GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: What do your customers want?

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

The best way to know what your customers want is to ask them. One of the biggest disconnects between your company and your customers is not having a comprehensive agreement of what services the customer expects from you.

I have found that a clear understanding of what a customer’s expectations are goes a long way in you being able to meet or even exceed those expectations.

I know it is not always that easy. That customers are not always clear in expressing their needs. And sometimes they are not even sure themselves what they want which might lead you to assume what they want…and that leads to very dangerous ground indeed.

In the end it is so much better to take the right amount of time to have a good discussion with your customer and this way create a clear and concise understanding of what those expectations actually are.

Here are a few tips on guiding that discussion with your customer to make sure you get a complete understanding of what they expect from you:

  • Listen carefully when the customer tells you what they want.
  • If you do not yet get exactly what they want, ask more specific questions.
  • Once they answer you, repeat what they told you so you both know that you both understand.
  • Sometimes a customer says one thing but really means another. Ask again for clarification.
  • Dig in to make sure that what the customer is asking for is really what is going to solve their problem. This is especially true when you are brought in for home repairs like plumbing or electrical work. Find out what the real problem is rather than what the customer wants you to do. What they want you to do might not be the right solution for their problem.
  • And always not only listen but actually hear what your customers are telling you.
  • Once you’ve had your discussion with the customer and you feel that, yes, you have a good understanding of exactly what he or she wants from you, then it is a good idea to document it. Depending on the complexity of the project or the product, write down exactly what you understand the customer wants and give it to them to review, agree with and sign. When working extensive home improvements projects for example, this is a must.

The success of your product and service is based on whether the customer is happy or not. In the end it doesn’t really matter if your product is perfect, if it’s not what the customer wanted then you all lose.

Having a good and clear understanding of what your customers’ expectations are and meeting those expectations is, in the end, the best way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Know your competition

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

We all have competition; we all have people and companies we are competing with vying for the same accounts. The hospitality businesses for example (restaurants, pubs, take-out food places) are all tremendously competitive businesses. As are service companies, construction companies, retail stores and just about every other kind of business.
We live in a capitalist society and capitalism leads to competition…thank goodness! Can you imagine what life would be like if there was only one restaurant in your town? If there was only one hardware store? It would not be good. If you didn’t have variety, a number of companies to choose from, things would not only get very stale the service could become deplorable. This is why at the federal level we have anti-trust, anti- monopoly regulations.

Remember when all we have for phone service was good old Ma Bell? They controlled everything. I remember sneaking an extra extension phone in my house which was illegal! (fortunately, the statute of limitation must be up so I can breathe easier now. Whew! But you get the point, those of us who remember living under the iron rule of the Ma Bell regime know what happens when a company has a monopoly, and it is not a pretty picture.

But now, fortunately, we do have competition and no matter what our business is, competition makes us better. It makes us more well…competitive.

Here are a few ways to deal with the competition in your business: (inspired by the book Amaze Every Customer Every Time, by Shep Hyken)

  • Instead of disrespecting the competition learn from them.
  • Check them out, see what they are doing to get and keep customers and then find a better way.
  • Use what you know about them to better differentiate your business.
  • Consider working with them in partnership. Healthy competition is always more productive than the alternative.
  • When researching your competition figure out what you can do better. It will make your company better.

And finally, ask yourself how your company’s strengths differ from those of your competitors. Do these strengths give you an advantage that generates referrals from competitors.

And one more tip: never, ever, underestimate your competition, always treat them with respect and as a worthy opponent. In the end it will make your company better and will help you grow your company.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Treat your employees well

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

A few years ago, Herb Kelleher, the CEO and founder of Southwest Airlines shook up the business world by declaring that the employee comes first, and the customer comes second. At first people were shocked, they could not understand such heresy. Of course, the customer comes first, everybody knows that since the customer is always right …right?

But wise old Herb Kelleher went on to explain that the happier the employees were, the more prone they would be to treat the customers like gold, the way they should be treated.

And to those of us who have flown Southwest Airlines we have witnessed first hand that Kelleher was right. Those flight attendants are the cheeriest bunch of people I have ever met. They even have jokes they like to say like, “There might be 50 ways to leave your lover, but there are only four ways to get off this airline.” And songs they like to sing. Sure it’s all a little corny, but I have to admit that these antics do tend to cheer up even the crabbiest of tired travelers (yours truly included).

I do know from my own experience working with companies that the companies that are committed to keeping their employees happy and satisfied, and the companies that go to great lengths to look out for their employees, are indeed the best run companies and they do in fact have the best customer service.

