Warning: Torture Chamber Unsuitable for Wheelchair Users

Torture Chamber Unsuitable for Wheelchair UsersNot everyone thinks of it but knowing who would not make good customers is every bit as important as knowing who does make good customers.

Novice businesspeople and even beginning marketers would like to think that everyone’s a potential customer but that’s simply not true. In fact, although the end result is binary — people either buy from you or they don’t — there’s a whole continuum of how likely someone is to become a customer.

If you never spend time identifying who are not good prospects, you could waste a lot of time and money chasing down every conceivable lead, no matter how far-fetched.

By identifying several points along the continuum and creating a demographic profile for a hypothetical prospect at each point, you are better able to see where your time and resources should be spent.

Because it is a continuum, the attributes you list in the demographic profile are not necessarily opposites. For instance, just because your ideal customer is male doesn’t mean that all women are lousy prospects.

Some attributes don’t have an opposite. After all, what is the opposite of 40-45 years old?

So you can’t take shortcuts and simply say that your worst prospects are everything that your best prospects aren’t. It could very well be the case that a 43 year old male is a great prospect for your business but another 43 year old male is a terrible prospect.

In fact, even using the word “demographics” is doing a disservice to the process. A good customer profile goes much deeper than mere demographics.

A word that gets bandied about in certain circles is “psychographics”. This encompasses the interests, desires and other attributes that are missed by demographics. Your best prospects are interested in horses? That’s a psychographic. Prefer the beach over the mountains? Another psychographic.

If you augment your demographic profiles with psychographic data, and if you’re serious about the process, you can develop very detailed portraits of your customers and prospects.

Is this manipulative? Quite the contrary!

If you find out what deeply interests me and you just happen to offer something which satisfies that interest, I will be rather happy to hear from you. The flip side of that is, if what you offer does not interest me and you know that and don’t waste your time trying to sell me on it, you save a great deal of time, energy and money. All of those things can be better spent pursuing customers whose interests are more closely aligned with what you offer.


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Great Customer Service = Great Marketing

Photo credit: Louise Docker "aussiegall, on Flickr"

I got a phone call from my pharmacy recently. The pharmacist noticed that I had recently added a new medication to my account and was calling to check on how it was working.

I’m nowhere near vain enough to think that she singled me out for special treatment so I have to conclude that this is something my pharmacy does regularly. (I’m not a big medicine taker so I wouldn’t really know.)

At any rate, this kind of follow-up is great customer service. It makes me a more satisfied customer. It also makes me feel better about doing business with my pharmacy.

Taken in that light, great customer service equals great marketing.

The whole point of marketing is either to:

Photo credit: Taki Steve "takacsi75, on Flickr"

a) attract new customers, or

b) convince existing customers to buy more frequently or spend more.

Calling individual customers one at a time may seem both time-consuming and expensive as marketing campaigns go, but it’s highly effective. Especially in a very personal industry like health care.

Just think if your auto mechanic did this. A few days after having your transmission serviced, he called to make sure everything was running fine.

To some degree,  companies like Amazon and Netflix already do this but the more personal touch and the smaller scale seems so much more special. That really ramps up the impact.

I challenge you to see if you can find a way to boost your customer satisfaction and word-of-mouth marketing by providing exceptional customer service.

Strike While the Buying Iron is Hot

Photo credit: Bing Ramos "bingbing, on Flickr"

My family and I went snow tubing recently. Less than a mile from the ski resort, we stopped in at a quaint little family-run convenience store and deli.

The girls there were so nice. To their credit, they were talking up their lunch specials and contrasting the affordability of their deli-made sandwiches with the captive audience pricing at the ski resort. They even offered us a business card and said we could call ahead to place an order and it would be freshly made and ready to pick up when we arrived.

Photo credit: Carl Lender, on Flickr

That was their big mistake.

We were interested in their lunch offerings. Both because they looked delicious and because we knew, without even getting to the ski resort yet, that it would be better and cheaper than anything we’d find on the mountain.

