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posted: 5/14/2012 6:00 AM

How to make your business matter to customers

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There's stuff to do:

• Make your business important. You probably think it is. Hopefully, family and employees do, too. We're aiming at customers, however.

Determine your five most important customers, keeping in mind that most important going forward may not equate to biggest today, and meet them, individually, in a strategic planning session that cements your business and theirs.

The idea is for you to discuss how your business can help them achieve their goals, which means you may need to do some research. You want to show how important your business is to them -- not just because you supply products or services they need but because by working together both businesses can prosper.

Get your top people involved, at least in planning your approach. Maybe the meeting is you and your counterpart, plus your top people and theirs.

The process is somewhat different if yours is a retail business. For example, you may want to bring compatible, noncompetitive retailers from the shopping center or downtown where you're located together to plan your joint futures. Talk promotions. Customer demographics. Cross selling. Image. Advertising.

• Now that you have something of a plan, do a talent check. Do you have the people you need -- for now, of course, but employees who can help you grow? Do you know where to find new staff?

• You likely have a cadre of customers that aren't yet top five but are ones you want to impress with your business' leadership capabilities.

Host a morning "Coffee and Ideas" seminar that features three speakers, each limited to 30 minutes. Possible topics: What do to about health insurance (after the Supreme Court has ruled). How to sell in today's market. Who cares about social media?

The intent is to get your customers thinking about your business as a source of information -- not just the product or service you sell.

• Plan to quit. Sell to the kids. Sell to the management team. Sell to any buyer you can find. Whatever your situation today, you should begin to plan your exit, even if your business is young.

Balance sheet issues matter to any buyer. You may understand why a number doesn't quite measure up, but a buyer won't care about the reasons. Buyers want good data.

Buyers also want to see a solid future. That means you should have a clearly defined, and profitable, growth plan -- which you should have anyway.

There are other things in the getting-out process. How much money do you need from a sale of the business? That's something you should know. Do you want it in a big check? Will you finance the sale? Your tax adviser and a good business broker are worth a phone call.

• Jim Kendall welcomes comments at 2012 121 Marketing Resources Inc.

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