It is very easy to think that your customers are just like you, but that’s rarely the case, even if they look like you, are roughly the same age and appear to appreciate the same things. Even when customers seem like you, they can still be very different; from their personalities, to the sports teams they follow and, notably, whom they voted for in the last election.
For many business owners, this can present a challenge in how to market to those not like themselves. This is a matter of diversity, but too often that word is used to simply describe the color of one’s skin or their ethnic background. However, according to marketing expert and bestselling author on business strategy Kelly McDonald, diversity can actually be much more.
It can not only be all of those personality traits mentioned above, but it can also be as complex as whether someone is an introvert or an extrovert, or as simple as whether someone prefers an Apple iPhone to a Google Android device. These differences can be good. Thanks to this individuality, we have great options for food, TV shows and cars to drive.
Yet, the “diversity” of today’s customers presents challenges for business owners in how to market and sell to their diverse customer base.
“How do you understand someone who’s not you?” pondered McDonald, author of “How to Work With and Lead People Not Like You.”
The short answer, she said, can come down to “pitching, not catching” — as in not simply waiting for the customer to come in to your business.
To this end, McDonald suggested there are several key points that can help businesses at all levels achieve better results. Much of this is simply a matter of understanding the client.
One of the most important things McDonald said is business owners must not only understand their customers’ priorities, but also believe that no one’s perspective is ever truly wrong.
“Directness is a key part of success for a small business,” McDonald said.
“There is nothing wrong with asking your customers ‘What is important here’ — it can be speed and efficiency over price to some customers, but you have to ask ‘how can we serve you best,’“ she said. “Don’t guess; you need to find out. That is free market research, which can be very important for small businesses.”
Strategies to Success
As a marketing expert, McDonald has laid out several key points that can help businesses achieve better results, simply by understanding their customers.
This begins with being relevant to the client, something all service-related businesses should understand — customers come to have a service performed that they don’t want to do themselves — but many business owners fail to see, or even understand, that this also plays into the concept of relieving pain.
“In any organization, there is [always] something that could bring pain, and [I don’t] mean it is physical pain,” McDonald noted.
To figure out what your customers’ pain points are, you will need to ask them. You can do this easily by telling them to complete this statement about your business: “I wish…” followed by what they’d like to see. This could be a shop that is open later in the day during the week or open on Sundays, but it could also be something that seems more trivial, like letting calls go to voicemail.
“Again, ask your best customers, ‘What could we change to relieve the pain,’ but don’t be offended when they tell you,” McDonald said. “Often, businesses think they want to know, but sometimes find hearing it difficult.”
Figuring Out Your FAB
Another key area where small businesses can succeed is by focusing on what McDonald describes as finding their “FAB.” This isn’t about looking fabulous, but rather addressing the differences between features, attributes and benefits. Too often, businesses of all sizes focus on the features — McDonald offered an example of when an airline touts their business class seats that allow passengers to lay flat during flight.
While the feature may sound good to those who travel regularly, the average customer may not care about it, given the cost. That’s where attributes come into play, as it allows travelers to more easily sleep on an international flight. But that still doesn’t highlight the benefit, namely arriving in Europe rested for work or starting off a vacation fresh. This is the benefit: You are rested because you could sleep on a seat that was flat like a bed!
“The customer can be more easily sold on the benefits that come from the attributes of the features,” McDonald said.
It is about selling the benefits, not the attributes or features. For the customer, focusing on benefits can show that you care about their needs, instead of highlighting your services directly.
Selling to Millennials
One point that has rung true for eons is that the older generation often has trouble understanding the youth – but today’s millennials are now adults who usually aren’t so trusting of traditional advertising or marketing. They tend to be a generation that leans forward to watch a video on a tablet or a smartphone rather than leaning back to watch a show on a large screen TV from the couch, but this just highlights another example of differences in individuals.
Millennials tend to be more focused on the environmentally friendly options so “green” matters to them, and shops need to highlight their efforts to be green, while also being the “good guys.” Shops that give back to the community and show compassion and concern can stand out and reach this important demographic.
Targeting millennials also means it is important to pay attention to trends not fads — and this is something businesses of all sizes can miss, McDonald said.
“Trends are shifts in the way people do things, but fads change fast,” she explained. “One current example of a trend rather than a fad is the move toward customization.”
McDonald gave an example of Coca Cola having seen a dozen years of declining sales until it introduced its name campaign, and with that same customization came renewed interest in its product.
In other words, offering something unique or customizable can go a long way toward making the business relevant to new customers.
Shorter is Better, Simple is Awesome
Another area where it can be a challenge to target millennials, or really anyone who relies on a smartphone, is that it is easy to send too much information. When sending messages to customers or employees, there is one other takeaway from today’s younger demographic — long emails or texts is never the way to go.
“I learned this from my nephew, who is a millennial, after I sent him an email,” McDonald said. “His response was TLDR — as in ‘too long/didn’t read.’”
This is something to think about not only with messaging, but also in how businesses can offer services to customers. If it is a Facebook post, a text or an email, keep it short and keep it simple.
This same concept also translates to services that are offered — people opt for quick lube services because they are “quick,” and keeping the process short and simple can’t really be improved upon.
“Anything that makes it run smoothly, quickly and efficiently is great,” McDonald added. “We have a spring in our step when everything goes great, because we are always used to running into snags. In the end, no one ever says, ‘I wish that would have taken longer.’”
Solutions and Helping
The final two strategies that McDonald offered were among the most important for any service-focused business. The first: always offer “solutions not excuses.” When something goes wrong, the last thing that will make for a happy customer is an excuse.
“You’re going to make mistakes, and your people are going to make mistakes,” she explained. “Nobody cares why it happened; what they care about is what you’re going to do about it.”
The other consideration is that businesses should focus on how “helping beats selling.” At the end of the day, a customer who trusts you sees you’re helping them, not trying to sell them something they don’t need.
“If you help, you don’t need to sell,” McDonald said. “Your customer comes to you because of your skills. You’re selling your knowledge and helping them with a problem. That makes for a happy customer and a long-time client.”