So here, from a great little book called Amaze Every Customer Every Time, by Shep Hyken, are some very useful tips on how to treat your employees well so they will treat your customers even better:

  • Treat employees the way you want the customer treated, maybe even better.
  • The only way you can possibly amaze your customers every time is by amazing your employees first.
  • Talking about the employees’ golden rule is not enough. You, as a leader, must model it daily.
  • Create a clear and precise mission for your company and make sure that your employees not only know it and understand it…but believe in it as well, and that starts with you as their leader.
  • As a leader you have to walk the walk and lead by example. If your employees see you treating your customers well, they will follow your lead.

And one of my own: Remember that what a company leader or owner says or does resonates very loudly in the company. As a leader be very careful with your words, and never, and I mean never, complain or knock a customer. And never let them see you treat a customer poorly.

In short, if you treat your employees the way you want them to treat your customers it will be a perfect way to run your business and, yes, to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: What’s in a name?

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

Who you gonna call? The name of your company is one of the most important aspects of building your business. The scary thing is that you have to have a name to even start a business. So, you have to come up with the right name even before you leave the proverbial parking lot to start your business ownership journey.

This means that you have to come up with the right name from the very beginning. And I mean getting it right immediately because you are going to have to live with that name forever. Once you start your marketing and branding it is incredibly difficult to change the name of your company.

With that in mind, here are some tips and ideas to consider when choosing your company’s name:

  • Avoid hard to spell name (Tell me about it! Check out my name, you can’t spell it you can’t say it! And you sure as heck would not want to be stuck with it as a company name which is why I used my initials, DB Management Group
  • Use names that might put you at the top of any directory listing. (Some people live by this rule, frankly I’m not sold on this idea)
  • Use a name that means something, a name that indicates what you do is a good idea.
  • Don’t pick a name that indicates too narrow business capabilities, something that could limit your company’s growth in the future.
  • Use a name that is catchy. A name that people will remember.
  • Conduct a domain name search. Sooner or later, you are going to have a website. You will need a domain name, make sure you consider this when choosing your company name. In fact, you should conduct a domain name search and choose your domain name as part of the naming process.
  • Check out the legal viability of the name you choose. Check out trademarks. Check it out with your Secretary of State. Make sure you are not inadvertently stealing someone else’s company name.
  • Ask your friends and family what they think of the name you are thinking of using. This is a case where more opinions and insights are better than going it solo.
  • How does the name sound when you say it aloud? Some names look great on paper, but they sound like something else when said out loud.
  • And finally, make sure you like the name. You are going to have to live with that company name forever, so make sure it is a name you not only like, but actually love!

Naming your company is just about the first important decision you will make when starting a company. Make sure you treat that decision with the importance it commands. Choosing the right name can go a long way for growing your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Be different

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

There are a series of books out about what is called Blue Ocean Strategies. The premise is that most businesses operate in the same ocean, “the Red Ocean”, but to truly succeed a company has to swim in their own ocean, the Blue Ocean. This is all fancy metaphor talk for being different, being better, finding a way to do things differently. A way that will change everything and wow your customers to the point of not only improving your business, but dramatically changing your market as well.

Some examples of Blue Ocean companies are what Uber did for paid ridership and what BnB did to the hotel industry, what Door Dash did for food take out services and, yes, what Instacart did for grocery shopping.

And, of course, there is the biggest example of Blue Ocean strategy, what Amazon did to the retail business…not only changed everything but literally took it over to the point of outright domination.

Okay, let’s get our head out of the clouds and back to earth. What can you do about your particular industry, and marketplace? What kind of Blue Strategy can you come up for your business?

Now, I don’t claim to have all the magic answers, I don’t know your particular business as well as you do, but I can show you how these companies did it.

It’ simple: they focused on their customers. They used their imagination to take them out of their proverbial box of business as usual.

They followed George Bernard Shaw’s advice as often quoted by Robert Francis Kennedy, “Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.”

And they ignored the advice of Charles Holland Duell, the commissioner of the U.S. Patent office who, in 1899, wanted to close the office saying, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

So how about you and your business? “What can you do to dream things that never were and ask why not?”

Here are a few steps to help you along the way:

  • Sit down and think about your business. Put yourself in your customers’ place. If you were your own customer, what would you like from your business?
  • Forget what has come before, what you did before and think of what you can do now, and better yet, what you can do tomorrow.
  • Dream a little, or a lot. Don’t let facts and existing barriers get in the way of your imagination. Just let yourself go wild and when you come up with a new great idea…then walk backwards to figure out how to do it.
  • Take a look of the world around you. Research what similar companies in other parts of the country, and the world, are doing. Learn more about your own industry, network with other owners in other parts of the world and get some ideas and inspiration from them. The nice thing about being a local business is that if you discover a great Blue Ocean idea from someone in your industry in Salem, Oregon, or London, Ontario, there is nothing wrong with taking the idea and bringing it into your local area.
  • The most important thing here is to dare to dream, to find a way to do it, not only differently, but better than anyone in your local marketplace has done it. Create your own Blue Ocean to swim in. And that’s a great way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: The power of a simple “thank you”

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

Last week we received a Thank You card from the company who had just completed a roofing job at our house. It was not a large job as far as roofs go, just a couple of porch roofs that needed to be replaced. And once again as far as costs for putting on a new roof this was a not that expensive…relatively speaking.

