Today, most businesses are scrambling to hold onto customers and market share. Some are succeeding; some aren't. What makes the biggest difference?
According to marketing guru Maribeth Kuzmeski, the single most important thing setting successful business owners apart is their ability to connect. "If you can build strong relationships and connect with your customers, you will get your piece of the proverbial pie," says Kuzmeski. "If you can't, you'll be scrambling for crumbs."
So how do you avoid having to grub for the leftovers? Gather your strategies and tactics and start changing the way you work. Even if you're a "lone wolf" type, the idea is to forge better business relationships and a network of colleagues and contacts who will stick with you. "And best of all they will voluntarily recommend your services to others," says Kuzmeski. If you're ready to ramp it up, here are some tactics that can start getting you immediate results:
1. Make a priority plan: Sometimes business relationships happen naturally over time. But mostly they're built. Don't worry if you're not a "people person." That's not important. It's not about charm, says Kuzmeski. It's about being aware of the relationships you are forming. Start with categories of people who are important to your success: clients, vendors and colleagues. Then move on to listing specific individuals in those categories and some ideas for connecting with each of them.
2. Don't just network. Work with your network. Technology has made networking seem almost too easy. Social media tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter let anyone create a giant web of business relationships. But that can be an illusion. Like a dusty Rolodex that never got opened, a large online "network" doesn't do you much good just sitting there. In order to truly leverage the business connections you make, you've got to put in some effort.
3. Keep in touch. Try these strategies:
- Meeting follow-up: Have a system for following up after a meeting, call, or contact with an individual or a business. This could be a handwritten note, an email, a phone call, or social media contact.
- Periodic individual contact: Initiate connections periodically with people on your list to stay in touch and maintain the relationship.
- Communication campaigns: Target a subgroup within your network (clients, prospects, etc.) whenever you have something you particularly want them to know.
4. Make it personal: When you meet with a customer or client, resist the urge to make it all about your product or service. You're there to talk about the client and what's important to them. When you are only focused on selling something, the meeting is all about you.
Instead of merely extolling the virtues of your product (which, by the way, implies the prospect chose badly in the past), find out what's important to them. Ask questions and actively listen to what they want. Try to understand where they are coming from as completely as you can.
5. Be "referable." If you want others to send referrals, first make yourself "referable." If clients aren't recommending you, it may be a disconnect between you and your clients. Try developing a "Client Delight Survey," suggests Kuzmeski. This should cover every detail of the client's experience.
"Ask about their perception of quality of communication, time spent on the project, response to setbacks, willingness to go the extra mile, and what stood out. It sounds simple, but if you take this feedback to heart, you'll gain awareness of directions you can take for increasing referrals. Moreover, your clients will feel that you've taken time to form a relationship with them, and they'll want to tell everyone else about how unique you are."
6. Remember it's not about you: That's hard to do. The urge to look out for Number One can be overwhelming when business success is at stake. Kuzmeski argues that true success will elude you until you learn to ask "What's in it for them?" rather than "What's in it for me?"
"When people know that they matter to you, their attitudes toward you change. Their respect for you grows, they'll work harder, and they'll be aligned with your goals," says Kuzmeski. This is hard work. It means pleasantly greeting each of your employees, even if you're having a bad day. It means advising a client to make a prudent financial choice, even if you won't profit as much.
Check out Kuzmeski's website (RedZoneMarketing.com) and you'll see she practices what she preaches. The site is crammed with ways to connect, from her personalized message that plays when you first enter the site, to the featured testimonials and buttons for Twitter and LinkedIn.