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Energising Your Tired Customers

When you reach out to potential customers, you want them to respond by buying your products or services – But in the face of all-pervasive marketing, customers are showing advanced signs of fatigue – How can you generate excitement about what you have to offer? Stuart Finlayson looks at fail-safe techniques to draw back weary customers.

Consumers are a sophisticated bunch nowadays. They are often very alert to marketing tricks and gimmicks, and are tired of being bombarded with irrelevant messages and promises of the biggest, best and brightest new thing.

So what does it take to get through to them? The first thing is to treat them as customers, not as consumers.

What exactly does that mean? Jerry Michalski, president of US-based consulting firm Sociate, underlined the difference between the two.

"If there's one word we have to kill, it's consumer. It diminishes the richness of the interaction by viewing people as automatons that reflexively acquire and use goods and services in response to a particular economic itch.

"The term 'customer', however, helps companies understand the buyer-seller relationship in terms of a broader exchange of information, ideas and feelings."

Essentially, companies need to treat their customers as individuals, rather than a unit of data.

Direct customer contact is valuable for providing businesses with an intimate awareness of their customers' needs, but not all businesses have the opportunity to talk to their customers on a regular basis.

With the structure of industry today, particularly in manufacturing, businesses do not have the same level of contact with their customers they once did. Often this is simply because they exist at opposite ends of a long supply chain.

Open Communication

This is no excuse for business leaders to shrug their shoulders, because there is plenty that can be done to keep the lines of communication open.

The approach you should take depends on the type of business you have, but there are a variety of ways that you can gauge your customers' needs while also marketing yourself and building a good reputation for your company.

During economic downturns, like the one we are currently experiencing, companies routinely cut marketing budgets as a belt-tightening exercise.

This is a very short-sighted way to do business. During tough times the competition will, if anything, be even more intense, as companies do battle for fewer dollars. If you are not making your presence felt, you can bet your boots that some of your rivals are.

It is very important to build stronger ties with your existing customers. This is far more cost-effective than trying to acquire new clients, and your customers are likely to respond. They will also be looking to maximise results without embarking on ventures with companies that they don't know.

So, how can you market your company in a way that captures the imagination of your audience? Below are a few ideas, and the best thing is that they don't have to cost a fortune.

* Make your advertising effective. Customers are very sophisticated today, and can see through manipulative ad campaigns. The only way to counter this is for your marketing to become equally sophisticated.

An effective way of getting noticed is to tantalise customers by advertising a special offer in such a way that only part of what the offer is all about is revealed, creating an air of mystery. Such ploys can get people talking about you, which of course is what you are after.

Inspiring desire on the part of the customer is the ultimate aim of any company, or at least it should be. One way of achieving this is to dress up your product, or perhaps even to present it as something that is unattainable to most people. After all, the more something is out of reach, the more we want it. It's human nature.

Take care not to go overboard with your advertising spend, although it can be tempting, particularly when you are trying to establish your business.

* Conferences are a good way to demonstrate to your business targets (and the media) what your company is all about and how they can benefit from your expertise. What's more, the relationships you are likely to build from such meetings make them a very cost-effective form of marketing.

* Exhibitions, on the other hand, can be expensive, but they should definitely be considered. They can provide the opportunity to make contact with a huge number of potential customers. Many of these people would have made a lot of effort to get to the exhibition, qualifying them as high-quality leads.

* Public relations should also be part of your strategy. Getting your company a favourable mention in the media can have a great impact with very little expense incurred. Of course, not everything your company does will be of interest, but if you take time to consider what constitutes a good story and stick to providing relevant details rather than bombarding the media outlets with a lot of insignificant news, you stand a better chance of getting coverage.

* For potential market reach versus financial outlay, the internet is unrivalled. It costs very little to set up a website for your company, and if done properly. Keep in mind that your website will often be the first place a person comes across your company. It's essential that you make your site as informative and user-friendly as possible. It is also worthwhile spending a little extra on the design to make sure the site has a professional look about it.

Marketing can play an important role in reinvigorating tired customers, but what other methods can be employed?

There are a number of steps a company can take to improve their customer relations and generate business. Most are simply commonsense, but it is amazing how many companies fail to implement these techniques.

* Improve customer response rates. Failure to respond rapidly to customer requests will usually result in the loss of that customer. Investment in this area is crucial to the prosperity of your business.

A good way to ascertain whether your company's response rate is up to scratch is to put yourself in the position of a potential customer and call your own company to see how long it takes to get what you want and what level of support you get from your customer representatives.

If your customers can't place orders quickly and easily, they will use other suppliers. Can your customers order by phone, fax or via the internet? If the answer is no to one or more of these, then you are probably losing business.

* Having an efficient customer service department is irrelevant if you can't follow up by delivering what you have promised in good time.

Look at your competitors' delivery promises. If they offer delivery within 48 hours, endeavour to offer delivery within 24 hours, or better still, same-day delivery.

* Reliability is crucial to the success of any business, because if your customers can't rely on your promises, they will abandon you faster than rats from a sinking ship. Ask yourself whether your customers receive exactly what they ordered, when they wanted it.

Having a well-stocked inventory plays an important part in determining whether you can back up your promises of fast delivery. If you do not have adequate stock levels, your customers are likely to sense that you are too small a player to depend on regularly, and look for another supplier.

* Finally, if you meet these standards, let everyone know about it. Dependability and efficiency are great marketing tools and will win you business.

Of course, you must be able to back up any claims you make, because if you fail to deliver on your promises you will lose credibility very quickly, and it will be very difficult to get it back again.

Winning Retail Custom

Retailers have traditionally spent a lot of time money on research to try to determine how to maximise sales.

Here we look at marketing techniques that can be applied by retailers to attract greater numbers of customers through their doors, and get them to spend more money once they are inside.

* Design you floor plan to increase the time yo
ur customers are in your store. Aisles that do not run straight slow customers down, particularly if there are lots of displays.

Also place sale racks at the back of the store, to make customers pass more expensive merchandise before reaching the cheaper items.

* Make your signs enticing. Limited offers tend to attract customers. A sign up saying "limit of three per customer" will tempt the customer to buy three, because they think the item must be going fast and that they are getting a real bargain.

* Consider the benefits of discounting. When items are advertised for incredibly low prices, customers will be attracted in large numbers. Fortunately for store owners, customers who come to the store to buy loss leaders, items you are losing money on (or not making any money on), will usually buy other items at regular prices as well, so you gain those additional sales.

* Employ friendly staff. Studies have shown that if a salesperson talks to a customer, the odds that they will buy something jump by a remarkable 50 percent. Apparently, in this impersonal world, making conversation is considered to be going above and beyond the call of duty and customers are flattered by the attention a salesperson.

* Create a fragrant atmosphere. It's thought that when you are trying to sell your home, the smell of baking or freshly made coffee creates a homely environment and can entice potential buyers. Most department stores have their fragrances on sale near the entrance to the store, as they believe pleasant aromas make customers more willing to part with their money.

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