public about yourself and what you offer.
Shoot. Shoot some video—perhaps some action shots featuring yourself or your products, or some other informative but fast-moving footage. Post it on one of the public internet sites, and let the world know you’re out there. And remember: The most engaging promotional video is often informal and unrehearsed.
Stay fresh. In challenging times, your online presence is more important than ever. So invest time keeping your website content new and exciting. Post information and images your customers really care about, and they’ll keep coming back.
Take to the streets. Where do your customers gather? Establish a presence there.
Turn your customers into a group, or your group into a crowd. To stay connected to your customers and prospects, start your own online discussion group. For a cost of zero and a relatively small investment of time, you can give customers the opportunity to post and discuss relevant topics, ask questions and share ideas—all under your guidance.
Yell for help. Want to figure out how to build more business? Ask. Include comment cards with purchases. Moderate a focus group. Or conduct a survey using one of the free survey utilities available on the internet. The information you glean may be priceless.