I found this African proverb not long ago, “Knowledge is like a garden: if it is not cultivated, it cannot be harvested.” It serves as a reminder about the importance of challenging ourselves to continually seek to understand what is going on around us and in the world at large.
For those of us who run a small business, it can be especially hard to spend the time to look outward given our limited time and financial resources. But cultivating your customer knowledge and applying it immediately to your business can be easy and cost effective; just by leveraging a few tools and techniques. If you have a staff, key partners or suppliers, include them in this exercise. Leveraging diverse perspectives are key ingredients to your success (and to your clients).
1. Analyze your own information.
No doubt, you spend considerable resources keeping your website and social media updated and active. Now leverage as much information as you can from these investments to update your sales messages and to uncover new business opportunities.
You might be surprised what you can learn about “pain points” from what your customers and prospects are saying on your social channels, and your competitors’ channels. Don’t be afraid to chime in and find ways to solve these problems for them.
Expand your sales reach exponentially by tracking where inquiries and sales are coming through Google Analytics. Add parameters to every URL you share that links back to your website. When users click one of your custom links, the unique parameters are sent to your Analytics account, so you can identify the URLs that are most effective in attracting users to your content. This will enable you to re-tune your promotional programs in virtually real time.
Identify competitive threats before it’s too late. Setting up Google Alerts can keep you up to date on the latest moves by your competitors and your clients. Add your competitors’ Facebook pages as ‘Pages to Watch‘ in your Insights dashboard for easy benchmarking.
Your own sales reports are a critical input. Review who bought from you last year, and who didn’t buy from you. Was your average sale significantly different from your expectation? Did your customers respond to your marketing efforts in an unexpected way? The key is to look at any differences from year’s past results (including your personal expectations) and ask yourself “why is it like that and what can I modify or improve?”
2. Conduct a “health check” meeting with your top customers.
Your clients continually change; they may have new management or are looking into new directions. You want to be sure you know what’s going on with them and then how you can help. So, set up an hour with each of them this month and start a conversation with questions like these:
- Topic 1: Did we meet your expectations from us in 2015? What did we do well? Where did we let you down?
- Topic 2: What are your top business priorities for 2016? What keeps you up at night? Are you looking to expand into new markets?
- Topic 3: Here is our strategy for 2016
- Topic 4: Let’s set up joint goals for 2016
Tip: You can do a “health check” with past clients too! They may not be happy with their current suppliers or they are shifting strategies. So add them to your schedule.
3. Send out a survey or hold a roundtable among your customers or potential clients.
Using a simple tool like SurveyMonkey or hosting a lunch can get you a fresh perspective on how you can serve your market better. People like to be asked their opinion. Be prepared to hear suggestions you may not be able to fulfill right now. But it gives you a necessary roadmap for where you need to take your business next.
As small business owners, we are used to selling our products and services constantly. It’s hard to stop and listen and learn. But an investment today in leveraging your customer knowledge and insights will pay off big in ensuring you are relevant to them into the future.
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Online Business Foundations 101
In this course, you’ll develop basic literacy in the language of business, which you can use to start or grow your own small business.
Starting an online business can be fun and exciting. It can also be scary and confusing! The first step is to decide on a business–and this may be the hardest part, since there are so many to choose from.
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Miriam Vializ-Briggs is a marketing consultant with 25+ years of marketing strategy and execution experience, garnered as an executive at IBM, American Express and Kraft General Foods. She has created solutions and marketing strategies in a number of industries including banking, biotech, packaged goods, energy, healthcare, industrial, insurance, restaurants, retail, and travel & entertainment.