By Ann Clarke
The Community Business Journal of Colorado

Whenever I sit down with a new client, the first thing I say is, “Tell me about your business” and the second thing is, “Who are your customers?”. The answers I get are interesting, but not always accurate.

A great many businesses know who they’d like to sell to but they don’t always know who they’re really selling to. They’re very good as assuming things. I flashback to my family’s dinner table talks and my father, a successful entrepreneur who didn’t mince words, telling us, “If you ASSUME anything about our customers, you run the chance of making an ASS of U and ME.” By the end of this article, I hope I’ve shown you how to TRACK your customers and clients and gather useful information for planning your marketing strategy.

1. Do you know where your customer and clients come from? Do you track each contact by asking, “how did you get my name?” Were they referrals from an old client? Are they from your church? Did you meet them at a Chamber of Commerce meeting? Did they call from a newspaper ad? Were they driving through town and saw your sign? Keep a tracking sheet beside your phone in your store, office, home and car so you can make notes. At the end of the year, chart the results. Presto, you’ve got a valuable tool to help you decide where to spend your advertising money next year! Maybe that billboard is worth its weight in gold, or perhaps a yellow pages ad paid for itself many times over.

2. Do you really understand your customers and prospective customers? What do you know about your buyers and sellers? Things like: married or not, kids or not, age, occupation and company they work for, income, educational background, hobbies, neighborhood they live in now, and how and where they spend their “disposable” income. You can bet the national brand folks gather all sorts of “demographic” and “psycho-graphic” data on consumers. Auto makers know EXACTLY who is most likely to buy a Ford truck over a Chevy truck, because they’ve PROFILED their past customers. Next time you watch TV, notice who shows people using their truck as a recreation vehicle, and who is hauling bricks. OK, so apply the same principles to your own business! If you have 85% of your customers with families, you’d best haul your kids in front of the camera and incorporate them into your ads. If 50% of your past clients play golf, how ’bout a photo of you with your cell phone teeing up?

3. Do you know what your potential clients really want when they come through your door? Again, don’t assume. It’s easy to do a bit of ‘mini-research.’ ASK if your massage clients would prefer that you come to their home, or if they would rather come to your office. If you’re a Realtor, is holding an open house important? If you’re a printer, would your customers appreciate your delivering their order to their doorstop? Is a toll-free phone number important? Would they do more buying if you accepted credit cards? You can do this ‘research’ informally by casual conversation, or formally through a focus group. You could even create a questionnaire to be returned in an enclosed postage-paid envelope, or by having someone telephone. An extra benefit: To be asked for one’s opinion is flattering. It proves to your customers that you are trying to serve them better.

Are you beginning to get the picture? By researching these three elements, you are creating a road map to “position” yourself in the market. You’ll know where you stand, and what you need to work on. You’ll be able to create a marketing plan that helps you TARGET customers and clients, and lead to more profits than you ever imagined!

You may reprint this article and make copies for your team.
©Ann Clarke 2002-2008
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