The company did a good job, they worked fast, were efficient and cleaned everything up and took it away, all in one day, “easy peasy,” as some people like to say.

But then the Thank You card came in the mail. A real official Thank You card with the receipt for our payment enclosed.

Now some people would think that did not mean much…and I might have been one of them. But I was surprised at how much that one small gesture touched me. After all, this was a roofing company, not a car dealership or other such company where the sales team is trained to send out cards and notices, even birthday greetings, and yes, I do appreciate those “small touches”, but I have come to expect them.

Now to get this card, this small token of appreciation for my business, was truly touching. Not only personally but also professionally as a person who trains companies to make the extra effort to thank their customers.

That card showed me that someone was paying attention. That someone was actually thinking about the customers and working at finding ways to stand out in front of those customers. Someone in that company was making an effort, to look and act professionally.

Think about that for a minute. This was much more than just a card. This was an indicator that this company was focused on being better, on standing out on being memorable and yes, most of all hoping that someone, like me would not only notice, not only appreciate but would tell others about it.

And guess what? It worked because here I am telling you about it.

Always remember that even the small things, like sending out a receipt enclosed in a Thank You card will go a long way in making your business outstanding. And it is a great way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Be careful what you say

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

A true story. One of our relatives in a nearby town was having trouble with her furnace and needed a repair person. She called the man that had been taking care of her furnace for years. He came over and found that all he had to do was reset the furnace and everything would be fine. He said that there would be no charge and showed her the switch so next time she could reset the furnace herself. He was not gone 15 minutes when the furnace conked out again.

Not wanting to bother the repairman again that night she and her daughter, who was visiting, decided to add more blankets to their beds, tough it out and call the repairman in the morning.

The next morning the daughter called the repairman, and he proceeded to blast her for bothering him, read her the proverbial riot act for bothering him, but in the end, with some persuasion grumbled he would come later that day.

He never showed up!

Whereupon the daughter called another company, they sent a man out right away. There was something wrong with the furnace, it was missing a part. They fixed it in 30 minutes, handed her the bill and went on their merry way.

Now here is where the story gets interesting.

The daughter was very active on social media, especially Facebook…I think you can see where this is going.

The daughter promptly got on Facebook and told the story including naming names and recommending that no one should ever use this repairman again. Her post went out to over the 200 people to whom she was connected!

Wow! What repairmen should have realized was that in this new world order people are connected, and people talk to each other, especially when they have been poorly served enough to be angry.

Just imagine for a minute the kind of negative publicity this repairman is now getting!

But the real point here is that no person or company, or organization, should ever talk to their customers the way this repairman did. Nor should any person serving the public ever complain about doing a job for a customer.

The rule of thumb pre-social media used to be that if a customer has a complaint, he is going to tell a number of people and in the end, about 100 people would hear about it. Now in these days of social media that number increases to literally hundreds if not thousands of people. And if the story is bad enough it could go viral, then millions of people could see it.

Those of us in business should always appreciate our customers and the business they send our way. The minute we stop doing that, and let the customer see, that is the day your business will stop growing. And that my friends is no way to be growing your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Show you care – Support your local organizations

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

There is nothing more beneficial than donating to local organizations. From churches and synagogues to Little League and Girl and Boy scouts to local school,there is no better way to spend your money than to support local groups.

This is true for all communities but especially true for small communities, like we have here in Maine. Here are some things to consider when someone comes knocking at your door for a charitable contributions:

  • You have the opportunity to portray your company favorably to everyone in that organization. They will be grateful for helping them and will not only patronize your business but will urge others to as well.
  • If the donation is for an event such as an auction, donate a gift certificate for your product or service. If you own a restaurant, for example, and you donate a $50 gift certificate, chances are the person who buys the gift certificate will bring others for dinner at your place bringing you more business. If you are a landscaping business, and you donate a gift certificate for your services, you just paid $50 for a new customer, which is a very good deal since the average cost of new customer acquisition is up around $500.
  • If you get the opportunity to sponsor a team. Grab it. That is a gift that keeps on giving and giving. Those athletes are actually a walking billboard for your company. And every member of the athlete’s family will love you for it.
  • It’s the right thing to do if you want to be accepted as a stellar member of the community. And since the community is made up of your customers, that’s a good thing.