They had us.

And then they let us go.

With nothing but a business card.

We did not go back there for lunch. Although it was only a mile away, leaving the ski area seemed like such a hassle. In all honesty, I actually would have made the trip but for one big concern: we did not have a menu and no one in our family could decide what they wanted without one.

On our way home we did stop in and buy dinner. While we were there, I offered the owner some free marketing advice. (I wasn’t being pushy. I offered to share my insights and she was grateful to hear them.)

  1. Offer delivery. No one wants to leave the resort to save $10 on lunch, even if it is better and healthier. But most would pay a couple of dollars to have it delivered to them. By combining multiple orders into one trip (only offer delivery at preset times — 11:00, 11:30, 12:00, 12:30, 1:00, 1:30) delivery could prove profitable.
  2. Don’t hand out a business card, give a take-out menu instead. If I can see what my choices are (or in my case, if my three indecisive teenagers can see what their choices are) it becomes much more likely that we’ll place an order.
  3. Better than either of the above, strike while the iron is hot. The ski resort allows skiers and tubers to bring their own food in. (Not everyone realizes this, especially if they haven’t been there before.) So the women should educate them as part of the sales pitch. The resort also has lockers where clothing and, importantly, food can be stored. In fact, the lockers are in the food court area. For anyone who buys lunch in the morning and takes it with them (like we would have) offer to pay for the cost of the locker ($0.50) with the purchase of lunch for four or more people.

Any one of those items would have spurred us to buy lunch. We probably still would have bought dinner there as well. They could have doubled their sales for the cost of… well, essentially nothing.

Do you engage in “coopetition”? You should!

The way that many companies keep their customer lists, they have the names and assorted contact information for everyone who’s ever bought from them and gave them such information. That’s about it.

And this is those companies that even bother to keep customer lists at all.

Of course the really good companies keep much more. Why do you suppose large retailers and service companies have loyalty programs? Frequent flyer programs, frequent buyer programs, grocery store discount cards… you name it.

Those programs serve two very important purposes:

  1. By making customers fill out an “application” to sign up for their program, they are getting those customers to give them a great deal of information: full name, address, email, phone number and sometimes more.
  2. Every time a customer uses his card or account number, the company logs what was purchased. (Yes, even your two foot long grocery store receipt with 133 items on it.) In that way, they can build up a very detailed history of exactly what any given customer likes, as opposed the customer seated across the aisle or the guy in the room down the hall.

Savvy companies milk this information for all it’s worth and extend custom-tailored offers to each customer. Naturally, by offering what you’ve already demonstrated you like and will purchase frequently, it greatly increases the odds of making another sale.

Or perhaps they make a special offer on somethingyou don’t normally buy. Most likely something complementary to what you usually buy. Only stay in the hotel on weekdays but never on weekends? By offering to extend your stay for a reduced price, perhaps they can induce you into longer stays that include weekends. Always buy the name brand cookies but the store brand of lots of other items? If they can convince you to give their store-brand cookies a try, they stand to make more profit. (Even though the price is lower, the margins are typically higher.)

But that’s about as far as it goes.

So what’s missing?

A lot, as it turns out.

How many companies distinguish between current and former customers? When customers stop buying from you, there will rarely be an announcement. There’s just a change in buying behavior and you may never know why.

Perhaps that salesman who flew three out of every four weeks is now an executive who hardly travels. Or the family of five who bought groceries every week was lured away by a new store. Or moved to another state.

How do you even define a former customer? How long do they have to go without making a purchase before they make it into that category? Is there hope of rescuing the business relationship before it comes to that?

And what of prospects who gave you their information but then never actually became customers at all? Do you save that information? What do you do with it?

Most companies will try for some time to lure those prospects into becoming customers. (Some keep trying indefinitely.) They may change the offers around a little, dangle a different carrot, so to speak, but that’s really about the extent of it.

