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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Same product, different approach

In 2005, we thought of association relationships as "selling opportunities." I discovered the Society for Marketing Professional Services just as we were virtually forced to mothball our U.S. business, and sensed a different approach would work much better, choosing to engage and contribute to the association even though there were no local chapters where we operated and so we could expect absolutely no business in return. Come 2009 and there is a chapter in Ontario and we enjoy good relationships with the chapters in Washington, D.C. and in Raleigh/Durham and Charlotte, North Carolina, where we have active businesses. The above image is from a SMPS D.C. Chapter meeting.

The product/service our business provides in 2009 isn't much different from 2005. Our business is growing (in a serious recession), while in the middle part of the decade, the business was declining, almost to the point of collapse.

What changed?

The answer may provide you with clues about how you can defy the recessionary environment.

We learned how to respect clients and the community-at-large and focus on relationships rather than transactions.

In 2009 we want our sales representatives to be "order-takers". In 2005 we wanted them to be "closers". Order-takers get business because people want to do business with us; closers need to force "sales techniques" on prospective clients.

How can this be? The key to the change is my initially painful discovery that we needed to look far beyond the actual selling process and focus much more on how we relate to our clients both before, during and after the transaction.

We know that we are succeeding when the purchase decision is made effortlessly, without any "sign now" pressure, and when our biggest problem is dealing with competitors who use high pressure or abusive tactics, sometimes souring the market and causing people to say "no" to us because of bad experiences elsewhere.

In many cases, after the potential clients compare us to our competitors, they call back and give us the go-ahead. They've checked with their peers and discovered that we do things differently. (A painful corollary, unfortunately, is that some of our satisfied clients receive calls from our competitors and sign on with them, expecting a similar experience to what they enjoyed with us, only to find not everyone conducts business the same way.)

Now, you might be looking for the magic formula, one-size-fits-all answer here to how this turn-around really works. Here are some points:
  • Since 2005 we've given countless hours in community service and free advertising to associations and causes, never with any expectation of financial return. Of course, the associations and causes represent the interests of our potential clients. So the generosity is well-placed and rational.
  • We've learned to be selective, patient, and rigorous in our hiring policies. Representatives with us need to be able to work within the team, but have the spirit and ability to work independently. Our hiring process is systematized, yet flexible and adaptable.
  • The entire client experience is far more important than the ability to get business short-term. Clients receive thank-you notes, personally. And everyone who does business with us has access to the best marketing advice we can offer -- and that advice is rarely to spend more money with us (this blog is part of that process.)
Can you change your business to achieve success with this business model? Yes, if you understand these basics:
  • You really need to know your product/service and be able to deliver it effectively and at a price where you can earn a fair profit Lowering your prices to win business competitively is rarely the best way to go.
  • You must know the basics of effective business management and operations. You need to know your numbers.
  • Finally, you must appreciate your market and marketing. Read, learn and ask questions. Think for yourself. Remember that your success in marketing depends 80 per cent on the quality of your relationships, both within your business and within your marketplace.

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