True story:

Last Christmas my wife sent me on a search for ribbon candy. I’m not sure why, but she did. She also told me what store to go to first because when she was collecting donations for our church’s silent auction that store had been very generous. So, I went to that store as she told me, because I always do what my wife tells me to do. And I ended up buying not only her ribbon candy but assorted other sundries like chocolates and other goodies as well. I spent over $75. When the owner, like all smart owners should do, asked me how I found out about his store, I told him that my wife had told me about it. And then as a member of the finance committee of our church I thanked him for his generosity. Upon hearing that he smiled broadly and said, “No, thank you! And your church for all you do for our community.”

And that is how business in a small town (or any town for that matter) should work. That store owner knew that donating to a local church charity was absolutely the right way to grow his business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Take care of your customers in need

by Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

Years ago, one winter when I was out of town on business, enough snow had fallen – as it will tend to do here in Maine, – that my dear wife was concerned about the snow load on the roof. When she saw a crew working clearing a neighbor’s roof, she put on her boots and her winter coat to go talk to them. The fact being that she had been on the phone all morning trying to find someone to come over and clear our roof, so she was relieved when she saw the men across the street working on a roof.

When she approached them and found the man in charge, she asked him if he had time to clear our roof as well.

He looked at her, smiled and then told her they were all booked up, but he said, “I might be able to fit you in but it’s going to be expensive.” “How expensive?” she asked, knowing that be­cause we have a big house with a lot of roofs, what it should cost, and so she thought she was prepared to pay the price she normally paid, which yes, was not cheap but worth it.

But she was hit with sticker shock when this man quoted her a price that was well over twice as much as what she normally was used to paying.

“Are you sure?” She asked, “That’s much more than we normally pay the people who did it last year.”

“Sure, but they’re not here, now are they? Sorry, lady, but that’s the price, take it or leave it… and I could charge you even more if I wanted to. So, what’s it gonna be?” he said impatiently.

Not seeing any other way, and the snow falling heavily with signs of it keeping up for the rest of the day, she reluctantly agreed to pay the price he asked.

Now, as you can imagine after that, my wife would go out of her way never to use that man’s company again. In fact, although not a vindictive woman, she could not help but tell many people the story of what had happened. And yes, we never used that company again. In fact, it has been years since I have seen his truck around the neighborhood, so I suspect that he has gone out of business. Not a surprise, really.

If you want to run a successful business you have to always ask for a fair price for the services you perform. Sure, you can play that supply and demand game if you want. You can raise your prices when the demand is high, but in the end, you have to be fair and treat people fairly because if you don’t, if you take advantage of people, especially when they are in need, they will never forget and when things get back to normal, they will never buy from you again.

On the other hand, if you come to their aid when they are in trouble, when they really do need your help…and you help them, you’ll have a customer for life and that is the best way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Always be asking for references, referrals, recommendations, and endorsements

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

The very best way to grow your business is to get other people talking about you in a good way. Your customers bragging about your products and services to their friends, neighbors and family is the very best way to gain new customers, without a doubt.

Think about that. What do you do when you are considering buying a new car? You’ll ask someone who already has one, right? I mean you won’t just ask people you know, you’ll stop, and ask complete strangers in the Hannaford parking lot what they think of their car, if it’s the same brand that you are thinking of buying. Why do you think so many car commercials feature real people talking about how much they love their new car?

What about choosing a contractor, or a painter, or a plumber? You always ask the people around you who they can recommend and why they recommend them? Most of the time, if people have had a great experience, they’ll be happy to talk about it and even try to convince you to use the same people they used to the point where it is almost like they want you to join the cult.
The same applies to restaurants. People love telling other people about a great meal they had at that new Italian restaurant down in Winthrop, right?

People love telling people about great products, and services, and yes, meals, they have experienced.

But you as a business owner cannot be satisfied to just sit back and wait for those endorsements to come your way. You have to find a way to get those referrals about your company to come to you on a regular basis.

Obviously, the best way to get great referrals is to be the best. The best car dealer, the best contractor, the best restaurant. That is a given. But many times, that is not enough. Sure, many people, your customers will be happy, even delighted with what you are selling, but that is not enough. You have to be intentional in your quests for referrals. You have to ask for those recommendations. And if you go about it the right way, your customers will be more than happy to provide them.

Here are a few suggestions to seek and get referrals from your customers:

  • Right after you have completed a service or sold a product, and the customer is delighted, ask him for written endorsement for your sales literature.
  • If you are a contractor, ask the happy customer if you can take photos of your work to show prospective customers and, yes, ask again for the customer to give you an endorsement and also a reference.
  • Offer your customers small incentives. A gift card to a coffee shop, for example, if they will refer you to the people in their own network.

Sales expert Jennifer Gluckow said it best in her book Sales in a New York Minute. In today’s social world, the repeat customer, the recommended customer, and the referred customer are the heart of business success.

Whatever you do always be asking for references, referrals, recommendations, and endorsements from your delighted customers. It is without a doubt the best way to grow your business.