Libraries and bookstores are full of literature that tells big-business operators how to succeed in running and growing their businesses.
But what about the small-business operator in a highly competitive, commodity business? How does he/she compete and succeed?
Obviously, there are no simple answers – but one thing is for sure: to succeed a business must have repeat customers. And to acquire customers one must meet their needs, wants and expectations better than a competitor. And one must intercept customer interests and requirements – and satisfy them before one’s competitors can do so.
So how does one accomplish that in a small competitive commodity business?
Answer the phone by the third ring – seven days a week – 24 hours a day. Answer and engage with a smile. Thank them for calling. Call them back within an hour if you didn’t get an immediate order. And keep following up until you get the order. Nothing sells like a successful sale and a happy customer!
Promote your product and service everywhere. Make aggressive use of the Internet. Post on restaurant bulletin boards, on dinner table-covers, on church bulletins, and on calling cards to be left everywhere. Put your phone number and email address prominently on everything, in big print for weak eyes. Hire part-time students to make Internet mailings. And keep your promotions KISS friendly, i.e., keep them short and simple.
Do your paperwork before and after regular business hours. Use regular business hours for maximum customer contact time.
If possible, use a simple accounting system – cash in – cash out. Accept every reliable credit card. Keep an adequate reserve for bad debt, slow payers, etc.
Collect unpaid bills by contacting the customer’s financial department – not the customer’s purchasing department, which will provide you with future orders. And always keep your collection process pleasant.
Deliver on time – follow-up on time – as promised – quickly, if that’s necessary. And keep customers informed, e.g., “Your shipment was delivered on such-and-such a date. – Thank you!”
Offer appropriate terms and conditions to reliable customers. Remember, customers buy because of price, terms, conditions, quality, service and habit – and of all of these, habit is the most important influence.
If you have a walk-in business, e.g., a restaurant – seat your customers quickly, and take their drink orders immediately. Before delivering their bill, ask the customer if he/she would like an after-dinner drink, or dessert, or . . .? Never ask silly questions like: “Would you like dessert?” Instead, sell the customer, e.g., “We have delicious desserts today.” And name them – and sell them with enthusiasm.
Keep your overhead to a minimum – and your payroll to a minimum – but never sacrifice customer service for these objectives.
Teach your employees to always remember that you’re in business to meet the needs, wants and expectations of customers, and to make it quick, easy and fun for them to do business with you.
Make your signage and company name and logo attractive. “Loctite” replaced “American Sealants Company.” Use a positive tagline, e.g., “First in Linear Motion and Control Technology.” “On Time Every Time” for a trucking company. Use it everywhere – to promote your products and services and operating philosophy.
In a nutshell – get customers in the habit of doing business with you rather than a competitor. Habits sell!
In God you must trust . . . but you must always do your part to secure your customers’ loyalty and support.