Here’s a radically different idea: what about giving those prospects and stale former customers to one of your direct competitors?

Of course I’m not talking about some kind of twisted professionally self-destructive altruism. Instead I’m talking about a trade. You give one of your competitors “x” number of prospects who never converted plus former customers who obviously aren’t coming back and, in return, they give you the same number of their unconverted prospects and former customers.


If these prospects gave you their information, it was most likely because they needed or wanted what you have to offer. They were interested in becoming customers but then something happened. It could be that they changed their mind, or that your price was too high, or they heard or read something about you that they didn’t like, or they had a negative interaction with someone at your company, or decided to buy from a competitor instead.

The reason doesn’t really matter all that much.

What matters is that, unless this was a one-time only need that’s already been satisfied, these prospects have selected themselves as potentially good customers for someone in your industry. Just not for you. (If that were the case, you would already have converted them into customers.)

The same is true of your competitor’s unconverted prospect list; those are potentially great customers for someone but not for them.

So you’re both sitting on lists that have tremendous potential value to some company in your industry. It only makes sense then to exchange lists. They stand to wring some value from yours while you stand to wring some value from theirs.

This combination of cooperation and competition is called “coopetition”.

This is not collusion. You’re still competitors, you’re just engaging in a more enlightened form of cooperative competition.

Of course there is the possibility that many of the prospects you get from your competitor may already be your customers. They run the same risk with your list. That’s just part of the cost of this kind of transaction.

Another major consideration is concern over privacy. One of the things you can most easily do is to not actually exchange lists but each merely send out a solicitation on behalf of the other. If trust is a concern, you could mutually agree on a third party mailer who will process both lists. That way, the information never actually changes hands.

The only way you get your competitor’s prospect information (and vice versa) is if one of those prospects responds to the mailing and you collect it from him directly.


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You need a signature dish

A restaurant without a signature dish simply blends into the crowd and doesn’t stand out. In fact the same might be said of any kind of business, not just restaurants.

Not long ago, my family and I went out to eat at a Thai restaurant. Thai is my daughter’s favorite so we look for it often.

Like most ethnic restaurants, one Thai place is really not all that much different from another. The same is true of Chinese, Mexican, Ethiopian and even burger joints.

The place we went was nice and the food was very good. However it wasn’t really distinct from any of the other very good Thai food we’ve had. They simply didn’t have a “signature dish”.

After the meal, my wife and I both ordered coffee. I’m not really much of a coffee drinker but I will drink it sometimes just for taste.

The waitress brought our coffee plus the usual little pitcher of cream and container with an array of sweeteners.

I don’t know what made me think of it but I asked her if she could bring me a bit of coconut milk. My wife, who absolutely loves all things tropical, jumped right on that and asked if she could have coconut milk for her coffee too.

Neither of us had ever tried it before but immediately found that good coffee with sweetened coconut milk is exceptionally good. I suspect that even passable coffee could be made better with sweetened coconut milk.

Ever the marketer, I spoke with the restaurant’s owner. I told her of our experiment using coconut milk in our coffee and how terrific it was. Then I suggested that she make it a regular thing. That could be their signature dish.

Anyone who knows anything about Thai food knows that Thai restaurants probably get coconut milk in 55 gallon drums. So for them to serve coconut milk by default when someone orders coffee or tea is no hardship. In fact, it makes perfect sense.

My daughter raised the specter of people with nut allergies but just about every Thai dish is characterized by one or more of just a handful of ingredients: coconut, cashews, peanuts, and lemon grass. I simply can’t imagine that people with nut allergies eat an awful lot of Thai food. Even so, if the restaurant made this their signature dish, they would proclaim and advertise it. At the very least, some mention would be made right on the menu. If someone did have a nut allergy, they could always request regular milk or cream in place of coconut milk.

The real point is that having that signature dish would make them more memorable and bring in repeat customers. And what else is marketing for if not that?

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 Having a signature dish makes a restaurant more memorable.


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