Wednesday, May 25, 2016

More on Target Market Refinement

Earlier in the week I joined a workshop on client acquisition and picked up some fascinating insights that further shaped my own thinking on defining the elusive "target customer".

Our host used as his theme putting away firewood for the winter as an analogy for databasing potential customers.  The farmer cut enough wood to cover his needs and stockpiled those outside the house for later use.

The exercise he engaged in was bound up in the tactics of taking "trees" and converting them to "stacked wood".  I'm just as fascinated with the process of finding the trees.  For many, the assumption would be that "all trees are my customers" and cull what is needed.  But even our farmer had to narrow the focus, viz:

1.  Trees reachable from the farm, either close enough in distance, accessible by road, and/or not owned by someone else.
2.  Trees that are the right ones from which to make firewood.  (e.g. No pines, shrubs, etc.)
3.  Trees that are sufficiently old enough to cut.
4.  Trees free of diseases, rot, etc.
5.  Trees that can in fact be cut with the tools at hand.
6.  Trees whose wood is more valuable for other uses (e.g. fine furniture, syrup production, etc.)

As we search for good customer prospects, we must always be mindful that not all of the "trees" are even going to be prospects, and of the prospects not all will be qualified.  We can improve our ROI on prospecting, and finding customers through appropriate media channels, by thinking about exactly what kind of "tree" we want and spending our valuable time on those.

Bottom Line: Look at your concept of a "target customer" and ask, is this truly focused enough?  Is this a person I can reach, that would ever be a customer, would present more difficulties than gains, and can ever use my help?  Size up your trees!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Meeting the Challenge of Differentiation

One of my largest professional networking groups is chock full of practitioners in certain industries, most notably real estate brokerage, financial planning, and insurance brokerage.  It has been intensely fascinating to me that most of these good people don't differentiate themselves from competitors, and in some cases apparently don't try.   The unfortunate result of this is a series of nearly identical "commercials".  I deeply sympathize.  It isn't easy to truly stand out.

What to do?

The secret to effective differentiation is to narrow focus to a laser thin beam.  I advise people to write down a (short) list of experiences, skills, products or services they offer that no one else does.  And then talk to that.

Let's take our real estate broker, for example.  We will know immediately that the person has training and (presumably) experience with real estate.  We will expect them to be licensed, certified, and knowledgeable.  What won't we know?  Does she represent certain communities or neighborhoods?  have a background in education, knowing schools very well?  Does she have expertise with certain types of properties?  have demonstrably high sales metrics?  have special success moving difficult properties?  and so on.

Another way to approach this is to explain success solving client problems or needs.  For our broker, can she talk about a recent sale where her skill set made the difference and a happy ending?  Or how she makes connections with her clients and serves them?

And one more thing.  Please don't tell someone you are different and then leave us guessing how!

Bottom line:  Sometimes less is more.  By focusing narrowly on a critical difference with a competitor, a business can stand out more noticeably.  As you seek to differentiate yourself, think about the seemingly small ways you help other people.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Does Personal Presentation Make a Difference?

It is, I think, widely accepted that a confident presentation counts for a great deal towards impressing potential customers and clients.  Of course, we all "know" we should avoid bad habits, eat healthy foods, and be nice to one another.  And we know how well that works!

For those of us who regularly frequent networking groups and meetups, the difference between a strong, confident personal presentation and one that is not is noticeable.  And I know I deduct points for the latter.  I don't think that's entirely unfair.  I want to know that the person I am potentially going to work with has energy, confidence, and belief in what they do.  Presentations by business owners who mumble, ramble, and make no sense don't inspire confidence.  And that is an expensive reality for these people who may represent very good products and services.

There are resources for improvement.  One is to solicit the individual assistance of a professional coach.  I know several who have made a huge difference in their clients.  Another is the Toastmasters program that builds skills through group interaction and evaluation.  I chose that route some years ago and found it invaluable in supercharging my skills.  In fact, I often spot Toastmasters members and alumni before they identify themselves as such.

Bottom Line:  Is your good work overshadowed by personal presentation skills that don't work for you?  Don't let that be a commercial for a competitor!  Take advantage of presentation building resources in your community.  We can all improve!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The End of Newspapers is Nigh

Watching our local metro newspaper shrink relentlessly, I am regularly drawn into thoughts about the future of this institution, one that has served advertisers back nearly 300 years.  It doesn't look good.

I worked for newspapers for ten years (1995-2004) and saw, from the inside, what was taking place in this industry.  The big blow was, of course, the departure of classified advertising to the digital marketplace (Craigslist being a notable destination.)  But the increase in alternative advertising channels, decline in readership among younger age cohorts, highly partisan editorial positions, and rise of the Internet as a news source also eroded readership figures.  Declining ad revenue reduces "news holes" which leads to further ad revenue decline, and on and on.

Our local paper has been pushing its digital service, but it isn't catching fire, particularly because it is not device-friendly and has certain inconveniences: and it possesses all of the liabilities of the printed form in terms of lack of timeliness and poor ad response.

I'm actually quite surprised that a printed newspaper still arrives in my driveway each morning.  I fully expect a wave of newspaper closures and consolidations to take place, with the ultimate result that the classic urban "local" newspaper will cease to exist.  My sense is that in the intermediate run notable national formats will consolidate from the local markets (e.g. Wall Street Journal and USA Today) and expand their bases, but even these organs are impacted.  It's hard to see how that business model can serve advertisers especially in local markets.

Newspapers are not the be-all and end-all.  They only arose about fourteen generations ago.  When they first became commonplace people traveled slowly by boat or horse, we kept warm by a fireplace, and lived on farms.  Times have changed in so many ways and this is an institution that had an unusually long run.

Bottom Line:  We cannot depend on newspapers to effectively advertise our businesses if for no other reason than that the format is shifting to something better.  If you are heavily invested in newspapers, start giving thought to new ways to promote what you do.